The Incredible World of Olive Wagyu - Everything You Need to Know

Japanese Wagyu beef is the pinnacle of fine dining, prized for its flavor, texture, aroma, and juicy succulence.  Wagyu cattle lead a remarkable existence, safe in the hands of thousands of years of expertise, with rearing secrets passed down through the generations. 

Highly sought after, increasingly rare, and undeniably unique, Wagyu beef has almost mythical status.

At A Five Meats, we are incredibly fortunate to work with a selection of carefully chosen farms worldwide to bring our customers only the best for their culinary experiences.   We have traveled far and wide over the years, nurturing our relationships with expert Wagyu farms around the globe. 

On our travels, we discovered there is another type of Wagyu out there.  It is even rarer and more incredible (if that’s even possible!) than other authentic Wagyu beef – and it’s called Olive Wagyu.  Let us share with you the extraordinary story of Olive Wagyu, and explore what makes it so remarkable.

Related: How To Tell The Difference Between Real And Fake Wagyu Beef 

Shodoshima Island is the birthplace of Olive Wagyu, nestling in the Seto Inland Sea, within the Kagawa prefecture of Japan.  It is the native home of Japan’s olive cultivation, with an unusual climate akin to that of the Mediterranean.  The microclimate on the Island is perfect for olive growing, earning it the nickname ‘Olive Island.’  It was among the first locations in Japan to cultivate an olive harvest successfully.

Shodoshima has produced Wagyu since the 8th century, specifically for heavy hauling on farms and for cultivation.  With their robust and sturdy frame, Wagyu were perfect for cultivating rice paddies and soybeans, bringing outstanding endurance and fast supplies of ready energy due to the unique marbling of fats within the muscle of these fascinating beasts. 

Masaki Ishii is a local farmer on the Island.  He became disheartened at the waste he saw from the olive industry caused by tonnes of spent olives needlessly discarded every year.  These spent olives (otherwise known as ‘lees’) are the by-product of the olive oil making process and are incredibly rich in valuable nutrients.  He decided there had to be a better way to ‘close the loop’ to reduce or eliminate the waste by putting it to good use and reaping the nutritional benefits somehow.

The result was an experiment in olive Wagyu feed.  Ishii presented the wasted olives to his Wagyu to see how they reacted – sadly, they were not happy at all and didn’t like it one bit.  The cattle hated the bitter taste and strange texture of the feed and refused outright to eat it.  But Ishii was a determined man, so he tried a different approach – figuring out how to use the lees in a way the Wagyu would enjoy them.  There followed a long and exhaustive series of tests and trials with different preparations of the feed.

Finally, Ishii found the secret.  He lightly toasted, dried and pressed the spent olives to bring out the natural sugars.  Ishii discovered the Wagyu cattle loved this new, sweeter taste (achieved by effectively caramelizing the olives) and more palatable texture.  The Olive Wagyu was born. But Ishii had created so much more than just a new type of feed – he had crafted a mini revolution in the Wagyu world – the first in thousands of years.

Related: Differences Between Australian, Japanese and American Wagyu Beef 

Why a revolution? Wagyu, through the ages, have enjoyed a reasonably consistent care regime.  Not to do any injustice – the care is probably the best of any animal in the world, certainly in cattle farming.  Part of that dedicated and consistent care has been the Wagyu diet, primarily based on grasses, hay, and rice plants – be that through grazing or direct feed. 

Every Japanese Wagyu farm has a bespoke feed combination. There are likely to be hundreds of different formulations, carefully developed by generation after generation. After all, it’s a closely guarded secret which Japanese farmers do not share even with their most trusted confidantes and is the result of generations of careful crafting.  However, it’s reasonably safe to say that the raw ingredients are unlikely to differ wildly.

But olives? Olives only grow best in one place in the whole of Japan – Shodoshima has the perfect microclimate for olive cultivation but nowhere else harvests olives quite like those from Shodoshima.  They are unique.  So what happens when unique olives from Shodoshima meet authentic Japanese Wagyu? Well, that’s where the magic happens.

It turned out the olives played a far larger part than just preventing waste and supplementing the herd’s diet.  Miraculously, it actually changed the flavor of the meat itself.  Japanese consumers are connoisseurs in the distinct umami taste on the palate, particularly when enjoying a Wagyu dining experience.  The olives bring a richness that intensifies the umami flavor, perfectly complementing the succulent juiciness and buttery taste of Wagyu beef.

Not only did the pressed olive feed change the taste of the beef, but it also changed the appearance.  Wagyu is notorious for its beautiful, delicate appearance, with fine marbling webs of fine white fat running through the flesh.  The meat itself is pale pink, almost iridescent in color, due to the fats slowly and carefully laid down during years of grazing.  The effect of the olive diet was that the marbling became even more profound than it was before, elevating the juiciness of the beef to a whole new level.

