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By Alison Chew
Reviewed by Rebecca Housh, MS, RDN
Beef is one of the most popular types of meat eaten around the world. But not all beef is created equally. If you want to enjoy the best of the best, it’s time to turn your attention to luxurious Wagyu.
What is Wagyu?
Wagyu is a breed of beef cattle that originated in Japan as much as 35,000 years ago. The term wagyu, pronounced “wah-gyoo,” simply translates to “Japanese cow.”
Wagyu, horned animals that are black or red, were originally working animals used in agriculture. They have more intramuscular fat cells, i.e. marbling, than other cattle, which meant they had better physical endurance than other cows.
There are four breeds of wagyu beef native to Japan: Japanese Black (“Koruge Washu,” the most common wagyu breed), Japanese Brown (“Akage Washu,” also known as red wagyu), Japanese Shorthorn (“Nihon Tanakushu”), and Japanese Polled (“Mukaku Washu”).
Why is Wagyu so special?
Wagyu beef has fat marbled throughout it, rather than just around the outer edges as you’ll see in other types of beef. Due to its high-fat content, it is more tender and juicier than other types of beef. Plus, because the fat in wagyu melts at a lower temperature, it has a buttery taste and melts in your mouth when you eat it.
Wagyu beef could also potentially benefit your health. Per one study, this type of beef has higher levels of oleic acid, a healthy monounsaturated fatty acid that has been shown to reduce risk factors for heart disease.
It makes sense, then, that wagyu beef would be the most expensive beef in the world. In fact, the highest-quality can cost up to $200 or more per pound!
More FAQ’s are below!
Top Wagyu Retailers
Ready to try the rare and exquisite melt-in-your-mouth wagyu beef? Here are the BEST places to buy it online.
Japanese olive steak is the rarest beef in the world, hailing from the Kuroge Washu bread on Shodoshima Island in Japan. It gets its name because the cattle are fed on the roasted mulch of olives. The steak has a nutty taste and higher levels of oleic acid than other wagyu. With an A5 rating, this steak is soft and buttery.
Holy Grail Steak Co. delivers an assortment of Japanese (including authentic Kobe beef), American, and Australian wagyu right to your door. The company partners with artisanal farms to provide you with the highest-quality wagyu beef.
You can shop for A5 Japanese wagyu on Holy Grail Steak Co.’s website, including strip steaks, filet mignons, and ribeyes. You can also find many highly-rated American Wagyu-Angus steaks.
This steak delivers a luxurious taste thanks to its incredible marbling. It comes from cattle raised in the Hyogo prefecture in Japan and has the highest rating possible, an A5, for mouthwatering flavor and an ultra-tender texture.
Snake River Farms has been breeding wagyu beef with traditional Angus cattle in the United States since the late 1980s.
The company offers American wagyu in many popular cuts, including ribeye steaks, filet mignons, flank steaks, and bone-in prime rib roasts. Snake River Farms gives their American wagyu a “black grade” or a “gold grade” rating. Both ratings have more marbling than traditional USDA Prime beef (the highest rating given by the USDA).
This filet mignon has the highest level of marbling sold by Snake River Farms. It’s especially tender, buttery, and juicy, resulting in a taste similar to that of the Japanese purebred without the astronomical price tag.
Chicago Steak Company has been around since the 1860s, providing high-quality American meats raised in the midwest. They sell premium Angus USDA Prime beef and offer a variety of American wagyu cuts including the flat iron steak, filet mignon, boneless ribeye, and more.
Steaks and Game carries a wide range of high-quality meats, including wagyu beef raised on the best farms in Australia, with all beef free from antibiotics and hormones. Select from cuts like top sirloin center-cut steaks, strip loins, and skirt steaks
With a BMS score of 6, this steak has a good amount of marbling for the juicy tenderness you expect from wagyu beef. It’s also got a rich, beefy taste for a sumptuous experience without a large price tag.
Wagyu beef production is highly regulated by the Japanese government. These cows are raised by specialty breeders until they are somewhere between 7 and 10 months old. They are then sold to a farmer, along with a birth certificate that proves their pure bloodline. Farmers can pay up to $30,000 for just one cow.
Once a cow is sold, it’s taken to a special feeding farm. Japanese farmers work hard to make sure the wagyu they’re raising are in the most stress-free environment possible. That’s because high levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) can worsen the quality of the beef.
Part of making sure the cows experience little stress is giving them lots of room to move around and graze while on the farm. There’s typically only four or five wagyu in a single pen, which differs from typical cattle farms where you’d find dozens of cows crowded into one pen. Farmers sometimes even brush the cows to increase blood circulation and relieve tension in their muscles.
Once on the farm, the cows mature for about two or three years or until they weigh around 1,500 pounds or are made up of 50% fat. During this period, they’re fed three meals a day, composed mostly of hay, grain, and wheat to keep up their energy. And are never fed anything with hormones or steroids.
All Wagyu beef from Japan is graded by the Japanese Meat Grading Association (JMGA) and given a letter and number score.
There are a number of factors that play a role in the wagyu rating scale. First is yield, or the ratio of meat to the total weight of the carcass. Wagyu can receive an A, B, or C rating for its yield, with A being the best and C being the worst.
The JMGA then scores the fat marbling using the Beef Marbling Standard (BMS), color and brightness of the meat using the Beef Color Standard (BCS), color and brightness of the fat using the Beef Fat Standard (BFS), and firmness and texture.
The JMGA gives each of these attributes a grade on a scale of 1-5, with 1 being the lowest and 5 being the highest. The lowest of these four scores becomes the final grade and is paired with the lettered yield score.
That means A5 is the highest rank you’ll find. A5 wagyu beef is extremely decadent. It’s unbelievably tender with tons of beautiful marbling throughout for an ultra-rich taste.
Wagyu beef and Kobe beef are two terms often used interchangeably, but there’s a nuanced difference.
Wagyu is just a broad term referring to Japanese beef. It doesn’t necessarily need to be raised in Japan, and it doesn’t even necessarily need to be purebred.
Kobe beef, on the other hand, is a specific brand of wagyu. The brand name comes from the Kobe Beef Marketing & Distribution Promotion Association, located in Kobe, the capital city of the Hyogo prefecture in Japan.
In order to be labeled Kobe beef, the cattle must come from the Japanese Black breed and be raised in the Tajima province in the Hyogo prefecture. Kobe beef must also have an A4 rating or higher with a BMS of 6 or higher (12 is the highest rating on the BMS scale).
Wagyu cattle were first imported to the United States in 1975, but this process was stopped in 2003 upon the discovery of mad cow disease. Still, there are a few select cattle farmers in the United States who are certified to raise them, and they are strictly regulated by the American Wagyu Association.
The biggest difference between Japanese and American wagyu beef? Most Japanese wagyu cattle are purebred, while American wagyu beef is usually crossbred between wagyu cattle and Black Angus cattle.
Because American wagyu beef is primarily crossbred, it’s not quite as tender or buttery as the Japanese purebred, but it still tastes better than your average steak and you can enjoy more of it.
This post has been reviewed and approved by our dietitian Rebecca Housh, MS, RDN, LDN for nutritional accuracy.
Rebecca Housh is a registered dietitian based in Chicago, IL. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Human Physiology from Boston University and a Master of Science in Human Nutrition from the University of Illinois in Chicago. Rebecca is passionate about the idea of food as medicine in both preventative and therapeutic care. Her current professional interests lie in food security, food access, and nutrition for chronic disease.
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