What is Wagyu Beef and Why Is It So Expensive?

When it comes to meat, there is one particular name that will come to almost everybody’s mind when they think about the tastiest and most luxurious meat of them all. That name is “Wagyu,” which you would often see and hear in fancy steakhouses around the world. What is Wagyu? And why is it considered the best beef? We will find as we get a look at the origins of Wagyu beef and how it is raised.

What is Wagyu Beef?

Wagyu beef is a type of cow meat that is found on Wagyu cows, which are native to Japan and are known for having an increased fat percentage compared to other cows. The term “Wagyu” is a two-word Japanese phrase that means “Japanese (Wa)” and “Cow (Gyu).” There are many types of Wagyu beef that you will encounter once you purchase a slice or a kilogram of the meat, and the type would depend on where the cows are raised, as well as their breed.

Wagyu cows have once been only found in Japan, but other countries started raising Wagyu cows in order to compete with Japanese Wagyu raisers and for customers to have a wider array of choices when it comes to Wagyu beef. Here are the countries that have started or are currently raising Wagyu cows:

  • Australia
  • Canada
  • United States
  • United Kingdom

Of course, the Wagyu beef sold in Japan is much more valuable, but for those that want cheaper alternatives, they have the option to get Wagyu beef in other countries.

 In Australia, Wagyu beef is raised or farmed and distributed to other countries, which include Singapore, Taiwan, the United Kingdom, and Germany. In the United States, there are some Japanese Wagyu cows that are bred with Aberdeen Angus cattle. 

In Canada, the Wagyu production started in the country when the Canadian Wagyu Association was formed. Moreover, most of the Wagyu cows in Canada are raised in Ontario, Quebec, and Alberta, and their meat is exported to the United States, New Zealand, Australia, and several countries in Europe. The United Kingdom has the youngest Wagyu-raising industry, as it only started in 2008 when Japanese Wagyu cows were imported to North Yorkshire.

Origins of Wagyu Beef

Historical records show that Wagyu beef (or the genetic strain that produced the high-quality beef that we know today) had already been in existence 35,000 years ago. The current version of Wagyu beef is said to be the product of cross-breeding native Japanese cattle with breeds that come from different parts of the world. The official birth of the modern Wagyu cattle is said to have occurred in 1868 when the Meiji restoration period sought the introduction of Western food culture to Japanese locals.

What are the Different Breeds of Wagyu Cattle?

Wagyu strips

Through the cross-breeding of native and imported breeds, Japan was able to develop the best beef that has the perfect amount of fat and flavor that couldn’t be replicated by any other type of beef. However, the cross-breeding process also resulted in different breeds of Wagyu cattle. To know more, here are details about each Wagyu cattle breed found in Japan.

  • Japanese Black – the breed of Wagyu cattle that was created as a result of cross-breeding native cattle to European breeds such as Devon, Holstein, Shorthorn, and Simmental. It is called “Japanese Black” due to the natural black color of its coat. Japanese Black Wagyu accounts for 90% of all fattened cattle in Japan. So, if you are going to buy Wagyu beef, there is a high chance that the meat you will get comes from the Japanese Black cattle.
  • Japanese Polled – is a breed of Wagyu cattle that are considered critically endangered because its population keeps decreasing every year. In 1978, there were about 2242 Japanese Polled cattle in the country, but by 2008, the number of cattle was reduced to 132. Even though it is not necessarily near extinction, the Japanese government has provided regulations when it comes to preserving the breed. The name “Japanese Polled” refers to their lack of horns. It is concluded that the major foreign influence of the Japanese polled cattle is the Scottish Angus cow.
  • Japanese Brown – the breed of Wagyu that has a distinct brown coat and was developed in the southern parts of Japan, particularly in the Kochi Prefecture and the Kumamoto Prefecture. Much like the Japanese Polled, the population of the Japanese Brown cattle kept decreasing over the years, mainly due to the popularity of Japanese Black cattle. Some Japanese Brown cows were imported to the United States in 1994, and they eventually became one of the main breeds of Wagyu cows in the said country.
  • Japanese Shorthorn – a breed of Wagyu beef cattle that was born through the cross-breeding of native cattle and the Shorthorn breed of cattle that came from the North East of England. In addition to the Shorthorn, the Japanese Shorthorn is also influenced by the Devon and Ayrshire breeds. As its name suggests, the Japanese Shorthorn is known for having a relatively short horn compared to the Japanese Black and Japanese Brown breeds.

Why is Wagyu Beef So Expensive?

Wagyu steak

Wagyu beef is not only expensive because of its flavor and rarity but also because of the amount of labor needed to raise a proper Japanese Wagyu cow. The Wagyu cattle need to be raised under certain conditions, and they should follow a specific lifestyle that would allow their meat to have the best quality of muscle possible for a cow. Furthermore, each cow is closely monitored, with most of them even having birth certificates so that they will be identified and recognized. A lot of Wagyu farmers believe that a cow that is living a relaxed and stress-free life would produce the best meat.

If the Wagyu cow is raised properly, its meat will have amazing marbling that contains the perfect amount of fat and muscle in each bite. Most people who have had the chance to try Wagyu beef would say that the meat “melts in your mouth” because its fat has a lower melting point compared to the average human body temperature.

There is no type of beef or meat that can beat Wagyu beef, as it is produced through hard work and attention to detail. If you have the budget to dine luxuriously, you should try Wagyu beef and see if it is truly worth the hype it has been getting for many years.