The World of Wagyu Beef
You, a foodaholic or a food critic or just a person who is eager to learn a new thing, must be very curious about this ultimate delicious beef coming from Japan, aren’t you? If so, the following article is the all-in-one piece informing you about Wagyu Beef, including the “top-secret” behind the name, the four Wagyu types, the reasons behind its mouth-watering flavor, and so on. Without further ado, let’s dive into this article to explore “the King of Beef."
(And a warning: If you're not hungry and ready to have your mouth watered and be immersed in your own... imagination, stop scrolling.)
1. A Surprising Secret Under The Name “Wagyu”
Do you agree that at our very first impression, the name “Wagyu” sounds to be a little bit fancy, prosperous, or even sumptuous?
Yet, if you were Japanese or able to speak the language, the name would become less interesting.
The reason is that Wagyu literally translates to "Japanese Cow", in which “Wa” means Japanese and “gyu” stands for cows or beef, to be exact.
Admittedly, the meaning could be a little bit disappointing...
However, the quality is the same as what you have heard from your friends or any stranger on the Internet.
You will feel a shiver running down your spine, right at the moment your tongue gently touches a nicely-grilled juicy piece of meat.
Well, it was a little bit of an exaggeration... But you can be sure that the quality is widely confirmed.
Due to Wagyu’s reputation for consistently high quality, the breed has become so highly sought after over time that the farms have to carefully track and record every lineage from its birth to safeguard its authenticity. Furthermore, a unique ID number is given to each piece of Japanese Wagyu beef.
On the website of the Japanese National Livestock Breeding Center (NLBC), information about the cattle, such as birth date, gender, lineage, or breed, may be confirmed.
Thanks to that, you can calmly look up the cattle's history and easily avoid any skim-and-scam trying to sell you fake, low-quality beef. This service is offered by the NLBC to protect customers and businesses from fraudulent vendors. Strict procedures were taken. to maintain the authenticity of Wagyu beef, which has a reputation for being produced with extreme care over many decades.
Before moving on, it will be a huge disrespect to Wagyu producers if you still think Wagyu is all the same. In fact, Wagyu in Japan comes from four main breeds: Japanese Black, Japanese Brown, Japanese Shorthorn, and Japanese Polled. So, in the next part, we will distinguish between these sorts of Wagyu.
2. 4 Types Of Wagyu Beef You Might Not Know Yet
As stated before, we now know there are 4 types of Japanese Wagyu beef, and each of them has its own uniqueness. Yet, they all share the same story at the beginning.
If you want to learn more, it would be nice to spend 29 SECONDS reading through this extremely-condensed story about Superior Beef. But if not, just feel free to jump directly to the first Wagyu type: Japanese black.
Turning back the clock to before 1867, Buddhists in Japan had not been allowed to eat meat. There was a strict prohibition on the consumption of meat and on killing cattle. So, the native Japanese cattle breeds were supposed to be used only for mining or farming work.
In the Meiji Era (1868-1912), the opening of Japan’s borders brought an opportunity to aggressively integrate Western customs into Japanese culture. This included the removal of the longstanding social taboo against eating meat. Japanese people, from then on, could eventually say goodbye to the social taboo against meat and enjoy it freely.
After the lifting of the ban, efforts were made to breed native cattle with imported breeds in an effort to increase their muscle mass. It wasn't until 1957 that the four indigenous Japanese cattle breeds known as Wagyu were defined as we know them now.
2.1. Japanese Black
Over 90% of all Wagyu Beef produced in Japan is from the Japanese Black, which is the most popular breed of cattle in the nation.
Raised primarily in the Kinki and Chugoku regions in the olden days, the Japanese Black was used as work cattle. During the Meiji Era (1868-1912), crossbreeding with several European breeds, including Brown Swiss, Devon, and Ayrshire cattle, helped to improve this breed. In 1944, it was recognized as a native breed of beef cattle in Japan.
Currently, it is raised throughout Japan, making up more than 90% of the Wagyu that is raised and fattened here.
Japanese Black is primarily raised for consumption as beef and is renowned for its marbling and tender, soft texture. Even in its lean meat, there are fine strips of fat (known as marbling). The flavor of the fat is tantalizing, with a creamy, tender texture that dissolves immediately when you put it in your mouth.
If you might hear some names like Miyazakigyu, Tajimagyu, and Matsuzakagyu… Yes, they are all Japanese Black.
