Wagyu beef is one of the most sought-after and expensive kinds worldwide. The word “wagyu” literally translates to “Japanese cow,” it has become known for its tender texture and intense marbling. But where does Wagyu beef come from? Wagyu cattle have been raised in Japan since ancient times, but over the years, they have spread around the world.
This article will explore the history of wagyu beef and its origins. We will look at where wagyu cattle are bred today and how they are raised to create this unique type of beef. Finally, we will discuss how you can incorporate Wagyu into your meals at home or find it in restaurants worldwide.
What is Wagyu Beef?
For those who aren’t familiar with Wagyu beef, let me break it down for you. Wagyu is a breed of cattle that originated in Japan and is known for its incredible marbling, which results in tender and flavorful meat. The word “Wagyu” translates to “Japanese cow,” it’s easy to see why these cows have become so popular worldwide.
One of the reasons why Wagyu beef is so highly coveted is because of the way the cows are raised. Wagyu cattle are typically raised in a stress-free environment and are fed a carefully curated diet that often includes beer and sake mash. This results in meat that is not only delicious but also incredibly tender and juicy.
When it comes to grading Wagyu beef, a few different systems are used worldwide. In Japan, beef is graded based on marbling, color, firmness, and texture. The highest grade of Wagyu beef is A5, meaning the meat is well-marbled and has a rich, buttery flavor.
Wagyu beef is often graded using the USDA’s Beef Marbling Score (BMS) in the United States. This score ranges from 1 to 12, with 12 being the highest score possible. A BMS of 5 or higher is considered “highly marbled,” which you want when it comes to Wagyu beef.
Where Does Wagyu Beef Come From?
Wagyu beef comes from Japan, specifically four breeds of Japanese cattle – Kuroge, Aakage, Nihon Tankaku, and Mukaku, with the Black Wagyu cattle most revered for its unique intramuscular fat marbling. These cattle were originally bred to work in agriculture, primarily to haul food and materials, and were carefully raised and cultivated over decades. Japanese farmers have honed their techniques to ensure that cattle develop a consistently high-fat content, resulting in extraordinarily fatty meat with abundant marbling and a deliciously rich flavor often described as buttery.
In 1997, Japan designated Wagyu as a national treasure and began an export ban on cattle, which has helped keep Wagyu nearly entirely exclusive to Japan. Although some farmers in other countries have been able to source DNA to cross with their native breeds, authentic 100% full-blood Wagyu could be raised outside of Japan without regulations or strict testing. Progeny testing is mandatory in Japan to ensure that only the best genes are maintained for breeding, and the Japanese Meat Grading Association sets rigorous standards to ensure that the quality and authenticity of Wagyu are fiercely protected.
The History of Wagyu Beef In America
In 1976, Morris Whitney, a researcher at Colorado University, imported two Black Wagyu and two Red Waygu bulls from Japan to the United States. At that time, there were no female Wagyu cows in America, so the Japanese bulls were paired with Angus, Holstein, Hereford, and Brangus cows from Texas. This marked the beginning of American Wagyu breeding. The narrow genetic pool of American Wagyu was expanded in 1991 when Itoni, a fifth bull, arrived in Canada. Selective breeding led to the fourth generation of American Purebred Wagyu, where 93.75% of Wagyu genetics were achieved.
Although Wagyu beef was once a decadent treat found only in Japan, it is now available for culinary delight from New York to Hong Kong to Sidney. The American Wagyu Association estimates 30,000 Wagyu-influenced cattle raised domestically, with less than 5,000 of them being Fullblood. The vast majority, over 90%, are Japanese Black, as they have the best predisposition and high marble content. Wagyu ranches have been established in several states, including Texas, Iowa, Idaho, Oregon, and New Mexico.
Between 1994 and 1997, less than 200 Fullblood Wagyu were exported from Japan to the U.S. Most of these were Japanese Black, although there was a small number of Japanese Red. There were no Shorthorn Wagyu or Polled Wagyu involved in those exports. In 1997, Japan designated Wagyu as a national treasure, and an export ban on Wagyu cattle was put in place. This led to the rarity of Wagyu outside of Japan that we experience today.
In its most basic definition, Wagyu beef is meat from Wagyu cattle, which is known to be high in marbling, creating a rich flavor, tenderness, and melt-in-your-mouth texture. Fullblood Wagyu beef tends to have the highest propensity for these qualities. In contrast, beef from F1 and other crossbred Wagyu tends to be higher in marbling than Angus or conventional cattle but not as high as that from Fullblood. All Kobe is Wagyu, but not all Wagyu is Kobe. Kobe is beef from Fullblood Japanese Black Wagyu cattle raised in the Hyogo Prefecture, of which Kobe is the capital city, under strict practices, and which meets strict grading criteria.
