Episode 3: Wagyu Beef 101
We serve ethically sourced wagyu beef in Seattle from local farms in Portland all the way to Japan. It can be difficult to find something as special as Japanese Wagyu A5 in Seattle or local. Many of our customers are nervous or scared to buy and cook wagyu beef. What is it about this type of beef? Why is there a lack of “correct information” out there?
Since we bring in a TON of wagyu, we thought we should explore and educate. So we bring to you… WAGYU 101.
Why Choose Wagyu Beef?
So before we get into the history and how it came to the United States, let’s start off by talking about WHY wagyu beef is so interesting to the Lady Jaye Meat Dudes!
Wagyu in incredible because it targets all your senses:
- Sight: The marbling is something most of us have never seen before.
- Sound: The sizzle when it hits the pan.
- Smell: The aroma when cooking in its own fat.
- Taste: Explosive butter.
- Feel: Coats your mouth with an outstanding mouthfeel
What does Wagyu mean?
Simply put, Wagyu translates to “Japanese Cattle”.
Wa = Japanese Gyu = Cow/Cattle
But the official LJ Meat Dudes definition is: Super marbled genetically superior cattle that is from Japan.
What is wagyu beef?
Let’s get technical! Wagyu were originally draft animals used in agriculture and were selected for their physical endurance. This selection favored animals with more intra-muscular fat cells – ‘marbling’ – which provided a readily available energy source. (American Wagyu Association – www.wagyu.org)
That seems a bit crazy that they were strictly used for farming considering that these are the most marbled cows on the planet. But Japan didn’t start eating beef until the 19th century. And, it’s what they had available to use.
In the book “America’s Wagyu Trail” they compare using Wagyu cattle for agriculture to “It’s like French farmers using foie gras to grease their wagon wheels.”
Are they Genetically different…? Well, yes.
One key aspect of wagyu genetics is the presence of a particular gene that controls the production of intramuscular fat. This gene, called the “stearoyl-CoA desaturase” or “SCD” gene, is present in higher levels in wagyu cattle than in other breeds. This results in a higher proportion of unsaturated fatty acids, which contributes to the distinctive taste and texture of wagyu beef.
In addition to the SCD gene, other genes are also thought to play a role in the quality of wagyu beef. Researchers have identified a gene known as the “myostatin” gene, which is involved in regulating muscle growth. Variations in this gene have been linked to differences in muscle mass and marbling in wagyu cattle.
4 Types of Japanese Wagyu Cattle
All wagyu beef has to be traced back to Japan, and specifically these 4 breeds of cattle.
Wagyu beef is known for its exceptional taste, tenderness, and marbling, which is the fat that is distributed throughout the meat. While all Wagyu cattle share these traits to some extent, there are several different breeds of Wagyu cattle, each with their own unique characteristics. Here’s a closer look at the different types of Wagyu cattle:
- Japanese Black (Kuroge Washu): This is the most common breed of Wagyu cattle and accounts for over 90% of all Wagyu raised in Japan. It is known for its high levels of marbling, which gives the beef a rich, buttery texture and flavor.
- Japanese Brown (Akage Washu): This breed of Wagyu cattle is smaller than the Japanese Black and has a reddish-brown coat. The meat from Japanese Brown cattle is known for its intense beefy flavor and high levels of umami.
- Japanese Polled (Mukaku Washu): This breed of Wagyu cattle is known for its smooth, round head without horns (polled). The meat from Japanese Polled cattle is known for its delicate texture and rich, beefy flavor.
- Japanese Shorthorn (Nihon Tankaku Washu): This breed of Wagyu cattle is known for its leaner meat, which is still tender and flavorful. The meat from Japanese Shorthorn cattle has a slightly firmer texture and a milder flavor than other types of Wagyu beef.
Not many people outside of Japan knew about wagyu beef before the 1970’s and 80’s, but it wasn’t like Japan was intentionally keeping it from the world. The limited availability of wagyu was due more to Japan’s historical isolation and limited trade than to any intentional effort to keep Wagyu beef a secret.
So how is it becoming so popular around the world?
United States Wagyu Beef
Some like to say in the Korean War, GI’s would fly to Japan for R&R. They would tour the markets, probably see hanging carcasses of incredibly marbled wagyu beef and think “what the hell is this?”
But it still took over 20 more years to bring wagyu cattle to United States soil.
In in the 70’s, they brought over 4 wagyu bulls. Probably smuggled them in, depending on who you ask, this topic is still surrounded by a lot of gray area. These bulls are now referred to as the “old genetics.”
An Expert on Wagyu Beef weighs in
We had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Jerry Reeves of Bar R Wagyu Pullman WA who has been in the wagyu genetics game for over 35 years.
Dr. Jerry Reeves was with an original research team that went to Japan in the late 80s to study wagyu beef.
Japan was planning to lift its import quotas on meat, and since Japanese farmers could only produce one-third of the meat their country would need, there was opportunity to send U.S. meat to Japan. The Washington State University team wanted to determine what the Japanese consumer desired in beef that could be exported from the U.S.
When he got to Japan he told us he was completely blown away by wagyu beef and had never seen anything like it. He knew that US Choice Beef was NOT going to cut it with the Japanese population and set out to develop and breed high quality wagyu beef that the Japanese consumers would enjoy.
He was part of the first wagyu import from Japan in the 90s that flew into the U.S. and were brought out to Moses Lake, WA.
The U.S. now had a real wagyu program was selling beef back to Japan until 2003 when Mad Cow Disease hit the States hard and could no longer export wagyu beef back to Japan.
This new “American Wagyu Beef” had to go somewhere so farmers started selling to American restaurants and the American consumers finally got a taste of this exquisite product.
The demand for wagyu in the U.S. started rising rapidly.
What is the difference between Japanese, American and Australian wagyu beef?
Remember, for beef to be called wagyu, the genetics have to be traced back to Japan.
Typically in the U.S. you will find “cross breeds” because that is what the American consumer wants. We (as Americans) like to eat 10-12-16 oz steaks but that would be a weeks worth of beef in Japan. They like to eat smaller portions of 2-3 ounces.
The Cross Breeds:
F1 Cross: (Most common) An F1 cross is a first-generation cross between a purebred Wagyu bull and a cow from another breed, such as an Angus or Hereford. The resulting offspring will have 50% Wagyu genetics and 50% genetics from the other breed.
F2 Cross: An F2 cross is a second-generation cross between two F1 cross cattle resulting in a 75% Wagyu genetics and 25% genetics.
F3 Cross: An F3 cross is 87% wagyu genetics traceable back to Japan.
Purebred/F4 Cross: A purebred wagyu cattle is 93.75% wagyu genetics traceable back to Japan.
Fullblood: A fullblood Wagyu animal has 100% Wagyu genetics. Fullblood Wagyu cattle are considered to be the highest quality Wagyu and are highly prized for their marbling, tenderness, and unique flavor.
In Australia you will find the same cross breeds as the U.S., but since 70% of Australia’s wagyu beef gets shipped to the Pacific Rim, you will typically find a more marbled product on average.
In Japan you can also find cross breeds, but the average Japanese consumer only eats 2-3 ounces of beef during a sit down meal so the demand for highly marbled beef is much higher.
While American Wagyu, Japanese Wagyu, and Australian Wagyu all share some common traits, such as high levels of marbling and exceptional flavor, they differ in their breeding, feeding, and processing methods, which can lead to subtle differences in taste and texture. Whether you prefer the buttery richness of Japanese Wagyu, the sweetness of Australian Wagyu, or the unique flavor of American Wagyu, each type of Wagyu beef offers a truly exceptional culinary experience.