Wagyu beef is a luxurious and expensive cut of beef, and there are many reasons behind its costly nature and why it’s worth it. One of those reasons is the beef’s rich and complex history. Wagyu beef is more than just a slice of delicious and healthy meat with a price tag tacked on. Learn about the complete history of Wagyu beef and where it comes from to appreciate that marbled beef beauty even more.
In ancient Japan, cattle weren’t a primary source of protein. Since Japan is an island, fish was generally the most common meat, while cattle would plow fields and transport items. As a matter of fact, meat-eating hadn’t been popular in the country until 1872, when emperor Meiji publicly ate meat for the first time.
This led to an influx of Japanese cattle bred with foreign cattle that produced four different types, Kuroge, Akage, Nihon Tankaku, and Maukaku, all of which people consider to be Wagyu today. You’ll often see Wagyu beef referred to as Kobe beef, as it is from the Tajima strain of Japanese Black Cattle.
Typically, the original breeders raise these cows until they’re 10 months old, and then they sell them to farmers at around $30,000 per head. Ideally, after feeding them a hardy diet of wheat, grain, and hay, farmers slaughter them somewhere between the age of 28 to 60 months old.
As a side note, Wagyu means Japanese cow, as “Wa” stands for Japanese and “Gyu” stands for cow.
While the Wagyu cattle were introduced to the US in 1976, it wasn’t until 1993 that the females came to America for breeding purposes. This doesn’t necessarily mean that American and Japanese Wagyu beef are the same. The cattle care standards and meat grading standards are different and less strict here in America.
As a matter of fact, in 1997, Japanese officials banned the export of Wagyu cattle to preserve the bloodline. American Wagyu beef is often a crossbreed between a Japanese Wagyu and an American Angus. So the Wagyu beef you eat in America will taste vastly different from the Wagyu beef in Japan.
Despite Japan wanting to keep the bloodline guarded, they have loosened the restrictions on exporting the beef itself. Interestingly enough, one of the largest farmers and exporters of Wagyu beef is Scotland.
Although you can only get the full-blooded original Wagyu in Japan, there are many forms and crossbreeds of Wagyu beef throughout the world. As a result, you can see authentic Japanese Wagyu beef in restaurants worldwide. And thanks to the advancement of technology, anyone can receive fresh Wagyu beef without transport affecting the taste.
This complete history of Wagyu beef and where it comes from is only the tip of the iceberg. Its flavor, use in recipes, and cultural significance are truly something to admire. So try it as soon as you can to understand why it’s so popular!