What’s Up with Wagyu?

Been wondering about this fatty, delicious and sometimes misunderstood cut of beef? The facts about this beef somehow gets to elude even the most seasoned diners. As a guilty carnivore, I’ve been fascinated with this meat for ages.

You probably don’t even know much about it, which is understandable because not many know about this particular type of beef. And the little you know might even be inaccurate. There’s a lot of misconception about wagyu beef out there and most of them are unintentional. It’s an extremely interesting but confusing beef.

So, what is wagyu beef and what’s so special about it?

Literally, wagyu means a Japanese cow. But that isn’t the luxury version we all want in our plates. Wagyu is a specific breed of Japanese cow with special qualities that make it extraordinary.

There are four breeds of cows in Japanese and wagyu is one of them. It has a special genetic ability to create this incredible level of marbling on the inside of the muscle tissue.

With a normal cow or any livestock, it’ll have a fat cap on the outside but with the wagyu cattle, the fat is metabolized internally integrating it into the muscles. The result is one of the richest, most luscious cuts of beef ever.

It is an embodiment of luxury due to its tender meat quality and its delicate rich favors. It’ll practically dissolve with every bite of the thin cut pieces. With this beef, you’ll barely want to cook. Keep the middle as raw as possible to retain that juicy goodness.

So even if the other breeds are raised in the same exact conditions as the wagyu, it’ll never be on the same level of quality as the wagyu. The caretaking  of these cows isn’t a simple task. They require highly caretaking standards that pay attention to detail.

They are considered the best and the most expensive beef in the world.

You can get more information on wagyu beefs here.

History of wagyu

The rearing of wagyu goes back tens and thousands of years ago but the purposely breeding and raising of it in japan was started being recorded in the 19th century.

They were used for agriculture due to their good energy and high endurance. These qualities are due to their high percentage intramuscular fat that is coincidentally what makes it so delicious and special.

At this time, meat wasn’t consumed in japan due to religious reasons. This changed when emperor Meiji publicly ate meat for the first time.

During the Meiji restoration of 1868, japan was sent into a new modern era. Japan’s economy was growing and its culture shifting due to European countries’ influences.

Wagyu made it to America during these times. Four bulls were brought to the U.S. to be raised there. At first, they only interbred the bulls with other breeds since they weren’t able to breed full- blood wagyu. But in 19993, it was possible when they brought 3 females to the US and so the wagyu breeding practice started in the country.

However, wagyu were still rare (less than 200 cows) even after additional exports from Japan. The japan breeding techniques were used by the American farmers due to its efficiency.

In 1988, the current grading system used by the japan meat grading association was developed. The standards for yield grade were A, B and C while the meat quality grade was labelled from 1 to 5.

But then, just 3 years before the turn of the century, the japan government declared wagyu a national treasure and halted all wagyu exports. This was to authenticate it exclusively to japan.

 Already being few in the US, this act made the beef even rare during the years. Ironically, after the ban some of the wagyu were sold back to japan.

Today, the full blood wagyu barely make 0.03 % of all cattle in the US. The result of the crossbreeding between full blood wagyu and other breeds are called “percentage wagyu” and aren’t established as full blood wagyu beef. To be considered as a full blood wagyu, it must be 100% wagyu and must be genetically certified not to have any crossbreeding in its lineage.

Wagyu beef are labelled as prime but aren’t even close to other prime labelled meats. They are practically off the charts since they can have 2 to 5 times marbling compared to other prime steaks (like the new york strip or ribeye).

There are four breeds of wagyu cattle: Japanese black(kuroge), Japanese brown (Aakage), Japanese polled (Mukaku) and Japanese shorthorned (Nihon Tankaku). In Japan, most of the breed type is the Japanese black.

Nowadays, you can get authentic Japanese beef as the government has loosened regulations on the export. You can get them really quick and fast due to new, efficient shipping technologies.