The origin of wagyu beef is from a breed of Japanese cow. The literal translation of wagyu is Wa- meaning Japanese, and -Gyu, meaning cow.
An early account of Wagyu cattle comes from Japan thousands of years ago. These cattle were chosen as draft animals as their muscular build allowed for more physical endurance in agricultural work. While these animals were used exclusively for work, meat consumption was popularized in 1868 and people began looking at their draft animals differently.
It wasn’t until 1990 when four predominant breeds of cattle were determined, Kuroge, Aakage, Nihon Tankuku, and Mukaku; Kuroge cattle being the most popular breed today for its high rate of marbling. This breed of cow does something that no other breed can do; it metabolizes fat inside the muscle, rather than on endcaps of muscle like other types of steak. This gives it a beautiful internal marbling that is unlike any other cut of meat.
Though a few heads of wagyu livestock were exported to the United States in the 1900s, where they were bred and crossbred for American Wagyu. Japan enacted an export ban on these cattle in 1997, declaring the breed a national treasure to keep true wagyu a Japanese product entirely.
While the cattle are no longer able to be exported, the resulting Japanese wagyu beef is still available through certified premium butcheries and restaurants for a premium price.
Wagyu VS. Kobe Beef
Kobe beef is a premium type of wagyu. For this type of beef to be truly considered and certified Kobe, it must be bred in Kobe, Japan.
Cattle farmers here must be certified by the Kobe Beef Association, which is also based in Japan, for their cattle and farm to be considered eligible for the privilege.
Because cortisol – the stress hormone – is notorious for negatively affecting the quality of beef, these farmers go to great lengths to ensure the animal’s existence is as stress-free as possible, as their goal is to keep this hormone out of the animal’s body.
These cows are carefully monitored in open-air pastures where they can be supplied with plenty of fresh, clean water and high-quality food, and separated from others whom they do not get along with so they remain as happy and stress-free as possible from birth to harvest.
At every step from the farmer to the slaughterhouse, to the retailer or restaurant who serves it, everyone must be certified by the Association before it reaches your table.
Why Do People Like Wagyu Beef So Much?
Not only is wagyu healthier for you, lowering cholesterol with higher monounsaturated (good) fats than any other type of beef.
Authentic Japanese wagyu perfectly captures the umami flavor that many people seek, providing a rich, buttery flavor that can only be eaten a few bites at a time before it becomes overwhelming. (1)
Wagyu from other countries, on the other hand, is not such an overwhelming flavor and can be eaten in larger quantities, but it also loses a lot of the umami flavors as these cattle are crossbred with others native to that country.
Eating Japanese Wagyu Beef is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience and therefore there has always been a great interest in trying it … The amount of care that goes into the production of Japanese Wagyu Beef is incredible
Beyond the flavor and richness, wagyu provides an amazing mouthfeel from the high quantity of monounsaturated fats and how they are structured inside the meat because it melts at a temperature lower than your body. As you eat, the fat literally melts in your mouth, imparting a deliciously rich texture.