Characteristics of Genuine Japanese Wagyu Beef
Japanese Black purebred Wagyu has been refined for over 100 years. ‘Wagyu’ denotes the purebred Japanese cattle that started this respectful heritage.
The unique DNA makeup of Japanese Black cattle is responsible for their resplendent intramuscular fat marbling. The dedicated feeding regimen of Wagyu cattle further boosts this world-renowned fat marbling, called Sashi. Additionally, the red meat of Wagyu beef includes inosinic acid and intrinsically sweat amino acids. These acids combined with the Sashi marbling provide the complex deliciousness that cannot be replicated by other beef.
Another key to Wagyu’s flavour is the enticing aroma experienced when cooking and eating it. This aroma is most prevalent after the beef is heated to 80°c. In addition to its velvety mouthfeel and rich flavour, this distinct “Wagyu aroma’ is another reason why Wagyu is sought after worldwide.
Wagyu is a generic name for beef in Japan: WA (Japanese) and GYU (Japanese for beef). There are four main breeds of cow used for Wagyu production in Japan:
KUROGE - Japanese Black
The most common breed of Wagyu. Japanese Black cattle comprise about 90% of the Wagyu cattle breeds. Well-known for the exquisite flavour of its fat and its intensive marbling.
AKAGE - Japanese Brown
Red Wagyu, it is found in Kochi Prefecture and Kumamoto Prefecture. Its meat is known for its healthier breed of cattle, for being lean yet pleasantly firm, and its fat has a surprisingly fine texture.
NIHON TANKAKU - Japanese Shorthorn
Found in northern Japan, it is distinct from other wagyu because the meat takes time to eat and it’s lean meat.
MUKAKU - Japanese Polled
These cattle have the smallest population among all Wagyu breeds, making up less than 1%. Its meat has high lean meat and a distinctive Wagyu flavour.
Condition for cows to be called Wagyu Beef
Breeding cattle and pregnant cows are grazed on pasture.
Calves are fed in a specific way, special feed to ensure that the meat has a lot of marbling.
Sent to auction to sold to fattening farms when young Wagyu is 7 months old.
Diet: rice straws, whole crop silage and concentrate.
Grow up to about 700kg which takes about 3 years while for normal beef it’s 15 months.
Every piece of Japanese wagyu steak can be traced back to a farm.
Sometimes brushed with a stiff brush to increase blood circulation and to relieve stress.
In Japan, there are more than 160 brands of cattle, and each brand has its own evaluation method. Different standards are used, including the place of origin, bloodline, breed, feeding method, feeding period, and meat quality. Only beef meeting strict criteria can be crowned with a specific brand name. This approach not only promotes quality management but also builds customer trust.
JAPANESE WAGYU BRANDS
Japanese cattle: Refers to all cattle bred in Japan. Any cattle can be called “Japanese or domestic cattle” as long as its rearing was done in Japan. This category includes all breeds and of course wagyu.
Wagyu: refers to domestic cattle with a specific bloodline and breed, which can be classified into those four types, as we said at the beginning. So, any Japanese cattle breeds besides these four should not be called Wagyu.
The four major beef brands of Wagyu are Matsusaka beef, Kobe beef, and Yonezawa or Omi beef. All of them must come from a KUROGE – Japanese black breed heifers. These main brands are well-known for their high meat quality.
Oleic Acid Boosts Wagyu’s Health Benefits
In addition to being supremely delicious, Wagyu has health benefits! Wagyu includes oleic acid, technically a monounsaturated omega-9 fatty acid, in high concentration. A major component in olive oil, oleic acid helps regulate LDL cholesterol (‘bad cholesterol’) when consumed in appropriate amounts. Scientific studies also show that it prevents arteriosclerosis or hardening of the arteries.
Wagyu is a Work of Art Blessed by Japan’s Climate and Natural Features.
Wagyu cattle are provided with a comfortable and enjoyable life in the pristine natural environments of Japan, which includes over 70% naturally mountainous and forest-rich land. They are fed Japanese rice straw from Japanese rice paddies, which is indispensable in building the pure white colour of Wagyu’s marbled fat. Japan’s abundant sources of natural spring water further contribute to breeding healthy and strong wagyu.