History of Wagyu in Japan
As a breed, Wagyu cattle have a rich history tracing back over 35,000 years in Japan. The selection pressure for draught capabilities resulted in the evolution of this breed to produce the ultimate beef-tasting experience. For 2,000 years, cattle were primarily used for labor in agriculture, which was reflected in the breeding goals. Buddhism leaders prohibited eating flesh, especially four-legged animals, which caused the “Tsuru” native cattle to be bred mainly for physical endurance.
It was only after the Meiji Restoration in 1868 that beef consumption commenced, but by then, the marbling in indigenous cattle had become entrenched. The lifting of the ban on eating meat resulted in the selection of native cattle based on working performance rather than milk or meat production. The first wild cattle entered Japan between 500 BC and 300 AD, and cattle movement was accompanied by rice cultivation introduction.
Two isolated populations of native cattle exist but are not classified as Wagyu in Japan, the Mishima Island, and Kuchinoshima Island. After decades of crossbreeding with foreign cattle, four superior cattle breeds that we consider Wagyu today were determined: Kuroge, Aakage, Nihon Tankaku, and Mukaku. In 1976, four Wagyu bulls were imported to the United States, later allowing American farmers to breed the first full-blood cattle in the U.S.
Despite all the crossbreeding, the authentic Japanese Wagyu remains exclusive to Japan. Thanks to new shipping technologies, it is possible to ship Wagyu beef worldwide, and it is widely available at butcher shops and restaurants throughout the U.S. The Japanese Meat Grading Association set forth meat quality/grading standards to preserve the quality of Wagyu beef. Wagyu remains a delicacy, loved for its fine-grained fatty marbling and superior flavor.
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What’s The Difference Between Japanese And American Wagyu?
The difference between Japanese and American Wagyu beef lies in the grading standards, marbling, and cattle raising practices. According to the American Wagyu Association, Wagyu beef in the U.S. now matches the strict standards set by the Japanese Meat Grading Association. However, the Japanese have spent centuries perfecting their grading system, giving Japanese Wagyu an edge in terms of marbling and tenderness.
To be classified as Wagyu beef, it must come from four specific breeds: Japanese Black, Japanese Brown, Japanese Shorthorn, and Japanese Polled. The term “Wagyu” encompasses any purebred or interbred cattle from these breeds.
In America, you can actually order authentic Japanese Wagyu online, and have it delivered to your door. While there may be some limited availability due to strict standards, you can still enjoy high-grade Kobe beef as well. It is important to note that “Wagyu” is a broader term, while “Kobe beef” refers specifically to beef from the Kobe region of Japan.
What Makes Wagyu Beef So Distinct From Other Types Of Beef?
Wagyu originated in Japan and came exclusively from four main cattle breeds: Kuroge (Black), Aakage (Brown), Nihon Tankaku (Shorthorn), and Mukaku (Polled). What sets it apart from other beef is the large fatty streaks found throughout every cut, known as marbling. This abundance of fat directly contributes to the meat’s rich, tender, and unparalleled taste. Health experts have discovered that Wagyu has a higher mono-unsaturated to saturated fat ratio than other types of beef.
The highly regulated grading and production of Wagyu, particularly in Japan, also make it special. Some cattle even undergo genetic testing to determine if they are worthy of taking part in the reproductive cycle. Japanese Wagyu cattle are given a high-energy diet composed primarily of grains. The various combinations of feed are carefully controlled and adjusted to account for the age and condition of the cow. All these factors contribute to this beef’s amazing taste and higher-than-average cost.
In summary, what makes Wagyu beef distinct from other types of beef is the large fatty streaks, known as marbling, found throughout every cut, which directly contributes to its rich, tender, and unparalleled taste. The way in which Wagyu cattle are raised, including specialized diets and stress-free environments, also contributes to its uniqueness. Additionally, the highly regulated grading and production of Wagyu in Japan further sets it apart from other types of beef.
What Is The Price Range For Wagyu Beef Compared To Other Types Of Beef
Compared to other types of beef, it can be quite expensive, ranging from a few hundred dollars to over $1000 per pound, depending on the type and grade of meat. However, it’s no surprise why it’s so expensive. Wagyu beef is known to be the most prized beef in the world, thanks to its marbling and unique genetic makeup that produces intramuscular fat, making the meat tender and juicy.
When it comes to authentic Japanese Wagyu, the average price per pound can be as high as $250. American Wagyu, on the other hand, is more affordable, with prices ranging from $10 to $15 per pound, depending on where you buy it from. Of course, the price will also depend on where you purchase it, as restaurants or stores may add charges on top of the price.
