What’s The Deal With Wagyu Beef?

It's considered the finest of beef types by connoisseurs the world over and posh restaurants are falling over themselves to offer it. Given its relative rarity and the hype surrounding it, Wagyu beef  has earned itself quite a reputation in the dining world. So what makes Wagyu beef from sites like joyce-farms.com so special? The following takes an in-depth look at this unique and flavorful beef variety.

Where Wagyu Comes From

Wagyu beef hails from a select group of cattle breeds raised in several areas of Japan. The name itself literally means "Japanese cow," further emphasizing its origins in the island nation. Given Japan's unique terrain and culture, Wagyu cattle breeds are raised differently from most Western breeds.

For instance, Wagyu cattle typically live for 26 to 32 months, whereas U.S. cattle live for only 18 months. The relative lack of sufficient grazing land also means that Wagyu cattle largely subsist on a diet high in grain, with beer occasionally added to their food stocks to stimulate their appetites.

Since these cows often lead sedentary lives, they're occasionally massaged to reduce stresses associated with inactivity. While it likely affects cattle longevity, it doesn't have any noticeable impact on the meat marbling. However, the generally lethargic nature of Wagyu cattle means that they spend more of their time feeding, which in turn raises their fat content and the amount of marbling seen in cut Wagyu beef.

Differences Between Wagyu and Other Beef

There are plenty of key differences that help separate Wagyu beef from other varieties:

  • Location – Genuine Wagyu beef must be raised and processed in Japan. Wagyu breeds imported into the U.S. are typically crossbred with Angus cattle, diluting the heritage of the cattle. The controls on Wagyu beef's origins are so strict that each animal has its own 10-digit serial number that can be checked to verify its authenticity.
  • Marbling – Wagyu beef features a high degree of fat marbling throughout the meat, whereas Western beef features uniform streaks of fat in lower quantities. The fat featured in Wagyu beef also has significantly high levels of Omega-3 and Omega-6, as well as a high ratio of monounsaturated fats. The end result is marbling that literally melts to the touch like thin slices of butter. This unique characteristic is what makes Wagyu beef so sought after by connoisseurs.
  • Grade – The highly-controlled process of raising Wagyu cattle, along with the high standards applied to Wagyu beef cuts, results in a high-grade product that usually surpasses the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) own "Prime" grade, normally reserved for the highest quality U.S. beef.

When Wagyu Isn't Wagyu

Given that genuine Wagyu is hard to come by even in the best of circumstances, there are plenty of alternatives and imitators on the market. Some of these even go so far as to claim they're actually Wagyu beef when they're not.

Until recently, the USDA blocked imports of processed Japanese beef, including the exclusive Wagyu varieties, due to concerns over mad cow disease. This meant that any variety of beef that claimed to be Wagyu was likely an imitator or, at the very least, an American-bred variant of Wagyu. Unlike Europe and other parts of the world, the U.S. does not recognize geographically-based trademarks and copyrights. That means while Kobe beef is exactly Kobe beef in Japan, it could actually be an imitation masquerading as the real deal in the U.S.

The latest processed Wagyu beef imports have been limited to boneless whole cuts, which are typically not ground up by fine restaurants due to their greater value as steaks. That means if you've had "Kobe burgers" or "Kobe hot dogs" before, then chances are you haven't been eating genuine Wagyu beef.