This is our place to share some "insider" knowledge on the highly complex Wagyu production chain. We hope to explain in lay terms why things happen the way they do with Wagyu and to help demystify some of the common jargon used in the production and marketing sectors.
** We named it WagyupediaTM because the explanations are, in most cases, our informed opinion.
What is Wagyu Beef?
Wagyu (pronounced Wag-you) is a breed of cattle that originated from Japan in the 2nd century.
Wagyu beef has always been surrounded by lore, mystique and prestige. Tales of pampered cows being massaged with sake, fed beer and being played classical music are commonplace about the industry, although modern Wagyu farming is more about exclusively fed, performance bred animals with elite bloodlines and superior genetics
The meat from Wagyu cattle is reknown worldwide for its predisposition to heavy marbling (finely interspersed specks of intramuscular fat within the muscle), and modern day Wagyu cattle herds are specifically bred to achieve these certain characteristics, which provides for enhanced eating quality.
Highly prized for its uncompromising quality, Wagyu beef has a well deserved reputation as the most exclusive beef in the world.
FAQ about Wagyu Beef
What is Kobe beef?
Kobe is Japan’s 6th largest city on the island of Honshu. Farming land that surrounds Kobe is the birthplace of one of the most famous and highly exclusive Wagyu bloodlines.
As is the case with Champagne and Parma ham, the highest grading Wagyu beef originating from this specified region is called Kobe beef.
Why Wagyu? What's the difference between Wagyu and conventional meat?
The main difference is the intramuscular fat content of the meat. This has been established because Wagyu cattle have been bred up specifically for TASTE, which has resulted in three important points of difference at the meat level - (1) there are more intramuscular fat cells in Wagyu, (2) the intramuscular fat in Wagyu beef continues to grow throughout the life of the animal and (3) the intramuscular fat in Wagyu has a unique chemical composition.
What is Wagyu marbling?
Marbling is the intramuscular fat deposits found in muscle fibres of all beef. Wagyu cattle are
Is it healthy with all that fat?
University studies have revealed that aside from being a good source of vitamins and nutrients Wagyu beef contains high amounts of omega’s 3 fatty oils, as well as monounsaturated fatty acids. These are known to have a positive effect on the bodies cholesterol levels and it is believed due to the high CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) content Wagyu also has the potential to reduce diabetes, Alzheimer’s and heart conditions.
A History of Wagyu ....
Native Asian cattle were introduced into Japan circa AD200 from the Korean peninsula, and were used as draught animals in the cultivation of rice, and as pack animals.
Japan’s rugged terrain meant these early herds were kept separated, and effectively closed.
These isolated regional pockets meant each herd had differing feeding and breeding techniques, and it is from these secluded areas of Japan strains of animals with unique, varying characteristics arose. It is from these animals that Japan’s indigenous Wagyu strains originated.
Due to religious prohibition, the Japanese only started eating beef in the mid 1800’s after the
The years between the 1860s and 1910 saw the Japanese herds being infused with European breeds such as Ayrshire, Simmental, Shorthorns, Angus and Holsteins among others.
In 1910 the Japanese government put an end to this in order to retain the purity of their Wagyu herds, and these have remained closed to any outside interference and closely monitored to this day.
Wagyu genetics arrived in the USA in the 1980s and was bred with Angus cattle, which created a meat higher in red content but which also displayed marbling characteristics, deemed to be more suitable to American tastes. Wagyu genetics arrived in Australia via the USA not long after, and current Australian bloodlines are considered some of the best in the world.
In recent decades selective breeding programmes have seen the rise of Wagyu beef rearing in Australia, NZ, Great Britain and North and South America.
With the emphasis being on export the majority are destined for the international markets of Asia and Europe.
Wagyu beef has always been developed with an emphasis on quality. Very protective of the breed, the Japanese authorities are meticulous in their monitoring of the industry and their unique product, and have classed Wagyu as a national treasure.
Why has Wagyu boomed in Australia?
Japan, Korea and the USA have been largely responsible for the growth of the Australian Wagyu industry, however, the Australian market is now playing an increasingly important role.
Japan was the first country to buy Australian produced Wagyu beef. First cross (F1) steers, born to mostly Angus cows, were shipped by sea (and air) to Fukuoka and Tokyo in the mid-late 1990's where they were fattened in feedlots. Prices for these steers were 30 - 40% higher than those paid for British bred (Angus, Hereford) steers so these early signals encouraged more producers to start breeding Wagyu. The demand for scarce Wagyu genetics became intense.