2.2. Japanese Brown
The Japanese Brown, also referred to as "Akaushi" (red cattle) due to their reddish brown color, are mainly raised in the Kumamoto and Kochi prefectures.
This breed was improved by crossbreeding Simmental (or Swiss Fleckvieh), a breed from Switzerland, with Akaushi, which was formerly used as work cattle during the Meiji Era. It was certified as indigenous Japanese beef cattle in 1944.
Compared to Japanese Black cattle, Japanese Brown cattle tend to be leaner and have lower fat content (at 12% or less). It tastes delicious and has a pleasingly firm texture because it has a lot of lean meat. Its fat is also not too heavy and has been drawing a lot of attention due to its mild flavor and healthfulness.
What a delicacy for fat abstainers!
2.3. Japanese Shorthorn
The Japanese Shorthorn is another leaner Wagyu breed raised in Japan. The majority of these cattle are now raised in Japan's northeastern Tohoku Region.
Back to the origin, this breed was improved by crossbreeding the Shorthorn, originating in the North East of England, with the local Nanbu Cattle. After that, it was continuously improved until 1957, when it was recognized as an indigenous Japanese beef cattle breed.
This breed relies more on grazing than on eating grains. Thanks to the Shorthorn cattle's genetic characteristics, there is an abundance of Inosinic acid and Glutamic acid inside the meat, which are ingredients that give it its flavor. The meat has a mild and savory flavor and is high in lean meat and low in fat.
Even though the meat from Japanese Shorthorn cattle is still top-notch, it is priced lower than that from Japanese Black cattle due to less marbling.
2.4. Japanese Polled
Now, let’s talk about the final Wagyu type.
In 1920, the Japanese Polled was created by crossing Aberdeen Angus imported from Scotland and the native Japanese Black. After that, it underwent more improvements before being recognized as Japanese beef cattle in 1944.
According to reports from 2007, this black, hornless cattle breed is in danger of extinction. Japanese Polled Wagyu is not frequently found in the United States or anywhere else outside of Japan due to its endangered status.
This is also renowned for producing lean Wagyu Beef with a unique flavor. Although less tender than the Japanese Black, it has a robust beef flavor.
Its characteristics include its high lean meat content and distinctive Wagyu taste. It contains a high percentage of amino acids and has a rich, chewy, meaty flavor.
And do you want to know an interesting fact? Even if you cross-breed the four different native breeds with each other, you can still get a Wagyu out of it.
3. Wagyu Beef Brands In The World
It should have been better to tell you in advance that Japan is no longer the one-and-only country that possesses Wagyu beef production.
Now, there are many different Wagyu breeds and brands throughout the world.
With the growing popularity of Wagyu, it is important to be able to differentiate the main differences between major brands: Japanese, American, and Australian Wagyu Beef.
3.1. Japanese Wagyu beef
We have talked about Japanese beef a lot previously, so let's sum it up a little bit.
More than 90% of the population of Japanese Wagyu cattle are of the Japanese Black breed, making it the most common breed. They consume a grain-based diet for more than 600 days, and many times for over 700 days.
Unlike in the United States, in Japan, many feedlots house fewer than 100 cattle.
Japan's moderate climate guarantees consistently high-quality beef.
In Japan, full-blooded Wagyu is the majority; any crossbred Wagyu is identified and branded as "Kozatsu gyu."
3.2. American Wagyu beef
Firstly, you may ask what American Wagyu beef is.
The answer is to produce American Wagyu beef. Purebred Wagyu are crossed with traditional beef cattle breeds in America. As a result, the renowned buttery Wagyu marbling and the robust beef flavor, which American beef is known for, are perfectly combined.
And how has American Wagyu beef become so popular now?
“Oh…another historical story again? " You must mourn.
- “Well, it’s just another 29 seconds."
Looking back on the first time Wagyu cattle arrived in the US, Morris Whitney was aware of the high demand in the domestic market and decided to import two black and two red bulls in 1975.
The Japanese then started to lower their taxes on imported beef in 1989, which encouraged American producers to create more and more high-quality goods for Japan. And exponential high-quality Wagyu imports took place in the 1990s. These cattle influence the U.S. herd and those in many other nations. Most US production was exported to Japan until 2003. But when BSE, or mad cow disease, was discovered, Japan and other countries stopped the import of beef from the U.S.