It’s important to note that the cut of the meat will also determine the price. Ground beef from Wagyu will have a much lower price compared to a prime ribeye steak. Additionally, it’s essential to ensure you’re getting the real deal. Imported Wagyu beef is always boneless, so if someone claims it’s authentic but comes with a bone, it may not be genuine.
How Is The Quality Of Wagyu Beef Graded, And What Factors Are Taken Into Consideration?
When it comes to grading the quality of Wagyu beef, both the Japanese and American grading systems take certain factors into consideration. In Japan, the Japanese Meat Grading Association (JMGA) oversees the grading process, while in the United States, it is the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
In the USDA grading system, beef is categorized into Select, Choice, and Prime. Wagyu beef typically falls under the Prime category due to its abundant marbling, low carcass maturity, optimal coloring and appearance, and more. For example, Grade 12 Kobe beef in the Japanese grading system would be equivalent to a Prime designation in the USDA system.
The Japanese grading system, on the other hand, evaluates Wagyu beef based on various criteria such as fat color, meat color, rib eye shape, size of the ribeye area, and marbling, which is referred to as the IMF% or intramuscular fat percentage. The grade is given on a scale from 1 to 5, with 1 being the lowest and 5 being the highest.
In conclusion, the quality of Wagyu beef is determined by considering factors like marbling, color, appearance, and overall meat quality. The grading systems used by both Japan and the United States help ensure that Wagyu beef meets the standards expected by consumers. The information in this paragraph is based on online data and sources, such as the Japanese Meat Grading Association and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Why Is Marbling So Important In Wagyu Beef?
Marbling is of utmost importance in this prized meat. Wagyu beef is known for its silky, melt-in-your-mouth texture and rich flavors, largely due to its high marbling content. Marbling refers to the white fat flecks mingling in the red meat of a steak. It is what gives beef its soft texture and carries flavor throughout each bite. Marbling melts while the meat cooks, infusing the meat with mouthwatering flavors while keeping it tender and juicy.
Wagyu cattle are genetically predisposed to higher marbling levels than any other breed of cattle. Specific feeding and raising practices are required to cultivate the marbling of Wagyu. This is why raising Wagyu takes craftsman-like care and attention to detail compared to other types of cattle.
Marbling is measured as a percentage of fat inside red meat and is a critical factor in grading beef in the USA, Japan, and worldwide. The higher the marbling content, the higher quality the beef is considered, and the more expensive it will be. In Japan, the marbling is called Sashi, and a BMS (Beef Marble Score) of 12 has a minimum of over 56% intramuscular fat, making the beef so rich that only small amounts are eaten.
The healthy fatty acids that comprise the marbling are essential for a healthful diet, and studies suggest that marbling is not just delicious but also provides health benefits. Marbling is not the same as the thick white fat layer rounding the outside of a steak; while both are fat, marbling fat is composed of monounsaturated fats and is full of essential fatty acids Omega 3, 6, and 9, just like those found in olive oil and wild salmon.
FAQs About Where Wagyu Beef Comes From
How Has Crossbreeding Affected The Quality Of Wagyu Beef?
Crossbreeding has affected the quality of Wagyu beef by impacting factors such as weight gain, metabolic markers, and marbling. While Wagyu crossbred steers did not grow substantially faster than purebred Wagyu animals, they may not be as profitable as purebred Japanese Black in some production systems. Hence, the breed and production system is important in producing high-quality Wagyu beef.
Does Japan Import Wagyu Beef From Other Countries?
I know that Japan does not import Wagyu beef from other countries. Wagyu beef is often considered a delicacy in Japan and is highly valued. The government has strict regulations to ensure the authenticity and purity of the beef produced domestically.
While there may be a small amount of crossbreeding with imported cattle to improve the genetic diversity of domestic herds, the vast majority of Wagyu cattle in Japan are of purebred Japanese lineage. Therefore, consumers looking for authentic Wagyu beef experiences should seek sources certified by the Japanese government or authorized dealers.
In conclusion, Wagyu beef comes from a specific breed of cattle that originated in Japan. The cattle are renowned for their exceptional taste, tenderness, and marbling, resulting from Japan’s unique environment and feeding practices. While Wagyu beef is now being raised in other parts of the world, the quality can vary greatly depending on the farmer’s practices. We hope this blog has helped answer your question of “Where does Wagyu beef come from?” and provided you with a better understanding of this prized delicacy.
Hey there, it’s Maura Braun from Maura’s Kitchen of Millbrook! If you love all things BBQ and grilling, my blog is the perfect place for you. But my passion for food doesn’t stop at the restaurant. I also love sharing my smoker, grilling, and BBQ experiences on my blog. From juicy brisket to perfectly smoked ribs, I’m always experimenting with new techniques and flavor combinations.