If you’ve heard of or seen Wagyu Beef on a restaurant menu, then you probably already know that it’s expensive. In addition to being highly sought-after, Wagyu beef from Japan is one of the most expensive meats in the world.
Table Of Contents
To understand why Wagyu beef can cost an arm and a leg, let’s start with the basics. Wagyu is a Japanese term that refers to a Japanese cow. Many centuries ago, Wagyu cows were mainly used for rice farming.
They had a heavy workload and received little feed. That led to an evolutionary adaptation that makes the Wagyu breed special. Purebred Wagyu cattle store the extra energy as intramuscular fat, unlike any other breed. This adaptation explains Wagyu beef’s characteristic marbling and tenderness.
A distinguishing characteristic of Wagyu beef is that the fat is deposited evenly throughout its muscle, giving it a pink look and tender, butter-like texture.
A major reason Wagyu beef costs a fortune boils down to how farmers raise the cattle. Wagyu cattle are raised meticulously, and the process is time-consuming and costly. The Japanese government also regulates Wagyu production to protect the quality and authenticity of the meat.
The process involves genetic testing, and authorities will allow only cows with the best genetics to stay in the reproductive lineup. The Japanese National Livestock Breeding Center has also developed a security and traceability system that identifies a Wagyu calf from when it’s born.
While farmers in various regions of Japan raise Wagyu cattle differently, a breeder will often raise the cows until they’re about ten months old before selling them at an auction for fattening.
Wagyu cattle farmers follow multiple rearing and feeding guidelines for the Wagyu cattle to pass quality standards. The farmers will usually rear the animals in small pens and feed them a mixture of fiber and concentrated feed made from hay, wheat, and rice.
While the exact recipe differs between ranchers, feeding wagyu cattle costs much more than feeding conventional beef cattle, which mostly feed on corn. The fattening process will take about two years until the animals are almost 50% fat. That allows the cattle to gain weight naturally without any growth hormones.
Another critical practice in Wagyu farming is to provide a low-stress environment for the cattle. When an animal experiences stress, it raises the cortisol and adrenaline levels in the animal’s body. These chemical changes deteriorate the quality of beef, causing it to lose its flavor and tenderness.
To keep their cows less stressed, Wagyu farmers control the noise levels their animals are exposed to. They also separate cows that don’t get along and check their animals every couple of hours to ensure they’re fine. Farmers also ensure their cattle have a constant supply of fresh and clean water.
The growing popularity of wagyu beef makes it even more expensive. In the last couple of years, the demand for high-quality beef has soared, increasing the value of Japanese beef exports significantly.
People love Wagyu beef for its tenderness and exquisite flavor. In addition to the superior taste, Wagyu beef is also healthier than other types of red meat. Wagyu has a high ratio of monounsaturated to saturated fats, not to mention a great source of Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids.
When you cook Wagyu beef, the marbled fat melts into the steak’s muscle fibers, allowing it to retain more moisture and flavor. People describe it as having a rich, buttery taste.
While there are more than 300 varieties of Wagyu available, the most exclusive cuts come from 10 regions in Japan. High-grade Wagyu raised in Japan can cost up to $200 per pound. One of the priciest cuts, the Matsusaka Wagyu, comes from virgin female cows and finds favor with steak enthusiasts for being tender.
Wagyu cows can sell for as much as $30,000, usually at an auction. Prized Matsusaka cows have sold for close to $100,000 and sometimes much more. In 2002, a Matsusaka cow sold for about $400,000.
Kobe is Wagyu that comes from the Kobe region of Japan and is exclusively from castrated bulls or steers. This variety of Wagyu comes from the Tajima strain of Japanese black cattle. It must be raised, fattened, and slaughtered in Kobe to be certified as Kobe beef.
Moreover, all parties involved in getting a piece of Kobe steak onto your plate must be licensed by the Kobe Beef Association.
Wagyu beef is indeed expensive, but it’s also in a category of its own. Now that you can answer the question, why wagyu beef and cows from Japan are so expensive. Feel free to explore our site for more tips, guides, and reviews.