Wagyu (pronounced “Wa-goo”) means Japanese style (wa) cattle (gyu). Wagyu beef is intensely marbled with softer fat, has higher percentages of monounsaturated fats, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids and is lower in cholesterol than commodity beef. The combinations of these fats deliver a distinctive rich and tender flavor compared to other beef
All Kobe is Wagyu, but not all Wagyu is Kobe. If it didn’t come from Tajima cattle in Japan it is not Kobe beef
The most exclusive Wagyu in the world comes from Kobe, Japan. People use the terms Kobe and Wagyu beef interchangeably in the U.S. thinking it refers to the same premium imported Japanese beef, when it does not. Many restaurant menus feature “Kobe Burgers” or “Kobe Steaks”. The internet is flooded with on-line companies offering Kobe Beef, Kobe Burgers, Kobe- Style Beef, and Wagyu beef. The truth is authentic Kobe beef is very rarely seen on restaurant menus in the USA.
Under Japanese law, Kobe beef can only came from Hyōgo prefecture (of which Kobe is the capital city) of Japan. Kobe cows are fed a special diet of dried pasture forage and grasses such as rice straw with nutrition-rich feed supplements made by blending soybean, corn, barley, wheat bran, and various other ingredients. They are not fed pasture grass.
Kobe Beef, Kobe Meat and Kobe Cattle, are also all trademarks in Japan
The United States does not recognize these trademarks thus promoting free use of the term “Kobe” in the US without regard to Japan’s strict standards. Consequently restaurants and retailers market various types of American or Australian Wagyu beef as “Kobe beef”
Four Wagyu bulls were brought to the USA in 1976 from Japan’s Tottori Prefecture for cross breeding with Angus cattle creating the American Wagyu Kobe Style Beef. The crossbred Wagyu cattle were fed a mixture of corn, alfalfa, barley and wheat straw mimicking the Japanese cattle diet. In the mid 1990’s, about 40 more full blooded Wagyu male and females were imported to the US for breeding
There a few domestic ranches raising pure blood American Wagyu beef today, however, most of what we see domestically are a Wagyu/Angus mixed breed. The Wagyu influence contributes to the intense marbling and the Angus influence contributes to the animal’s size
The USDA scale for upper grade meat quality has 3 levels: Select, Choice, and Prime. Prime is the highest USDA grade. Roughly, 3% of traditional US cattle harvested are graded as Prime – equivalent to a Wagyu BMS score of 5
The most important characteristic of Japanese beef is the white parts of fat in the meat, known as sashi in Japanese. The sashi is interspersed between layers of red meat and gives the beef a marbled pattern. This marbling is the most prized aspect of Japanese beef and cattle farmers go to great lengths to create intense patterns that make the meat literally melt in your mouth. In fact, the beef grading systems in most countries are directly related to how much marbled fat is present
In the US, prime beef must have 6-8% of marbled fat to qualify for the highest USDA grade. In order to achieve the highest quality grade for wagyu (A5), on the other hand, meat must be at least 25% marbled fat
Fat in Japanese beef is primarily monounsaturated, which is known to lower ‘bad’ cholesterol! Monounsaturated fats also have a very low melting point, making the beef literally melt in your mouth. An steak of top quality A5 grade wagyu can cost $500 or more in Tokyo’s fine dining scene
Great care is taken to produce marbling and, apart from the being killed and eaten thing, cows in Japan live a king’s (or emperor’s) life. They are fed high quality grains and each farmer has their own blends and secret ingredients, such as soybeans and okara (a byproduct of making tofu). Water is also an important part in the cattle diet and local mineral water is often used to ensure the best quality product
To keep their appetite going during the hot summer months, cows are fed beer or sake to give them, well, the munchies, which kind of makes you wonder how good the beef would taste if they started mixing pot leaves in the feed. The cows are raised in stalls to help create fatty marbling, so they are taken outside for leisurely walks in the afternoon to get some sun and fresh air
Farmers will also spit sake on their cows and rub it in with a straw hand brush, which they say helps balance the distribution of marble content in addition to keeping the lice and ticks away. In order to ensure their cows stay as relaxed as possible, some breeders are rumored to even play soothing music for them. Beer, massages, afternoon strolls, mineral water, classical music are all part of the regime
Matsuzaka beef has some of the most expensive cuts and is considered by many enthusiasts to be the best kind of beef in Japan. Female cows raised in the quiet and serene area around Matsuzaka in Mie Prefecture are slaughtered before being bred, and this virgin meat is said to be the tenderest in the world. Known for its high fat content and characteristic marbling patterns that border on fine art, Matsuzaka beef has a rich, meaty flavor and begins to melt as soon as it enters your mouth.
This beef can be hard to find outside of big cities as only a limited number of the cows are slaughtered every year. Check for it in department stores and expect to pay around $50 for 100 grams ($500 per kilo; $225 per pound) for cuts of sirloin
Kobe beef is what put wagyu on the map and, for many people around the world, is synonymous with Japanese beef. Kobe beef comes from cows raised, fed, and slaughtered in Hyogo Prefecture, where Kobe City is located. These cows require a marbling ratio of at least level 6, a Meat Quality Score of A or B, and a weight of under 470 kilograms. In order to be called Kobe beef, the meat must also come from Bullock or Virgin cows, ostensibly to keep the beef pure
When demand for Kobe beef shot through the roof, American ranchers began using the term ‘Kobe-style’ beef to refer to wagyu cattle raised in the US. While the price is much more affordable at $20 per pound for the cheapest Kobe-style beef and the quality is better than American Angus beef, it just doesn’t compare with the real thing
Fukutsuru, a wagyu bull sent the American from Japan in the early 90’s, deserves a special word of mention. Known for his genetic tendency to produce high levels of marble content in offspring, Fukutsuru is in many ways the father of Kobe-style beef. He was bred countless times and his genes were considered so magical that prior to his death in 2005, over 100,000 sperm units were collected and put on ice for future generations
Mishima beef is a very rare type of beef that comes from the small island of Mishima Island of the tip of southern Honshu. Unlike Kobe beef, which came from crossing Japanese cows with European breeds, Mishima cattle are pure-bred from the original strain introduced to Japan via Korea over 2,000 years ago. One reason local farmers have been able to prevent interbreeding is because of the isolated location of the island
Omi beef is a less well-known but equally scrumptious type of wagyu that comes from Shiga Prefecture. Despite beef consumption being forbidden in Japan up until 140 years ago, rumor has it that the Shogun and some feudal lords (daimyo) would eat beef Omi beef, ostensibly because of its “medicinal purposes”. The fact that it tastes great surely had nothing to do with it
A relative new-comer to the stage of high quality Japanese beef, Ishigaki beef comes from the southern island of Ishigaki in Okinawa Prefecture.
Ishigaki beef is sold all over Ishigaki Island and throughout Okinawa Prefecture