8 Things You Didn't Know About Wagyu Beef

Wagyu beef is famous all over the world for being the finest, most delicious, mouthwatering, and exclusive meat available. 

The health benefits of Wagyu beef are astounding.  It can help reduce cholesterol, lessen the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart attacks, and strokes. 

At A Five Meats, we are delighted to share more with you about our prized Wagyu beef, and what makes it the best in the world – so, here are the 8 things you didn't know about wagyu beef. 

Where Does Wagyu Beef Come From?

Authentic Wagyu beef comes from four breeds of cattle: Japanese Black, Japanese Polled (a crossbreed), Japanese Brown, and Japanese Shorthorn.  There are herds outside of Japan, often crossbred with other varieties (usually Aberdeen Angus). 

Kobe beef is the most famous Wagyu meat. Kobe beef must meet a series of stringent requirements to be classed officially as 'Kobe beef'. One of these is that it has to come from the Hyogo Prefecture in Japan and must be from the Tajima bloodline of Japanese Black cow. 

The Japanese Black cows make up around 90% of the Wagyu population. 

What Are The Differences Between Kobe And Wagyu Beef? 

Kobe beef is a variety of Wagyu, just as a daisy is a variety of flower.  As mentioned above, the list of rules to be able to label meat as 'Kobe beef' is incredibly stringent.  These include:

  • It must be a Tajima cow, raised and farm fed in Hyogo Province of Japan
  • Only selected slaughterhouses in the Hyogo Province are allowed to process Wagyu
  • The meat must have a marbling ration (referred to as a BMS) of 6 or over
  • The 'yield' grade must be A or B
  • The quality score of the meat should be 4 or 5, and the carcass should weigh 499.9kg or under

Only around 3,000 cattle a year qualify as Kobe, and each has a unique identifying number that tracks the animal throughout its lifetime (oftentimes the noise print, like a human fingerprint, is used as the unique identifier). 

Of those, approximately 90% remain in Japan, while the remainder is exported around the globe. 

What Makes Wagyu Beef So Expensive? 

Wagyu is expensive because of the exclusivity, the incredibly rare qualities of the meat, and the care, dedication, attention, and investment that goes into raising Wagyu cattle. 

Wagyu are unique in how they deposit fatty cells, with the fat settling directly into their muscle structure.  These deposits give the meat a pearlescent pale pink color with beautiful marbling.

It is possible to trace every Wagyu cut from the farm right through to the restaurant, and every animal has a birth certificate. 

The diet of Wagyu cattle is carefully controlled (more on that later), with constant access to clean, fresh water.  They graze for around twice as long as regular cattle – about three years, compared to eighteen months for a 'standard cow.'.  Typically, their feed consists of fiber, together with a concentrated mix of rice, wheat, and hay, representing double the investment by the farmer in feed alone. However, many small farms create proprietary blends of feed to differentiate them with other farms.

At an auction, a Wagyu calf can reach around 40 times the cost of a standard steer.  Staggeringly, a Matsusaka Wagyu heifer sold in 2002 for 50 million yen.  Yes, you read that right – 50 million – the equivalent of over $460,000!

Wagyu can trade for over $100 per pound and Kobe sells for around $250lb.

Is It True That Wagyu and Kobe Cows Are Given Beer?

Someone somewhere once suggested Wagyu cows drink beer to induce their appetites.  As the theory goes, it results in them eating more, increasing the amounts of fatty deposits in their muscles – resulting in more marbling and higher prices. 

Well, folks, the reality is that this does not happen. 

Well, most of the time it doesn't – rumor has it there is one farmer with a crossbred Wagyu herd in the UK who gives his cattle local craft ale once in a while, but that's about it.  Can you imagine a half ton cow after too many beers?

No, we don't want to, either – it wouldn't be great for their health, or ours.

The diet of a Wagyu cow balanced very carefully, to make sure the flavor, texture, and quality of the meat they produce are perfect every time. 'Fattening farms' receive Wagyu after weaning, where they are cared for by experts who continually monitor and ensure the cows receive precisely the right diet.  Incidentally, this does not include beer. 

Is It True Wagyu Cows Are Massaged To Produce Better Quality Meat?

The practice of massaging animals kept in close confinement is not unheard of – it can help to relieve tension and disperse muscle soreness.  It is also not unusual to find hard brushes mounted to walls or standing stones to help cattle scratch. Let's remember they aren't exactly flexible enough to be able to reach an itch, after all – and we have to consider those stress levels!

Specifically, the question revolves around the massaging of Wagyu cows – i.e., daily spa-style pampering sessions with soft music – and allegedly with rice wine, if the myth is true. 