Wagyu are Individually Registered to Guarantee Genuine Wagyu Status
Japan is the only country in the world that registers every head of purebred Wagyu stock. Within four months of being born, calves are given examinations, including paper documentation, individual identification number processing and recording of any abnormalities. If they meet standardised requirements, at six months old they are issued an official calf registration certificate, serving as proof of purebred Wagyu stock - a heritage is created in Japan and refined over generations. The registration traces the calf back three generations through a clearly defined pedigree, include parents, grandparents and great grandparents, eventually leading to the ancestor of all Japanese domestic Wagyu from the 14th century!
Individual Cattle Identification
Individual Identification numbers trace Wagyu castles place and date of birth, sex breed, maternal parents history, transfer information and locations, fattening period and processing information.
Japan is the only country in the world that tracks Wagyu down to every individual head of cattle. This information is available online HERE to anyone who purchases Wagyu beef and wants to know the history of the animal they have invested in.
On each cut of steak that we sell there is the fully traceable ID number on the front of the pack. This system also prevents imitation wagyu from entering the global market.
Food Safety Management at the Meat Processing Stage.
As the International foodstuff distribution network becomes more complex, international standards including ISO, FSSC (Food Safety System Certification) and SQF (Safe Quality Food) are rigorously employed to ensure hazard mitigation worldwide. Japanese Wagyu Processing plants strictly observe these international standards. Also, they acquire HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points) certification to bring completely safe Wagyu beef to your table.
Japanese Wagyu Exports are Guaranteed Superior Quality Beef
In Japan, Wagyu carcasses are objectively assessed for quality according to a standardised grading system established by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Commission. A certified grader from the Japan Meat Grading Association evaluates the dressed carcasses. Before entering the marketplace, Wagyu across Japan is assessed by the same objective criteria, no matter where and when the animal was bred or slaughtered. This guarantees that Wagyu of superior quality is exported from Japan to customers.
How Wagyu Beef Is Graded
Wagyu is Graded According to Yield, Marbling, Colour, Texture, Firmness and Lustre. Wagyu grading is divided into two categories of (1) yield grade and (2) meat quality grade
1. Yield grade is assessed by determining the final meat ratio. The carcass is given one of three ranks:
A for above average.
B for average
C for below average
2. Meat quality grade is assessed according to (1) marbling (2) meat colour and brightness (3) firmness and texture and (4) lustre and quality of fat.
All four aspects of meat quality are graded on a scale of 1-5 with 5 being the highest.
Wagyu is given a final certification that combines yield grade and meat quality grade, with the highest possible rank being A5 certified Wagyu. If any four aspects of meat quality are graded less than 5 the entire rank instantly falls into that level.
Beef Marbling Standard (BMS) 1-12
Quality 1 = BMS 1 (average)
Quality 2 = BMS 2 (good)
Quality 3 = BMS 3-4 (very good)
Quality 4 = BMS 5-7 (excellent)
Quality 5 = BMS 8-12 (exceptional)
THE FABLED WAGYU TASTE
Appearance: Intricate patterns of intramuscular fat layer between the red meat of Japanese Wagyu beef are referred to as “marbling”, in homage of the metamorphic rock, marble.
The lustrous appearance of Wagyu is a huge factor in its renowned flavour. Japanese Wagyu farms are tireless in their pursuit of aesthetic beauty in beef and go to great lengths in producing artistic masterpieces of beef marbling.
Aroma: When Wagyu is heated to 80°c it releases a specific Wagyu aroma not found in other beef. This aroma is a characteristic of purebred Japanese Wagyu and it originates in five different lactones, which are esters of hydroxycarboxylic acids rich in sweet, umami-laden aromas. The world-renowned deliciousness of Wagyu beef goes far beyond its high price tag — its based on empirical evidence.
Flavour: Oleic acid, which is found in high concentration in Wagyu beef, has a very low melting point (20°c), causing Wagyu beef to literally melt in your mouth. Also, the red meat of Wagyu beef includes intrinsically sweet amino acids, such as inosinic acid and glutamic acid, that are the foundation of umami and richness. This combination of oleic acid and sweet amino acids produces the sublime and complex deliciousness of Wagyu beef.
