Japanese Wagyu beef has been commonplace in Japan for quite a long time. However, it has only recently become such a coveted and prized type of beef in restaurants and butcher shops around the world. Wagyu, which means Japanese beef, comes from a special breed of Japanese cow. Japanese Wagyu beef is more easily recognizable in supermarkets and butcher shops due to its high levels of fat marbling. Meat aficionados know that excellent marbling means extra flavor in their beef, but this isn’t the only reason Wagyu beef is so good.
To understand why eating a piece of Wagyu beef is such an amazing culinary experience, you need to know where Wagyu beef comes from.
A Short History of Japanese Wagyu Beef
Wagyu cattle are medium-sized cattle utilized initially for agricultural purposes since they exhibited high levels of endurance. Over the centuries, and as a result of both genetic crossings with imported breeds and geographic isolation, there are four breeds of Wagyu cattle: Japanese Black (the most popular Wagyu exported to the U.S.), Japanese Brown (referred to as Red Wagyu in the U.S.), Japanese Polled and Japanese Shorthorn.
Wagyu cattle were imported to the United States in 1975. Australia began breeding Wagyu cattle in the 1990s as well. It is the second-largest producer of Wagyu cattle next to Japan. In Japan, in 1997, Wagyu was declared a national treasure and is highly revered. From that point on, no Wagyu cattle have been exported to any other country.
How The Farm Raise Wagyu Cattle
Wagyu cattle are fed and raised following strict guidelines. The pregnant cows and those separated for breeding graze on pasture. Young calves are hand-fed a particular feed and milk replacer that ensures good marbling. They remain on the farm for seven months and then sold at an auction to fattening farms.
At the farms, the Wagyu cattle are given names and are raised in a barn, where they are fed rice straws, whole crop silage, and concentrate. They stay at the farm for approximately three years until they reach a certain size (other cattle generally stay for around 15 months). Living longer serves to improve the flavor of the beef.
Cows are given jackets to wear when it is cold and brushed with a stiff brush at times to keep them relaxed and improve blood circulation. Each cow has a birth certificate so that the buyer can easily trace back the steaks to a particular farm.
Distinctive Traits of Wagyu Beef
Wagyu possesses more monounsaturated fat than saturated fat. Additionally, the saturated fat in Japanese Wagyu beef differs from that of other types of beef, in that it does not affect your cholesterol. This makes Wagyu beef a bit healthier than different sorts of beef. Another good aspect of Wagyu beef is that it also contains a high amount of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a popular dietary supplement often found in foods that have few adverse effects on health.
The Japan Meat Grading Association grades each piece of Wagyu beef. Color, quality, marbling, and firmness are all inspected. Both the U.K. and Australia use a similar grading system to determine the quality of the Wagyu beef. However, unless the beef comes from Japan and bears an official Wagyu mark, there is a possibility that the beef is not from authentic Wagyu cattle, but rather crossbred.
Why Wagyu Might Be the Best Beef
The way they breed this particular cattle certainly contribute to what many say is a fantastic dining experience. It also instead explains the high price of Wagyu beef. But first and foremost, it’s the marbling that separates Wagyu from all others.
With a much higher percentage of fatty acids resulting from more intramuscular fat, Wagyu beef is tender, juicy, and exhibits an unrivaled richness and flavor. Wagyu beef also has higher levels of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which serve to provide a beautiful texture that makes this beef melt like butter in your mouth.
How to Enjoy Wagyu
A thick steak is not the way to go with Wagyu. In Asian supermarkets, you’ll often see Wagyu beef sliced very thinly. These thin strips of beef are great in dishes such as sukiyaki and shabu-shabu.
However, you can purchase cuts of Wagyu that are a bit thicker. A tender Wagyu filet certainly makes for a delicious meal! When cooking Wagyu filet, there is no need to add butter or oil to the pan. Apply salt and pepper, sear each side for about 2-3 minutes, (or longer for the desired doneness). Allow the steak to rest for about 5 minutes to ensure optimal tenderness and juiciness.