Japanese beef, called wagyu, has steadily gained a tremendous reputation amongst beef lovers around the world, but what exactly is it about this meat that makes it so loved and so different from other beef found elsewhere?
Despite suggestions that wagyu tastes the way it does because of practices like massaging the cows and feeding them milk, the reality is that it mostly comes down to the genetics of Japanese cows. Japanese cows carry genes that result in a higher fat content, which is typically noticeable in the marbling of the meat. While Japanese farmers contribute to this with things like diet and quality of life, the basis is still in the genetic makeup of the cows themselves.
The reason this fat content contributes to the flavour and texture of the meat is mostly down to how the marbling allows the meat to cook. Wagyu beef is quite fragile because of its structure but that also means that it cooks well quickly and has a particularly soft texture which is often described as melting in your mouth.
Wagyu beef in Japan is typically identified and branded by the region in which it is produced. This is most famously the case with Kobe beef, but Mishima, Omi, Matusaka and Yonezawa beef are all other famous sources of wagyu. In fact, wagyu is simply the term that is used for all beef in Japan that comes from the Japanese Brown, Japanese Black, Japanese Shorthorn and Japanese Polled cattle.
There is no doubt that pure wagyu beef stands up to the reputation that its quality has created, but that isn’t necessarily true of all beef that is labelled wagyu. To label beef as wagyu, only one of the cow’s parents needs to be a certified Japanese breed, meaning that a lot of the wagyu beef on the market isn’t necessarily purebred. Since genes play a pretty significant role in the taste and quality of wagyu, this can have quite a big impact.
If you’d like to try wagyu beef for yourself, then your best bet of finding true wagyu beef is by buying beef that is identified by its region in Japan, like Kobe. But, be warned! The high quality of wagyu beef comes with an equally high price tag, sometimes reaching as much as £500 per kilo. If you can stomach the price, I can’t recommend trying wagyu beef more – there really isn’t anything that quite compares.