Umami (/uːˈmɑːmi/, from Japanese: 旨味 [ɯmami]) translates to "pleasant savoury taste" and has been described as brothy or meaty. You can taste umami in foods that contain a high level of the amino acid glutamate, like Parmesan cheese, seaweed, miso, and mushrooms.
Care for Wagyu Cattle
Wagyu cattle are managed tirelessly from morning until night 365 days a year. Maternal sows and claves are given particular attention as they embody the farms future. The loss of a single head of cattle can be devastating to a farmers livelihood. To protect the calves and ensure they become strong, they are bottle-fed milk after they are born. Wagyu maternal sows and their calves are raised in a stress-free environment, ensuring that the future generations of Wagyu remain of pristine, unbroken pedigree quality.
Wagyu farms begin each morning by checking the well-being of every head of cattle and any illness is quickly treated to ensure the herd stays healthy. Calves are also checked regularly, primarily using their appetite and amount of physical activity another example of tender care is the farm providing them with handmade jackets when the weather gets colder. Because Wagyu are such prized animals, their health is protected at great length.
Respect is emphasised as a virtue in Japanese society. Readily exemplified in all walks of life, this notion of respect is especially applicable to the Wagyu industry as an invaluable and central part of the larger family picture. In addition to being given individual names, each head of cattle on a Wagyu farm is raised on a farm that encourages joy and happiness. Any manner of undue stress on the cattle will impact on their welfare. Wagyu are raised in small numbers on family-owned farms, fully supporting the livelihood of those families.
WAGYU FEED AND FATTENING REGIMEN
A Wagyu fattening farm begins each day by feeding the cattle. Then, the farmers work through their cattle sheds multiple times, taking great care to check each head of cattle's health. This health check is a crucial task performed every day of the year.
The rice and straw the cattle consume daily provide a rich diet that promotes their quintessential omega fatty-rich intramuscular marbling, high in oleic acid. Daily consumption of up to 10kg of a protein-rich feed helps them achieve world-class fattening status.
In practice, each day of fattening should yield one extra kilogram of body weight for each head of cattle. After a fattening period of 30 months, they have gained up to 900 kg!
Healthy Growth and Nuanced Local Flavour
Japanese rice straw is extremely effective for maintaining Wagyu body condition. It absorbs moisture in cattle stomachs, turning it into and home for the microorganisms that break down grass. Rice us a staple in Japan, and rice straw is highly available, with its safety and purity guaranteed. Wagyu fattening farms first aim to promote healthy organ growth in their cattle through stomach growth. Then they focus on bone growth, meat growth and finally fat growth, calculating the volume of food and feeding schedule accordingly. Wagyu cattle are raised on different feed combinations relevant to their geographic area. As a result, each brand has a subtle and sublime taste and flavour profile.
Kobe beef, one of the most highly prized meats, is a type of Wagyu from the Tajima breed. A steer or heifer can only be raised in the Hyogo Prefecture province of Japan.
Raised on breeding farms to the age of 8 to 9 months, raised and fattened in feeding farms for about 2 years and reach maturity between 28 to 32 months from birth.
Yield grade and meat quality grade of A4, B4, or above. Beef marbling standard (BMS) of No. 6 or higher.
If there are any flaws in the edible meat, it must pass an evaluation set by the Kobe Beef Marketing and Distribution Promotion Association.
More info: Kobe Beef article
MATSUSAKA BEEF: £65 - £150 per steak - the main rival of Kobe
Cattle belong to Mie Prefecture, where Matsuzaka is the capital.
Matsusaka wagyu is exclusively virgin females (females have more fat than males)
Only 2500 Matsuzaka cows are slaughtered each year
Raised in specified Matsusaka beef production areas, from at least the age of 12 months in Mie Prefecture.
Tasty reputation and virgin status from the special treatment the cattle are given.
Highest degree of quality and care: Individual care system for each cow.
Special diet for 3 years: feed with wheat, barley, rice, corn and soya beans, hand massages to promote better blood circulation, and fed by beer to create a healthy appetite (not a requirement for the grading)
Grading system: only beef with A4 or A5 grade will be marketed and sold as Matsusaka beef.
