The Untold Truth Of Wagyu Beef

The term Wagyu beef comes from the Japanese words "Wa," referring to Japan, and "gyu," which means cow, so literally the term simply means Japanese cow (via American Wagyu Association). The term is used to refer to four specific breeds of cattle from Japan, which were initially bred for physical endurance (via Business Insider). These four breeds are Japanese Black, Japanese Brown, Japanese Shorthorn, and Japanese Polled.

The cattle were initially used for work because of the marbling in their flesh — a combination of fat and muscle in their muscular cells. As a result, they were highly sought after because the fat provided them with an energy source to continue work. The marbling resulted in extremely attractive and tasty meat and the cows began to be prized for food as well. The fat content makes Wagyu steaks extremely flavorful and juicy and the price tag reflects the premium nature of the meat. A5 Wagyu, the highest quality possible grade ranked on a scale of yield and quality, can easily retail for $200 per pound and each Wagyu cow can sell for an incredible $30,000 at auction.

The Japanese government was so worried about keeping these Japanese cows pure that they banned interbreeding with British, European, and Asian types of cows in 1910. Kobe beef, often spoken about as one of the most prized cuts of beef that money can buy, is a subset of Wagyu which has to be raised in the Hyogo province of Japan (via Metro).

How are Wagyu cattle bred?

Wagyu cattle were brought to the United States in 1976 for the primary purpose of crossbreeding with other cow types, such as Angus. Only four cows were sent over and it wasn't until 15 years later that they were able to replenish the stock. (via Lone Mountain Wagyu). However, purists will tell you that true Wagyu has to be born in Japan, grown in Japan, and slaughtered in Japan. "American Wagyu" is a term often used by high-end meat suppliers but is technically a hybrid breed (via Vice).

Wagyu beef is raised on fattening farms and are fed differently from other cows. Their diet typically consists of rice, wheat, and hay, though there are some farmers that feed their cows special ingredients such as beer or olives to infuse the meat with more flavor and tenderness. Because Wagyu meat is so flavorful, rich, and fatty (as well as expensive), it's often served in much smaller portions than other types of beef so if you find yourself in Japan, don't be disappointed if your Wagyu steak comes out looking slightly larger than a half-dollar coin.