Wagyū Life


It is ever annoying when I travel and listen to chefs and amateurs speak about Wagyū, like as if it is a God’s sent. First of all it is, when it is the real deal, and the real deal is not anywhere except in Japan!

The Wagyū you hear about at the local the butcher in Zürich, Toronto, New York, Chicago is not the real deal. If you think you have tried Kobe beef in the States prior to August 2012, think again. From 2010 to August 2012, the import of Japanese beef, to the United States was banned due to concerns over foot and mouth disease. Even prior to that, only boneless Japanese beef could be imported and none of it was Kobe. Hence any restaurant claiming to be serving Kobe beef was being creative.

While the USDA’s ban on Japanese beef importation was lifted on 27 August 2012, only very small quantities of Kobe beef have been distributed to select clients. When you think that only around 2900 heads of Tajima-gyu cattle are certified as Kobe beef each year, and this contributes to 0.06% of beef consumption in Japan. There is only a very small fraction of that is exported, so the chances that the steak on your plate is genuine Kobe beef is next to none.

Wagyū isn’t really how we think of Gyū (cow) in Japan. In Japan, when we speak about Gyū we add the regions name, i.e. “Matsuzaka Gyū ” which describes where the animal is raised because not all Gyū are the same. The same with wines, it would be like saying “French Wines” which is fine as long as it describes a class (all French wines) and within the class are the sub classes, i.e. Bordeaux, Burgundy, etc. Without the subclasses you cannot begin to understand the structures.

Kobe beef comes from the Tajima-gyu breed of cattle found in Japan’s Hyōgo Prefecture, of which Kobe is the capital and the meat’s namesake. One thing that is rarely talked about is how or why Japanese raise the best beef possible. If you are not aware, you should be, the cattle in Japan are bred and raised in a very specific way to optimize taste, texture and flavor. They are site specific and certainly not all the same or close to being the same. They are like Cuban cigars, each outer wrapper is different and each farmer matures tobacco in a specific way.

But since a longtime, farmers in Canada, USA and Australia are trying to raise and sell Wagyū, so it gets very confusing. Many speak childishly about it as if the cows are fed beer. But think of how simple the Japanese make it, yet how complex it is. Think how so many farmers around the globe miss the point.

The most obvious point is look at the environment of the animal but this alone is not enough. The environment is critical to the cow’s development, if you take Swiss cows for example – they have the best life. They wander up and down the mountains hillsides eating grass all day – so their cows live a top life breathing fresh mountain air, drinking pure stream water but their meat is inedible. In fact, most Swiss eat veal and stay away from local beef because it is just too tough and does not have enough taste from their grassy diets.

So wouldn’t you ask yourself if you were a Swiss farmer, what do I do wrong? Stop the cows from getting too muscular, limit their time strolling in the mountains and feed them a balanced diet. At a certain point, they need to be fattened so there is a balance between the meat and the fat. If you were a cow and you climbed the hillsides all day what would you need?….a good frequent massage.

In a live cow, their protein filaments make muscles contract and relax. Both actions require enormous amounts of energy, which they get from the energy-carrying molecule ATP (adenosine triphosphate). The most efficient generation of ATP requires oxygen, which muscles get from circulating. So it makes sense to give the animal a massage. The massage is not only to relax and stimulate the animal but to get the circulation of oxygen flowing. Remember most cow muscle is roughly 75% water, 20% protein, and 5% fat, carbohydrates, and assorted proteins. The muscles are made of bundles of cells called fibers and it depends on how the fibers develop.

Japanese also deploy Moxibustion, the application of heat to acupuncture points and is one of the oldest and most effective forms of oriental therapy. It is a technique that originated in China and was introduced to Japan more than a thousand years ago. Although used more on dairy cows instead of antibiotics, the acupuncture is very effective.

In the end, farmers should begin to see beyond their haystacks, try new and improved methods to raise cattle. The fatty meats stigma and marbling of fat content (in grain-fed beef) has much less saturated and trans-fat than do the fat deposits in grass-fed beef.

The Japanese black and Japanese brown cattle both have high marbling and oleic acid. The Beef from Japanese cattle is much lower in saturated fat. Oleic acid content makes not only for better tasting beef, but also healthier beef. Oils like olive oil are the best sources of monounsaturated fatty acids and contain 60 to 70 percent oleic acid. Research shows oleic acid increases the HDL or ‘good’ cholesterol and decreases LDL or ‘bad’ cholesterol in humans.

Wagyū beef in Japan is known for its high marbling and monounsaturated fat, and the Japanese are not afraid of marketing fat content when just the opposite is true in the Americas.

The cows in Japan are unique in so many ways, which you can read about on the internet and judge for yourself.