Wagyu is a type of high-quality beef that can literally be translated as Japanese beef. But it doesn’t refer to every type of Japanese beef. Today Wagyu beef is well known worldwide in fine restaurants. Wagyu is the high-end beef for its exceptional marbling, superior tenderness and exquisite flavor. However, how much do you know about Wagyu? In this article, we introduce Wagyu beef, and the top three brands of Wagyu which you can enjoy in Japan.
What is Wagyu beef?
“Wagyu” refers to all Japanese beef cattle. “Wa” means Japanese and “gyu” means cow. However, Wagyu is not an umbrella term for any Japanese cow, it refers to four unique breeds of four purebred cattle: Japanese Black (Kuroge), Japanese Brown (Akage), Japanese Polled (Mukake) and Japanese Shorthorn (Nihon Tankaku). This classification was established in 1944. Japanese Polled and Shorthorn are only bread inside Japan and among the four breeds of Wagyu, Japanese Black accounts for 95% of Wagyu raised in Japan.
All wagyu can be listed as domestic Japan Beef but not the other way around. Domestic Japanese beef can also include imported cattle that were either born or feeded in Japan. Some Japanese beef brands are Angus, Jersey and Holstein. Nowadays cross-breeding wagyu cattle with other breeds of cattle is prohibited so only beef that belongs to one of these four breeds and was raised in Japan can be considered Wagyu.
Within wagyu there are different classifications and there are two grades to be given: a Yield Grade that is marked A to C indicating the quantity of high-quality meat and a Quality Grade, a number between 1 and 5. The quality grade is based upon the marbling, meat color and brightness, firmness and texture, and color and quality of the fat. The highest quality and thus most expensive wagyu beef is classified as A5.
Why is Wagyu beef so popular?
Wagyu beef is juicy, rich, and flavorful and one of the most popular luxury foods in Japan. The luxury version of Wagyu that you see in some gourmet restaurants refers to a specific breed of Japanese cattle with a unique genetic predisposition. They store fat on the inside of their muscle, creating the marbling of fat inside the muscle tissue. This marbling is the key of Wagyu beef and the reason why it practically melts in your mouth as soon as you put a piece in your mouth.
In addition to the exquisite tenderness and flavor, Wagyu is also known for its health benefits. Health experts have discovered that the mono-saturated to saturated fat ratio is higher in Wagyu than other beef. Forty percent of the saturated fat contained in Wagyu is stearic acid, which is said to have a minimal impact on cholesterol levels.
Wagyu beef in the Japanese kitchen
Wagyu is used in various cuisines. The most popular ways of cooking include steak, Sukiyaki, Shabu-shabu and Yakiniku. Seared Wagyu beef sushi is also very popular in Japan. Sukiyaki is a thinly sliced beef, tofu, and vegetables cooked in an iron pan with sugar and soy sauce, and eaten with the raw egg dipping. Shabu-shabu is a thinly sliced meat cooked briefly in hot broth, along with vegetables, tofu and noodles. Yakiniku is grilled briefly at extremely high temperature, and eaten with some seasoning such as soy sauce or salt and wasabi. In order to enjoy the unique texture and aroma of Wagyu, cooking time should be minimal and never overcook.
If you are interested in Wagyu, you can find many fine restaurants which serve certified Wagyu beef. Be sure to check the quality of the meat beforehand and ask for wagyu beef, not to be mistaken with Japanese domestic beef. Because of the unique taste, quality and tenderness, wagyu is very popular and you should definitely try some when you visit Japan. Be prepared however to pay a fair amount of money, because the production of wagyu is a time-consuming and costly process. However, wagyu beef in Japan is worth tasting. We hope you enjoy it!