So, you’ve heard of Wagyu beef, but what exactly is it? Wagyu beef comes from one of four breeds of Japanese cattle. Unique methods are necessary to raise these cows to produce the most prized form of beef. The result is meat that looks unlike any other kind.
Table Of Contents
- What Exactly Is Wagyu Beef?
- How Is Wagyu Beef Raised?
- History of Wagyu Breed in Japan
- History of Wagyu Breed in the USA
- American vs. Japanese Wagyu
- What Is U.S. Wagyu Today?
- What Does Wagyu Beef Taste Like?
- Beware of Fake Wagyu Beef
- Where to Buy Wagyu Online
- Wagyu Rating Scale
- Wagyu Beef Nutrition & Calories
Wagyu beef is a specific breed of cattle raised in Japan for centuries. The meat derived from this breed is unlike any other type of beef you will ever encounter. While most cattle get fatter on corn, these cows eat only grass, which gives the meat an unparalleled taste and texture.
The idea behind raising Wagyu cattle is to produce meat that is so tender and fatty it melts in your mouth. Creating this isn’t an easy process to perfect. Cattle run away from predators with their physical endurance, strengthening muscles and making them tougher.
Cooking Wagyu beef requires a specific method. The high degree of marbling in the meat causes it to cook unevenly if subjected to high heat, which can dry it out and make it less tender. For this reason, a chef only needs to sear a Wagyu steak on each side for a brief period.
This will result in a steak that is pink and juicy on the inside with a beautiful brown crust.
The cows that produce Wagyu beef live and grow in a specific manner. They are slowly massaged with sake, sometimes for hours at a time every other day. The sake massages help relax the cows and allow their muscles to break down more slowly as they grow, resulting in a much more tender form of meat.
Wagyu cows also live in a stress-free environment. They are free to roam in large pastures so they can eat grass at their leisure, which is much healthier than the alternative of being fed grains or corn in feedlots.
So, what’s the result? The meat from Wagyu cattle has more unsaturated fats and less saturated fats compared to other breeds of cattle. It also has a much higher ratio of monounsaturated fats to saturated fats.
This makes Wagyu beef one of the heart-healthiest types of meat you can eat.
Wagyu cattle have a long and storied history in Japan. Farmers in Japan have been raising them for centuries, partially because they are well-adapted to the climate there.
As far back as 800 A.D., Japan’s Emperor Seiwa once said Wagyu beef was “a treasure among treasures.” Back then, Wagyu was a food reserved for the aristocracy in Japan, and it held value similar to that of high-end truffles or artisanal cheeses in Europe. It wasn’t until the 1980s that Wagyu beef began production on a larger scale for domestic consumption.
Today, Japan produces more than 90% of the world’s Wagyu beef. The Japanese government has even created a grading scale for the meat, similar to the system used with wine from Bordeaux in France.
The four breeds of Wagyu cattle are the Japanese Black, Japanese Brown, Japanese Polled, and the Japanese Shorthorn. Each has its unique characteristics that contribute to the overall flavor of the meat.
Producing Wagyu beef in Japan is difficult and expensive because of the specific conditions needed to raise the cattle. For this reason, Wagyu beef isn’t available in many parts of the world. If you do spot it for sale locally, expect to pay upwards of $50 or more per pound for it.
The first Wagyu cattle were brought to the United States in 1976, almost a decade after they made their way to Australia. This breed of cattle began arriving in California from Japan, becoming the first herds on U.S. soil in decades.
Wagyu is a relatively small breed in the United States, with less than 2,000 herds nationwide. Wagyu beef is still not easy to come by in the U.S., although producers try to make it more widely available domestically.
Until 2003, most production in the United States was only on the West Coast. That year, two ranchers started buying up herds and expanding their operations eastward, bringing Wagyu beef production down to the lower 48 states for the first time.
This helped spread consumer awareness of Wagyu beef, so now it’s more readily available than ever before in both high-end restaurants and specialty food.
The differences between Wagyu raised in the United States and Wagyu raised in Japan can seem relatively minor, but they’re significant enough to be noticeable.