The production in Australia of grain fed F1 Wagyu carcases commenced in the late 1990's and Japan importers began shipping small quantities each week of chilled carcases to the Tokyo and Osaka meat auctions. This continued for 2 years until the ill fated date of September 11, 2001. This was significant for Australian Wagyu producers because the first case of "Mad Cow" (BSE) was detected in a Japanese dairy cow. Almost immediately all imports of F1 Wagyu carcases ceased. There was approximately 5 - 8,000 Wagyu cattle being grain fed in Australia without a market!
The newly liberalised Korean market purchased Australian F1 Wagyu carcases in 2002 as a result of persistent marketing by a few pioneering companies. The 5-8,000 Wagyu cattle were sold to wholesalers and supermarkets in Seoul, at a discount to what had been the rates achieved in Japan, but this ultimately opened a market that would prove to be Australia's largest and most reliable buyer.
During 2003 the Korean market was able to continue its emergence as a consistent buyer of Australian grain fed Wagyu meat (helped in part because the AUD:USD was at its historical lows of 0.47 - 0.50), whilst the Japanese market showed little interest as it had to contend with on-going detections of cows with BSE and a backlash from consumers toward "unsafe" beef.
The occurrence of BSE in the USA on December 23, 2003 and the subsequent import bans placed upon beef from North America (and Canada) by every major Asian country, caused import companies from both Japan and Korea to rush in and secure supplies of Australian beef, including F1 Wagyu meat, and so began the most important 18 month period in its short history.
Fortuitously (and somewhat paradoxically), the USA commenced sizeable imports of Australian Wagyu steak cuts in 2004/5 and this complemented the increase in demand from Japan/Korea over the same period. American Wagyu beef producers had turned to developing market channels for their F1 grain fed meat at home after their exports were banned. Their efforts were successful in opening up sizeable opportunities within the USA restaurant sector, so much so that they could not supply enough!
This balance in sales of high value steak cuts to USA and the high volume of non-steak cuts into Asia allowed for rapid growth in meat sales and the consequent increase in demand for feeder steers and thus breeding stock. (This is the reason why the highest prices paid for 100% Pure Wagyu bulls occurred in 2005 and why Westholme Wagyu could be sold for A$9 Million in 2006 to AAco). All the while, very little Wagyu meat had been marketed within Australia, save for a few of the elite steakhouses and fine diners in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. Wagyu steaks on menus for $50 was a significant hurdle for Australian chefs and their customers.
It wasn't until 2005 that the main producers of Wagyu started selling meat onto the local market, and it took some time to filter across the food service and hotel markets. Butcher shops also tried but made only small inroads at selling a selection of cuts. Importantly, as a result of the increase in supply of cross bred Wagyu steak cuts, the price of Wagyu became more favourable for the Australian outlets. From 2006 to 2010 it is now history that Wagyu has elevated itself to be the "hero" beef item on most restaurant menus here. This progress has been mirrored in HK, USA and also mainland China.
Using our Red Wine analogy?
We have compiled a reference table below to help everyone understand some of the terms used in the Wagyu industry. It has comparisons to RED wine so that there is a context to them that is perhaps more familiar.
Let us explain a few so that the table makes some sense.......
Grapes have varieties, Wagyu have strains. Red wine is made from varieties of grapes such as shiraz, cabernet and pinot noir; 100% pure bred black Wa-Gyu have stabilised bloodlines or strains that relate back to the originating bulls, such as Tajima and Kedaka.
There are blends of wines and there is cross breeding of Wagyu. Winemakers apply their skills to produce some wines that are a blend of different grape varieties such as cabernet sauvignon and grenache shiraz. Wagyu producers "blend" 100% pure Wa-Gyu genetics with other beef and dairy cows to produce a cross bred Wagyu animal so that the Wagyu content is reduced to 50%. Perhaps in the strictest sense, cross breeding Wa-Gyu is like blending the juice from red grapes and white grapes, but you are getting the idea?
For those more technical; we also know that Wagyu producers that breed only 100% pure Wa-Gyu cattle also "blend" their herds with different strains so that they may have 100% pure bred cattle that are comprised of 50% Tajima and 50% Kedaka bloodlines and variations of these.
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