With Wagyu beef being the signature meat on the menu of most five-star restaurants, most people can’t help but wonder what exactly Wagyu means. The fatty nature, the unique flavor, and the unique cut distinguish it from all other types of meat. In an attempt to cut to the chase, we’re providing this article on Wagyu beef explained in simple terms.
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What is Wagyu Beef?
Every time you call a piece of meat ‘ Wagyu,’ you are merely saying ‘Japanese cow. This loose English translation gives a hint to the etymology of Wagyu as meat with a Japanese origin. No, you don’t have to pronounce it with any special Japanese accent. By simply saying ‘Wag- You,’ you would have already done justice to the correct pronunciation.
Wagyu beef comes from the wagyu cow, a unique Japanese breed, and unlike other cow species, they have unique features that give them a distinct taste and appearance. First on the list of these features is the noticeable intramuscular fat that leaves the beef steak with some marbling red meat and fat appearance.
This feature leaves the meat very tender, unlike other types of beef, and gives the wagyu beef an extra buttery flavor. The taste and buttery flavor in Wagyu cannot be rivaled by any other type of beef.
Nutritionists worldwide have identified wagyu beef as the healthier version and alternative to most other types of beef. This is mainly because Wagyu beef contains more monounsaturated fat than saturated fat, making it a perfectly healthy beef option for human beings.
Furthermore, it is rich in Omega-3 unlike other types of beef. This gives it a unique healthy status. Also, the wagyu beef is widely considered a perfect gastronomic delight and having stearic acid, which is believed to have an insignificant impact on cholesterol-related issues.
Features and benefits of Wagyu beef summarized:
- Marbling and fatty appearance
- Tender with an extra buttery flavor
- Contains up to 300% more monounsaturated fat than regular beef
- High Omega 3 and Omega 6 content
Wagyu Beef Grades
The wagyu beef grade depends mostly on the quality of the meat. This, in turn, depends on the type of breed the wagyu beef comes from. There are four essential wagyu breeds, all varying in physical color, beef color, and texture. One would expect that all beef from Japan should be categorized as Wagyu, which is not precisely the case.
The four distinct wagyu breeds are:
- Japanese Black (Kuroge)
- Japanese Brown (Akage)
- Japanese Polled (Mukaku)
- Japanese Shorthorn (Nihon Tankaku)
Anything aside, these four breeds aren’t wagyu beef. When cut, these breeds are sorted in grades. The grades of wagyu beef explained in simple terms are divided into two-part. There is a yield grade, and there is a quality grade.
The yield grade is represented with letters A, B, and C, and each of these letters represent the degree of quality attached to the wagyu beef. In the order of alphabetical arrangement, the Wagyu labeled with letter A is the highest, and often the most expensive yield grade for any wagyu beef cut. The yield grade often explains the amount of quality wagyu beef a single wagyu cow can yield.
Just on the other hand, the quality yield is represented in figures 1 to 5. However, the quality grade of a wagyu beef represents the actual quality of a wagyu meat cut. This is determined by many features, including marbling and fat saturation, meat color and brightness, meat texture, and luster. Thus, a wagyu beef tagged with yield grade A and quality grade 1 is the highest Wagyu quality you can purchase.
How Does Wagyu Beef Get Marbling?
Wagyu beef explained without referencing the distinctive marbling feature of this type of beef is not comprehensive enough. Marbling is what sets Wagyu aside from other kinds of beef, and it is no more than a layering of intramuscular fat.
The marbling you get on your wagyu beef is a significant feature responsible for the beef’s tenderness, taste, and flavor. It gives the beef the moistness it needs for a remarkable taste and looks.
However, marbling doesn’t just happen. The primary factor responsible for it is the diet that the wagyu cow is placed in during rearing. The kind of feed the wagyu cow eats will determine the intramuscular fat that would line its meat. Thus, farmers have often sought after the best feed alternatives aside from grains and grass to ensure that the best yield grade and quality grade comes from their wagyu cows.
Wagyu Beef vs. Kobe Beef?
