The Most Expensive Beef in the World
Wagyu is a highly prized meat because it is incredibly tender and has a buttery soft flavor. It’s all about the intense fat marbling in the meat, which is what gives it the rich flavor. And a good quality, high grade piece of Wagyu will simply melt in your mouth.
But do you know what makes Wagyu different from a piece of Aberdeen Angus steak? And why this meat commands such high prices in restaurants and supermarkets?
What You Need to Know About Wagyu Beef:
4 main breeds are used for Wagyu production in Japan:
1. Japanese Black
2. Japanese Brown
3. Japanese Shorthorn
4. Japanese Polled
Modern Wagyu is usually a cross between the native breeds with imported breeds like Brown Swiss, Devon, Shorthorn, Simmental, Ayrshire, and Korean.
Why is Wagyu so Expensive?
The rearing method is what makes this beef expensive. In Japan, to qualify for the Wagyu mark, the cattle have to be reared and fed according to strict guidelines.
Breeding cattle and pregnant cows are grazed on pasture, while calves are fed in a specific way, with special feed to ensure that the meat has a lot of marbling.
Young Wagyu calves are fed a milk replacer by hand and they get jackets to wear when the weather gets cold. They stay on a farm until they are 7 months old – before they are sent to auction to be sold to fattening farms.
On the fattening farms, Wagyu cattle are raised in barns and are given names instead of just a number.
They are kept on a diet of rice straws, whole crop silage and concentrate, and allowed to grow up to about 700kg, which takes about 3 years (for normal beef, it’s 15 months).
Every single cow has a birth certificate, which identifies its bloodline, so every piece of Japanese Wagyu steak can be traced back to a farm.
There is a myth that cattle are fed on beer and massaged daily in Japan, but this is not true. However, they are sometimes brushed with a stiff brush to increase blood circulation and to relieve stress.
The Difference Between Wagyu and Kobe Beef
Every ribeye is a steak, but not all steaks are ribeyes. A similar rule applies to Kobe and Wagyu beef: Every Kobe steak is Wagyu, but not all Wagyu beef is Kobe.
Kobe, in short, is a variety of Wagyu. Wagyu, loosely translated, means “Japanese cattle” (“Wa-” meaning Japanese or Japanese-style, and “-gyu” meaning cow or cattle). It is one of the most highly prized meats.
So, “Wagyu” refers to any cattle that is bred in Japan or the Japanesestyle. Kobe beef is comprised of a very particular strain of Wagyu called Tajima-Gyu that is raised to strict standards in the prefecture of Hyogo the capital city of Kobe.
So, what sets Wagyu apart from other kinds of cattle? And what makes Kobe beef so special that it regularly commands the highest per-pound prices on the market?
The difference comes down to selection, care, feeding, and the obsessive and extraordinary efforts of Wagyu breeders.
As a result of these breeding methods combined with longer periods for fattening, Wagyu cattle have an unparalleled level of marbling.
Wagyu marbling is also better tasting. Wagyu fat melts at a lower temperature than any other cattle’s, resulting in a rich and buttery flavor unseen in other strains of beef. This fat is also unsaturated and high in Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids, meaning not only is Wagyu marbling more delicious, but it’s also healthier.
There are several strains of Japanese Black cattle, including the highly prized Tajima-Gyu strain. The most sought-after regional varieties of Wagyu all come from Tajima-Gyu cattle, including Matsusaka, Omi, and – you guessed it – Kobe beef.
Why are Kobe beef prices so high?
Kobe beef is the crème de la crème – it is the most sought after and most expensive beef in the world, with single portions often selling for more than $200.
Because Kobe beef exemplifies everything that makes Wagyu better. Kobe beef is considered the most abundantly marbled in the world, brimming with the creamiest, most decadent, most flavorful streaks of fat a steak can have.
A major factor in the quality of Kobe steaks is the uncompromising regulations the region uses for its cattle.
To be labelled Kobe, cattle must meet the following seven standards upon slaughter:
- Bullock (steer) or virgin cow
- Tajima-Gyu born within Hyogo Prefecture
- Fed on a farm within Hyogo Prefecture
- Meat processed within Hyogo Prefecture
- Marbling rating (BMS) of 6 or higher on a 12-point scale
- Meat quality rating of 4 or higher on a 5-point scale
- An overall weight not exceeding 470 kg
Because of these stringent standards, only 3,000 head of cattle qualify as authentic Kobe cattle each year.
Unfortunately, while “Kobe” beef is trademarked in Japan, that trademark does not extend outside the country’s borders.
Many shady restaurants, grocery stores, and wholesalers will attempt to sell non-authentic Wagyu beef and steaks as “Kobe”, “Kobe-Style”, or “Wagyu” in order to charge higher prices.
Sources: metronew.co.uk, mychicagosteak.com