What is Wagyu Beef?
A guide to the most exclusive beef in the world.
The word ‘wagyu’ (和牛) simply means ‘Japanese cattle’. You may have come across Wagyu beef in a restaurant — it’s that meat item on the menu that’s triple the price of Black Angus, Hereford and other steaks.
Over at the beef section in the supermarket, there’s Australian Beef, and Brazilian Beef. And then there’s Wagyu on another shelf with an extra digit on the price tag. The epicureans in your life have stories to tell you about Wagyu, especially if they’ve been to Japan.
What’s so special about Wagyu beef?
Dubbed the most expensive beef in the world, eating Wagyu beef is an unparalleled experience. Wagyu meat is so tender that it practically melts in your mouth. Its reputation is so impressive that President Obama wanted to taste Kobe beef (which is only produced by the Tajima line of cattle in Hyogo prefecture) when he visited Japan. The richest Australian tycoon, Gina Rinehart, recognized the value of this beef and invested in one of the world’s largest herds of Wagyu cattle in her country.
All Wagyu beef originates from Japanese breeds of cattle. In the past, some full-blood Wagyu cattle made their way to Australia (and also America) but Japan has now banned Wagyu cattle from being exported. Japan remains the largest producer of Wagyu beef (96% of total global production) and offers the highest grades of Wagyu beef while Australia is the world’s second largest producer. The Wagyu beef we import to Malaysia comes from cattle farms in either Australia or Japan, and all our Wagyu beef is certified halal.
Commercial Beef vs Wagyu Beef
The differences between commercial beef and Wagyu beef are worlds apart. Starting with appearance, Wagyu beef looks light and pinkish compared to common cow meat that’s dark red and capped in yellowish fat. Distinctive white veins run throughout Wagyu beef. This white mesh structure is called ‘marbling’, the intramuscular fat cells that Wagyu cattle develop naturally. So much so this intense marbling comes with its own grading standards known as the Beef Marbling Standards (BMS) in Japan. The more consistently integrated the marbling found in the meat, the higher the BMS score.
Ordinary cattle cannot develop the same level of marbling even if a farmer treats them with the same care and diet. This comes down to genetics — there comes a point when the cattle’s marbling no longer increases unlike the noble Wagyu. Aside from genotype, to obtain high levels of marbling also takes time and effort. Wagyu cattle are reared for about two years on pristine farms. There they graze on specially selected feed and are carefully tended to by expert herdsmen. A Wagyu cow’s life (and even its death) is enviably stress-free to avoid cortisol (stress hormones) that will deteriorate the quality of its meat.
When cooked, the marbling is absorbed into the muscle and this is what gives Wagyu beef its unrivalled flavour and tenderness. The taste of Wagyu beef has been described as buttery, peach-like, with hints of umami (the mysterious fifth taste after sweet, sour, bitter and salty). It has a sweet, almost fruity aroma (called ‘wagyuko’). As the soft, juicy meat melts in your mouth, rich flavours engulf your senses. Then it leaves you with a memorable sweet aftertaste.
As for the texture, cutting Wagyu beef feels a lot like slicing through butter. Nothing at all like tough, hard-to-chew beef chunks. Even people with teeth problems can enjoy Wagyu beef!
While all red meat should be eaten in moderation, Wagyu beef’s high fat-to-meat ratio is actually beneficial. Much like the healthy fats found in avocado, olive oil, and fatty fish, Wagyu beef’s fats lower cholesterol levels and ease inflammation. Just as we can distinguish between fast food and haute cuisine, we can appreciate the healthy elements and vitamins in Wagyu beef in addition to its legendary taste.
Wagyu Beef — 100% Made in Japan
There are four Wagyu breeds of Japanese cows: Black (Kuroge), Brown (Akage Washu, Akaushi or Kassyoku), Shorthorn (Nihon Tankaku) and Polled (Mukaku). Out of these four breeds, around 200 brands of Wagyu beef are produced across Japan.
Unique genetics, methods of rearing and environment all play a part in how the beef turns out, just like how wine varies by region and method of production. Iga Wagyu cattle, which produces one of the most exclusive A5 grade Wagyu beef, hails from the Mie prefecture. Iga City is more known as the birthplace of ninjas, however it is also in this quiet heartland that Iga Wagyu cows are raised in lush pastures and clean mountain air. For beef connoisseurs, this is where one can find beef offering rich, caramel-like flavours without any gamey or greasy taste. While Kobe Beef may be the most famous of all Wagyu beef, Iga’s exclusive Wagyu beef is capable of yielding higher ratings!
In Japan, the Beef Marbling Score (BMS) starts from 3 and goes all the way up to 12. To obtain an A5 for the best grade Wagyu beef, the BMS must be between 8 and 12 in addition to 5/5 ratings for texture, firmness, colour, and weight of carcass. Outside Japan, the scale of marbling peaks at 9.
While Japan boasts the top scorers of all things Wagyu, Australia is the second biggest producer of Wagyu beef. Full-blood Wagyu cattle there are descendants of the original four Japanese breeds. The Tajima bloodline of black-haired cattle, for example, is the same breed that produces the famous Kobe Beef. To preserve the Tajima pedigree on Australian farms, no cross-breeding is allowed.
Ranchers Down Under have also developed their own Wagyu brands and unique farming methods. Our Australian Wagyu beef selections include Blackmore, Mayura and the abovementioned Tajima. Blackmore produces award-winning, 100% full-blood Wagyu beef. The Blackmore family were pioneers in bringing Wagyu cattle to Australia. Besides them, Mayura also has a long history of cattle farming and has been raising 100% full-blood Wagyu since 1997. Their beef is all natural, HGP and antibiotic-free.
Pursuing the best Wagyu beef has been our passion at Wmart and we hope we have provided you with a great introduction to Wagyu beef. Our aim is to provide as much information as we can on the finest beef in the world, from conception to plate.
Ready to beef up your dinner? Shop now to purchase our premium selections of Wagyu beef.