Registered in the Matsusaka Cattle Individual Identification Management System.
Situated in the southern part of Yamagata Prefecture.
The breeder must possess certification by the Yonezawa Beef Brand Promotion Council.
The (mother) cows must have spent most of their lives at a registered slaughterhouse.
Yonezawa cows are heifers that have never given birth.
Conditions to be certificated as Yonezawa Beef: Only beef from cows with good quality of meat and fat is carefully selected; Beef is directly purchased from the market; Only Yonezawa Beef that passes the test of the experienced fifth-generation owner is offered.
Raised with a long-term fattening method for over 32 months.
Diet: rice straw.
Grade of 3 or above, with excellent appearance, meat quality, and marbling.
The Yonezawa cattle black is not raised for meat production.
Uses Japanese black cattle grown in Siga Prefecture.
Raised according to a rich and natural environment: blessed with fresh and clean water of Lake Biwa “the mother lake”, fed with carefully considered nutritional balance.
High-quality fattening processes lead to meat: well-marbled and soft with tender fat.
The Omi Beef is the oldest wagyu brands in Japan: 400 years of history
Not internationally famous as Kobe Beef and can also be bought at a relatively reasonable price compare to other wagyu brands.
JAPANESE WAGYU Vs AUSTRALIAN, CHILEAN, USA & UK WAGYU
We should know that Wagyu doesn’t have the same meaning in Japan than in the United States, Australia and the UK.
In Japan, Wagyu beef refers to purebred cattle for four reasons:
Raising cattle uniformly and produce high-quality beef,
The marbling is soft and fine so the texture is also soft,
Wagyu beef has a tender fat that easily melts leading to a soft mouthfeel,
Fine and evenly proportion of fat on meat-producing rich flavour.
While, in the US, Australia and the UK, most of the wagyu is half-blood, so 50% Wagyu crossed with other breeds, and raised in a different way:
The first bloodlines came out of Japan to America in the 1970s and Australia in the 1990s, both become quickly influential in their respective beef industries. The first version of Wagyu beef in the UK was 2011.
Wagyu Beef Trade: F1 – 50% crossbred Wagyu; F2 – 75% crossbred Wagyu; F3 – 87% crossbred Wagyu; F4 – 93% purebred Wagyu; 100% full-blood Wagyu.
American Wagyu: Crossbreeding of Angus and Wagyu which yields a beef with rich marbling and deep muscle colour. Kobe Beef in the US is not the real Kobe Beef from Japan. It is “Kobe-style” beef to make the connection to the real Japanese Beef.
Australian Wagyu Beef: Crossbreeding Holstein and Wagyu to achieve high marbling and light muscle colour. The cattle are all Naturally Raised, free of added hormones and antibiotics and fed a clean diet of grains and grasses. The muscles of their cattle are smaller than Japanese Wagyu.
British Wagyu Beef: Follow the same crossbreeding than Australian Wagyu Beef.
The comparison between Japan and those countries is depending on what the cows are eating, how they are raised, where they are growing up, which kind of water they are drinking. But every country has its own Wagyu Association but doesn’t benefit from as detailed a rating system as Japanese Wagyu Beef.
There is no regulation in the UK, so to be sure about the meat, you can find where the meat comes from by the Wagyu mark. This Wagyu mark is proof of authenticity only for Wagyu born and raised in Japan. “Wagyu refers to specific breeds and its crossbreeds of beef cattle originated from Japan. These breeds have been selectively bred for a hundred years by Japanese beef cattle producers and breeding agencies.” See more info on MAFF, Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, website.
WHY IS WAGYU BEEF SO EXPENSIVE?
Legendary Status: The roots of Wagyu’s superiority can be traced to the late 1800s. During the 1880s, several breeds of European cattle were introduced to Japan and crossbred with native Japanese breeds. The four strains of cattle that resulted dominate the Japanese beef trade to this day.