Sadly for the cows, that's pretty much all it is: a tale. We're not saying no one has ever done it – anything is possible, after all – but it's certainly not an accepted practice.  The question brings a smile to the face of many a Japanese Wagyu farmers at the mere suggestion. 

Is Wagyu Beef Healthy?

Unquestionably, Wagyu beef is among the healthiest meat in the world.  It may come as a surprise, but it can actively improve your health.  Just take a look at these benefits:

  • Wagyu beef has higher amounts of monounsaturated fats than other meats, which lower LDL cholesterol ('bad cholesterol') and increase HDL cholesterol (the 'good' cholesterol)
  • There are around 63 times the amount of monounsaturated fats in Wagyu as there are in fish.
  • Around 40% of the saturated fat in Wagyu beef consists of stearic acid, which contributes to keeping cholesterol low
  • Wagyu is rich in conjugated linoleic acid (otherwise known as CLA), which can help reduce the risk of heart attacks and type 2 diabetes.  Wagyu meat contains the highest amount per gram of almost any foodstuff and around 30% more than any other cattle breed.
  • Wagyu contains significantly less cholesterol than other meats: 22% less than pork, 15% lower than chicken, and 20% lower than regular beef.
  • The salt content in Wagyu beef is lower than chicken, fish, pork, venison, and even turkey

How Does The Grading Of Wagyu Beef Work?

As we already know, Wagyu beef is one of the most sought-after, rare, and exclusive meats in the world.  Admired like no other, a legendary delicacy that graces only the most elegant of tables.  There is, however, still a grading system to Wagyu beef, and here's how it works.

Two measures calculate the grading of a cut of Wagyu.  These are:

The yield of the animal grades from A to C:

  • A grade yield is 72%+ of the animal being usable
  • B grade yield is 69% to 72%
  • C grade yield is anything below 69% 

The grade of the meat itself scored from 1 to 5, calculated using:

  • The Beef Marbling Score (BMS) – score from 1 (lowest) to 12 (highest)
  • The Beef Color Standard (BCS) – score from 1 (ungraded) to 5 (highest)
  • The Beef Fat Standard (BFS) – score from 1-7 (ungraded) to 1-4 (highest)
  • Firmness – assessed from Inferior to Very Good
  • Texture – Assessed from Coarse to Very Fine

Wagyu meat must meet the following criteria to be deemed worthy of an A5 standard grading:

  • A grade yield (B or C are not acceptable)
  • A Beef Marbling Score (BMS) of between 8 and 12
  • A Beef Color Standard (BCS) of between 3 and 5
  • A Beef Fat Standard (BFS) of 1-4 (the highest score)
  • Firmness should be rated Very Good – any less does not qualify
  • The texture should be rated Very Fine – anything under that does not quality

It is worth noting that these grades are in addition to meeting the criteria for bloodline, handling, breed, and weight restrictions placed on the animals.  They cannot weigh any more than 499.9kg at slaughter.

If the grade is anything less than perfect, the meat is not real Wagyu.

How To Tell The Difference Between Real And Fake Wagyu Beef

The market for Wagyu is notoriously exclusive.  High-end restaurants, top chefs, and Michelin starred establishments around the globe are always on the lookout for even a little of this prized delicacy to grace their menus.

Unfortunately, the flip side of this is that there is also a market for fakery and counterfeiting. 

There are several things to watch out for when buying Wagyu to make sure you're getting the real deal.  A few of these are:

  • The restaurant or vendor should be able to tell you exactly where the meat is originated.  Each cut carries a unique identifier and paperwork that follows the animal from farm to fork – anything less, and it's unlikely that you have quality meat.  It should be certified, and the evidence should be available for you to see.
  • Price is also an indicator.  If you are paying too little, it's probably not genuine – real Wagyu starts at around at least $20/oz, increasing with quality.
  • Taste is the ultimate test.  The meat should be tender, off the bone, melt in the mouth, and have that beautiful pale color Wagyu retains due to its high-fat content. 
  • The appearance of the meat should be consistent with Wagyu characteristics – pale pink, with marbling running through it, and firm to the touch.  There should be no bad odor or patches of discoloration on the meat.

Buying and enjoying Wagyu is an experience you will remember for the rest of your life.  Those who consume it are taking part in a way that only the elite, exclusive, and rarest of all diners can experience. 

Here at A Five Meats, we are immensely proud to be able to present you with only the best cuts, from top-class herds, time after time – and we're so confident, we put our name to it!

Come and join us - allow us to help you build an experience you to remember for life.