What is Wagyu Beef?
Chefs, gourmets and beef connoisseurs are raving about Wagyu beef. Could one form of beef really be so different from all the others? Find out what has the experts so excited.
What is Wagyu Beef?
The word Wagyu comes from the Japanese words “Wa,” meaning Japan and “Gyu,” meaning cattle.
Originally grown almost exclusively in the Kobe region of Japan and the Japanese island of Kyushu, cows from the Wagyu bloodlines are now raised in other parts of the world including Canada, Australia and the United states. These bloodlines, as well as the way the cattle are raised and fed contribute to very high quality meat.
Here’s how the Wagyu line developed:
- British and continental cattle imported prior to 1887 contributed to the line. These include Angus, Holstein, Korean, Ayrshire, Simmental, Devon, Shorthorn and Brown Swiss.
- Lots of cross breeding took place until 1910 when the price of crossbred cattle collapsed.
- From that point on, cattle were bred for specific traits desired in specific regions, and heavy inbreeding was used to achieve these results.
- Many of the cattle that went on to form the Wagyu line were bred for heavy forequarters so they’d be strong enough to pull carts, or general size and strength to be pack animals for the grain industry.
- Cattle strains that are used in Wagyu beef include Tottori, Tajima, Shimane, and Okayama. Red Wagyu cattle from Kyushu include Kochi and Kumamoto.
- The import of a limited number of red and black Wagyu cattle into the United States makes it possible to enjoy domestic as well as imported Wagyu beef.
What Makes Wagyu Beef So Special?
Wagyu beef is prized for its generous marbling, which is unrivaled by even the best traditional American beef. Here are some Wagyu basics that explain why this beef is considered such a delicacy:
- American Prime beef, the most expensive American beef cut gets a grade of 6 on a marbling scale of one to 12.
- Wagyu beef is usually graded at 12 on this same scale. This extensive marbling creates Wagyu beef’s rich taste.
- Wagyu beef’s marbling makes it appear to be covered in snow. This is why some people refer to it as “white beef.”
- Even though Wagyu beef is very high in fat, the type of fat differs from that of other types of beef. Since it’s higher in monounsaturated fat than traditional beef, Wagyu beef may be a somewhat healthier food choice.
- Even though a good portion of Wagyu beef is now grown outside of Japan, most food experts don’t find any decrease in taste or quality.
- Many experts consider Wagyu beef to be the best tasting and most tender meat in the entire world.
All this taste comes at a premium price. Buying Wagyu beef can cost up to $150 per pound. And in Japan, if you order Wagyu beef in a restaurant, you may pay as much as $300 (USD) per plate.
Lower quality cuts may be available in stores for as low as $50 per pound, but experts warn that you get what you pay for so you may be able to taste the difference.
How is Wagyu Beef Raised?
In Japan, Wagyu cattle are raised with unique methods to create the rich taste and texture of this beef:
- Limited exercise: To keep meat tender, Wagyu cattle spend their days in small pens rather than grazing in open fields so they won’t develop tough muscle tissue.
- Massage: Japanese Wagyu cattle receive regular massages with oil to maximize softness and distribution of fat beneath the skin.
- Beer: To stimulate appetite, Japanese Wagyu are fed beer along with high calorie/low fiber foods during the latter stages of feeding.
How To Prepare Wagyu Beef
Since Wagyu beef is so densely marbled, cooking it in traditional ways will actually ruin it. Try these helpful tips if you plan to prepare Wagyu beef at home:
- Watch it carefully: Overcooking will ruin your Wagyu beef.
- It cooks fast: Because of its high fat content, Wagyu beef cooks about 30 percent faster than traditional beef.
- Try it Japanese style: Thin strips of Wagyu beef cook in just a few seconds over an open flame or in boiling oily stock.
- Try it raw: For Wagyu steak tartare, mince raw meat and combine it with egg yolk, chopped green onions, salt, pepper and a bit of soy sauce.
Here’s an easy way to prepare Wagyu beef in at home for beginners:
- Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Lightly oil a skillet and rub both sides of steak with salt and pepper.
- Heat skillet on high flame until it begins to smoke.
- Place steaks gently in the pan and cook for about 3 minutes on each side.
- Place pan in the oven and cook for a few additional minutes.
- Allow steak to rest for a few minutes before serving.
Although it’s too costly for most people to eat regularly, many who have tried Wagyu beef feel that the taste is well worth the cost.