The meat from American producers will need a little less time on the grill than its Japanese counterparts. It is also slightly lighter in color and has a less intense beef flavor overall.
American Wagyu beef cuts are also smaller as a whole since it is much less common meat. However, there is still a difference in flavor between American and Japanese Wagyu. The taste of each style of beef is noticeably different from one another, and people who enjoy high-quality cuts know to seek out one or the other accordingly.
Even though it is significantly more expensive, Wagyu beef raised in Japan is prized for its intense flavor and rich marbling.
Wagyu beef is unique and fascinating meat, and the American market has just begun to discover its potential. It’s still rare to find in local grocery stores, but it is widely available in high-end restaurants across the country.
There are a few Wagyu cattle farms that produce beef for commercial use in the United States. The majority of these producers reside in California, but other smaller operations exist in Kentucky and Texas.
The American Wagyu Association started in 1990, and it has since grown to over 750 producers worldwide.
The organization has made it its mission to promote the industry of Wagyu in the U.S. so that this meat becomes more widely available to consumers across all socioeconomic backgrounds.
Wagyu beef has a rich and hearty flavor, but it is significantly more tender than similarly marbled beef. The high-quality Wagyu raised in Japan often reaches the “melt in your mouth” level of tenderness, making it one of the most luxurious meats available anywhere.
It’s common to see meat with extensive marbling like Wagyu beef labeled as such, but it’s important to note that not all marbling is equal.
Rich marbling gives the meat a robust flavor and dense texture. However, poor-quality meat will have streaks of fat or connective tissue running through the meat itself. These are telltale signs of low-quality meat.
Beware of Fake Wagyu Beef
The meat produced in Japan is rare and hard to come by, so it’s essential to make sure you know what you’re ordering from a restaurant or retailer. Some businesses will try to sell regular American Wagyu as Kobe beef, which is a direct violation of Japanese law.
The most important thing to keep in mind when purchasing Wagyu is that it’s in high demand and considered a delicacy in Japan. Anything labeled “Kobe” or “Wagyu” has been specially raised to produce the highest-quality meat possible.
American Kobe does not exist, and restaurants that try to pass off their beef as such are trying to deceive you. Real Kobe beef is from Kobe, Japan, and it’s one of the most delicious meats in the world. Any time you see American Kobe, it is a big red flag.
Confusing wagyu can be expensive for consumers, considering authentic wagyu beef is usually only available in specialty stores or online at a significant premium.
If you’re looking to buy Wagyu beef online, several reputable stores will ship you high-quality cuts straight to your door.
Holy Grail is a company that specializes in Wagyu beef from both Japan and the U.S., making it an excellent choice for American Wagyu enthusiasts who want to explore their options.
Meat N’ Bone is another great resource for Wagyu beef. They have a wide selection of high-quality cuts from both Japan and America, making them the perfect choice for any shopper who wants to experience the best beef has to offer.
It’s important to familiarize yourself with the beef marbling standards associated with the meat if you want to have a solid understanding of Wagyu beef.
These scales originated in Japan but have been adopted by American ranchers as well. To make sense of these ratings, here is an example:
Cuts rated “A” or “AAA” are the highest quality meats available, and they have extensive marbling throughout the meat itself. These cuts also have a rich texture and a naturally sweet flavor.
Cuts rated “B” or “AA” aren’t quite as tender or flavorful, but they’re still considered high-quality with good marbling through much of the meat. Wagyu cattle that produce cuts like this spend more time on the range and eat a more natural diet.
Cuts rated “C” or lower can be quite tough and lean, with very little marbling throughout. These meats will work well for braising or turn into ground beef. They don’t have the texture or flavor to stand alone as steaks.
Wagyu Beef Nutrition & Calories
Wagyu beef is high in fat and cholesterol with a large quantity of monounsaturated and saturated fats. However, the meat contains fewer omega-6 fatty acids than most types of American beef.
Wagyu beef has about 100 more calories per ounce than regular beef, mostly due to the increased fat content.