The argument has always been, which is best between the wagyu beef and the Kobe beef. Wagyu beef explained in the most detailed and comprehensive way would naturally reveal that wagyu beef is a Japanese beef sourced from specific breeds of indigenous Japanese cow. On the other hand, Kobe beef is just a variant of wagyu beef sourced from a place in Japan called Kobe.
Thus, it is safe to say Kobe beef has to come from Kobe in Japan. In Kobe, Japan, there is an association of butchers that exports or offers only the best grade of wagyu beef for sale.
This Kobe Beef association ensures that only wagyu beef with A5 and A4 grades are sourced and offered for sale to the international market. Anything lower than these grades cannot be classified as Kobe beef and cannot be exported by this beef association.
The Kobe beef association takes a keener interest in ensuring that they offer only the beef with the perfect fat marbling, color, luster, texture, and brightness is provided through them. It is then safe to say that not all Wagyu beef cuts can be classified as Kobe beef, but all Kobe beef is typically best grade wagyu beef.
Is Wagyu Beef Humanely Raised?
It is only logical to think that there should be recorded vices about how they are raised for something so well-sought after. One would have expected that farmers would force-feed these unique Wagyu breeds to produce only the desirable beef with the best intra-muscular far marbling. However, this is far from being true.
For the best beef to form, wagyu breeds are always carefully raised in a stress-free ambiance. This is because the zero-stress environment helps to yield quality beef.
Furthermore, stress and noise release cortisol in wagyu cow breeds, which reduces the beef quality. Thus, farmers ensure the wagyu cow breed is raised in an environment where noise is controlled to ensure that cows are not scared at any time.
The wagyu cows are often raised in open-air farms where they can roam freely for a Zen-like existence. Open-air farms are quite distinct from open field farms because the former is well-controlled, resulting in stress.
These wagyu cows are also constantly hydrated through numerous available channels to quickly fetch themselves a drink. Thus, almost from birth until harvest, these cows live in a completely secured, stress-free, and well-controlled environment.
Why is Wagyu Beef So Expensive?
You might have probably noticed how expensive wagyu beef is in your favorite gourmet restaurants. Why Wagyu is expensive is mainly due to how the cow breed is raised from birth until harvest. Considerable fortune goes into ensuring that wagyu cows live a real stress-free life and slaughter properly to avoid even the slightest traces of cortisol to damage the quality of their meat.
A pure Japanese wagyu cow breed can cost as much as $30,000 whereas a regular cow could sell for $1,000. In most rated restaurants, an ounce of wagyu steak could cost as much as $50. Even a craft hamburger made from Wagyu beef can be as pricey as $25.
Aside from the raising costs – genetic testing, and how controlled the wagyu market is by the Japanese government is one reason that contributes to the high price. Only the best DNA rating are allowed to continue in the wagyu reproductive line, and these genetic processes are closely monitored and controlled.
Where to Buy Wagyu Beef?
Depending on your location, there are walk-in stores and butchers where you can get wagyu beef. There are a lot of online stores where you can source your wagyu beef from.
One such online store is Crowd Cow. They are the #1 provider of Japanese A5 Wagyu. And you can have your shipment in as few as 2 days!
Snake River Farms is another one of the best and most trusted sources of the best steaks online and a pioneer of American Wagyu.
What’s American Wagyu?
A lot of people that first try Wagyu beef love it but feel there is something missing from the taste. This is because most of us are accustomed to the robust and nostalgic flavor of traditional American beef.
American Wagyu is the result of purebred Wagyu crossed with traditional beef cattle breeds. The end result is a perfect combination of Wagyu buttery marbling flavor and traditional hearty American beef flavor.
Many professional chefs actually prefer American Wagyu from Crowd Cow for this reason alone.
There are many aspects to wagyu beef explained in this article that makes your understanding of this meat even better. Texture and flavor set the wagyu beef apart from other types of beef.
This distinction lies in a single fact – Wagyu cow breed has their genetics traced to cows that were in existence over 35,000 years ago. The distinction as well, as the full culinary experience a reasonable wagyu beef steak offers, is what the world has come to respect.