Related: 8 Things You Didn't Know About Wagyu Beef

There’s more – Wagyu beef is famed not only for being the pinnacle of exclusive dining but also for its incredible health benefits.  Wagyu beef is one of the healthiest meats in the world and is fully scientifically supported as such.  Let’s start by looking at Wagyu beef grazed on traditional feed first.

Traditionally fed Wagyu contains just five calories more than pork per 100g and is 15% lower in cholesterol than chicken.  It has the lowest salt content of turkey, pork, chicken, fish, and venison at just 0.12g/100g.  Even regular beef contains 20% more cholesterol than Wagyu.  But why is this, when Wagyu so clearly has a higher fat content? 

It’s not the fat that’s the issue, per se – it’s the type of fat that is key – and with certain types of fat come certain types of cholesterol.  There are the ‘good guys’ of the cholesterol world, known as HDL cholesterol, and there are the ‘not so good’ guys, called LDL cholesterol.  LDL cholesterol is lazy – it doesn’t do the decent thing and travel to the liver for safe processing: it just lays itself down in the arteries, causing blockages, heart attacks, strokes, and all kinds of other unpleasant (and potentially fatal) health problems. 

HDL cholesterol, on the other hand, is far more diligent.  HDL cholesterol goes the extra mile all the way to your liver for proper processing rather than hanging around in your bloodstream or vital arterial passages.  There is even a theory that it can help to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Related: Why Is Wagyu Beef Healthier Than Other Meats?

Monounsaturated fats are high in HDL cholesterol (the good guys) and lower levels of LDL cholesterol (the bad guys).  In other words, eating foods high in monounsaturated fats is better for your heart health than even lean products.  

Wagyu beef contains a staggering 63 times more monounsaturated fat than fish – that means it’s 63 times healthier for the heart.  Combine that with the lower salt content and lower calories than many other table meat options, and it’s easy to see why Wagyu is so healthy.

We now know more about traditionally reared Wagyu, and why it’s so healthy – but how does this compare to Olive Wagyu? The Olive Wagyu has higher fat content, but what does that mean? The monounsaturated fats are, incredibly, higher in Olive Wagyu than in standard Wagyu.   

Even the saturated fats in Wagyu beef are healthier than usual (whether traditional or Olive), containing high amounts of Conjugated Linoleic Acid (known as CLA).  CLA can help to reduce the risk of Type 2 Diabetes and heart disease, and may also contribute to weight loss.  Wagyu beef contains more CLA per gram than almost any other.  Increased levels of saturated fats in Olive Wagyu mean increased levels of CLA, too.

The fruits of the olives themselves are a significant factor in the differences between the meat produced by traditionally reared Wagyu compared to Olive Wagyu.  Olives are high in oleic acid, widely considered to be one of the healthier sources of dietary fats.  Not only does it make the meat healthier, but it also benefits the health of the cattle consuming it – it’s just the gift that keeps on giving!

The structure of the delicate intramuscular fat of Olive Wagyu is altered slightly due to the high oleic acid content in the feed, reducing the melting point of the fat.  As a result, when the meat undergoes the cooking process, the fats melt much more quickly.  The fats are then absorbed into the fibers of the flesh more thoroughly and evenly. 

The taste of Olive Wagyu is also unsurpassed – not only because of the intensification of the incredible umami aromas and flavors coming through due to the olive diet.  The lowered melting point of the delicate marbling, together with a higher intensity of marbling means the beef is astonishingly succulent and juicy, as the fats melt so quickly in the mouth.  The eating experience is creamy and smooth, with a luxuriously sweet finish. 

The Olive Wagyu method also brings considerable environmental benefits, which come not only from the reuse of the spent olives and reducing waste.  The nutrient rich waste from the cattle gets reused as fertilizer for the olive trees themselves, thus ‘closing the loop’ and keeping the cycle going for future generations. 

Certainly, Olive Wagyu is in a class of its own – even among Wagyu, already one of the most expensive delicacies globally.  There is no question that Olive Wagyu is quite simply the most exclusive and decadent of even Wagyu dining experiences.  However, the exclusivity is heightened even further by the shortage of supply of this unusual meat.

There are only around two thousand heads of Olive Wagyu, so even in Japan, it is a treasured rarity.  Only a few precious animals go to slaughter each year, meaning it is almost beyond the realms of possibility to source precious Olive Wagyu. 

It is because of all this that Olive Wagyu carries not only an exclusive reputation but also an exclusive price tag. Cost should be the last consideration when dealing with such a prized delicacy.  Olive Wagyu is an experience few people will ever have the chance to enjoy – not least because of rarity alone.

At A Five Meats, we have the honor of being able from time to time to source this exquisite meat for our customers.  Olive Wagyu is highly valued and sought after, and always sells out quickly, so check our website and follow us on Instagram for the latest news.  Our fantastic traditional Wagyu packs are available, ready for freshly chilled delivery straight to your door.

Our customers are priceless to us, so if you’d like to give us a call or drop us a line we’d love to hear from you.  Our contact details are just here on our website - we can’t wait for you to get in touch!