Yet, chefs and others in the U.S. are still aware of the superior eating quality of Wagyu and the domestic market, and they now try to utilize much of the U.S. production.
And back to the present, Depending on the American Wagyu Beef brand, cattle can be raised on a variety of diets. Some are raised predominantly on corn, whereas others will be raised according to their state's local agriculture.
American Wagyu Beef is now predominantly crossed with Black Angus cattle and fed between 250 and 450 days on vegetarian grain diets.
Its popularity has been steadily growing here in the United States as consumers are looking for a unique and valuable eating experience at home.
3.3. Australian Wagyu beef
Currently, the Australian Wagyu beef market is larger than the American Wagyu market.
The majority of Australian Wagyu cattle are crossbred, much like those in the United States, though there are still some full-blood and purebred programs available.
To adapt to the various climates across the nation, many Australian Wagyu producers will crossbreed with Red or Black Angus. Australian soils, grasses, and climate make Australian Wagyu remarkably different from Japanese or American Wagyu.
Furthermore, different feeding techniques also impact Wagyu’s features, especially texture and size. These cattle in Australia are frequently raised for 350 to 450 days exclusively on feed, whilst Japanese Wagyu cattle are fed for 600 days or more.
Compared to Australian Wagyu, Japanese Wagyu is larger and more tender thanks to the long-fed feeding method.
Japanese Wagyu has a distinct sweet flavor that is detected through the nose and is likely twice as big as Australian Wagyu.
4. What Makes Wagyu Beef So Irresistibly Mouth-Watering?
This must be the most important question you want the answer to now, isn’t it?
We can say that there are 2 major factors contributing to Wagyu’s flavor, no matter what type or brand.
We can say that Wagyu is unique from other varieties of beef because of this.
The term "marbling" describes the visible intramuscular fat layers. This is a type of muscle-specific fat. The meat has a higher percentage of fatty acids than regular beef because of the distinctive genetics of the cows, which raises its marbling rating.
The marbling score determines how flavorful, tender, and juicy the meat is. And beef from 100% full-blood Wagyu cattle will have the highest marbling level.
High in fat
Yes, you read that right. Wagyu beef is high in fat, and it’s a good thing in terms of health and flavor.
Although exercise videos from the 80s might have had us running scared from anything containing the word 'fat’, modern nutrition proves that the right fats are both beneficial and essential to a healthy diet.
Wagyu beef contains more monounsaturated fats than other beef and is a great source of omega-3 and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), an omega-6 fatty acid.
It is nice to know that CLA can likely lower cholesterol levels, lower the risk of certain cancers, and lower the risk of Alzheimer's disease before moving on.
Moreover, oleic acid is also abundant in wagyu beef. Oleic acid is a monounsaturated fat that is frequently present in heart-healthy oils like olive oil, which every trainer always recommends you use.
And we even have solid scientific proof from Professor Tim Crowe, a chief dietitian with Deakin University’s School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences:
“The profile of Wagyu marbled beef is very beneficial to human health." The mono-unsaturated to saturated fat ratio is higher in wagyu than in other beef, but even the saturated fat contained in Wagyu is different. 40% of it is in a version called stearic acid, which is regarded as having a minimal impact on raising cholesterol levels. The profile of marbled Wagyu beef is very beneficial to human health. It can be described as a healthier type of meat.
The most important thing is that it is not only healthy but also savory.
This soft fat has a low melting point and creates the wonderful texture of Wagyu beef, which not only protects your health but also holds most of the flavor.
Wagyu beef is moist, tender, and incredibly flavorful because of its marbling and high-fat content. There is no single person that does not want to have sweat-inducing chewing while enjoying a delicious Wagyu steak or Wagyu burger, and so on, right? You will want to get through the experience by enjoying every bite of the rich, buttery flavor. Because of this, Wagyu beef will always be better than ordinary beef.
Eventually, I hope that you, a foodaholic or a food critic, or just a studious person who wants to expand your knowledge, have got all you need to know about the renowned and most delicious meat in the world. From the surprisingly simple meaning of “Wagyu”, to the difference between four types of Wagyu and their history (Japanese black Wagyu Beef, Japanese Brown Wagyu Beef, Japanese Shorthorn, Japanese Polled), and popular Wagyu producers at the present or the true magic behind the wonderful, tender and buttery flavor.