Rearing Method: The cattle have to be reared and fed according to strict guidelines. Raised differently in each region and by different farmers, but they're often raised by a breeder until they're about 10 months old and then sold at auction to a fattening farmer. The fattening farm will keep the animals in small pens and feed them a mixture of fibre and high-energy concentrate made from rice, wheat, and hay. They're often fed this three times a day for almost two years until the animals are almost 50% fat. The length of the fattening process and the import prices of the huge amount of concentrated feed increases the cost of the beef, and over this fattening period, each cow will eat 5 tons of feed.
High Marbling: High marbling is the common goal, but the approach varies by farm and area. While there are more than 300 varieties of wagyu available, the most notable cuts come from 10 regions. The best-known cut of wagyu is Kobe beef, which comes from the city of Kobe in Hyogo Prefecture and is made exclusively from steers, or castrated bulls. It is also considered the most abundantly marbled in the world. Wagyu marbling is also better tasting and healthier. Wagyu fat melts at a lower temperature than any other cattle, resulting in a rich and buttery flavour.
Difficult to Source Wagyu: A lot of tariffs and quotas on Japanese beef imports, not allowed to import live cattle. The exportation of Wagyu beef is controlled and certified by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. Kobe Beef is even more controlled by the traceability system and certified by the Kobe Beef Marketing and Distribution Promotion Association.
Special Flavour: Incredibly tender: intense, fat marbling in the meat. Buttery soft flavour: high-grade piece melt in your mouth.
Specific Grading: Both of Wagyu and Kobe Beef have to score the perfect yield and meat quality, which corresponds to Japanese Wagyu Beef A5 or A4.
High Demand: The value of Japanese exports of wagyu has risen over 200% in the past five years. And as Japan's population ages, farmers are struggling to keep up with the increased global demand, raising prices even more. 2013: Japan exported 5-billion-yen worth of wagyu. 2019: exports hit 24.7 billion yen.
Kobe beef is comprised of a very particular strain of Wagyu called “Tajima-Gyu” that is raised to strict standards in the prefecture of Hyogo. Kobe Beef is Wagyu Beef, but not all Wagyu beef is Kobe. To be called Kobe Beef, a carcass of Tajima-Gyu cattle has to match stringent criteria set by Kobe Beef Marketing and Distribution Promotion Association.
KOBE BEEF LICENCE
All sellers must have a licence to sell Kobe Beef by Kobe Beef Marketing and Distribution Promotion Association. This licence is a certificate of authenticity respecting the stringent standards for Kobe Beef and showing the provenance of the Wagyu to consumers.
Kobe beef, cattle have to be born, raised, slaughtered and processed in Hyogo Prefecture specifically and his maturity age is between 28 and 60 months. So, the carcass needs to score:
Yield score: A or B
Meat quality score: 4 of 5
BMS: 6 to 12
Carcass weight: 470kg or less
Tajima Beef Certification System
Kobe Beef is the most internationalized beef, and as you read, it is produced from Wagyu lines of cattle in the region of Kobe in Japan. The Kobe Beef Association only certifies about 5.000 heads of Kobe cattle per year and then trace movements at any point in the supply chain around the globe:
- Genetic lineage
- Birth record
- Harvest record
- Ownership of the animal
- Farmer to slaughterhouse, wholesaler and retailers
The strict certification process requires that the beef comes from Tajima-Gyu cows, a pure breed whose lineage traces back to the 1600s. The cows also must be born, raised, and slaughtered in the Hyogo Prefecture, and the beef must pass strict marbling standards. Under this traceability system, restaurants and shops can prove the provenance of their Kobe Beef by showing their certificate of authenticity, which includes a 10-digit ID number that traces the cow’s lineage.
Kobe Beef has been registered as a regional brand product under the Geographical Indication protection system of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. Because it’s a product with a specific geographical origin and process qualities or a reputation that is due to that origin.
Kobe Beef Trade Mark: Trademark of Kobe beef is stamped on carcasses that satisfy all the requirements set by Kobe Beef Marketing and Distribution Promotion Association.
Tajima Bronze Statue: Kobe Beef Marketing and Distribution Promotion Association promote and uphold the stringent standards for Kobe beef. Wholesalers, importers/exporters, retailers and restaurants must be authorized by the Association before marketing Kobe Beef. Bronze statue of Tajima-Gyu placed at their shop front is the symbol of the authorized Kobe agent.