Highlighted Japanese IngredientWagyu

Japanese “Wagyu” Become World-Famous

“Wagyu” is a breed created by repeated crossing of Japanese native cattle with imported breeds. As an epitome of luxury beef with tender meat quality, and delicate, rich flavors that are not found in other varieties, “Wagyu” has been highly evaluated in Europe, America, and Asia.

From the 1970s to the 1990s, some seed stocks of Wagyu were brought over and bred in Australia and the United States. “Wagyu” produced in foreign countries began being distributed in overseas markets. The beef produced from such cattle has different breeding environments and quality from the Japanese Wagyu cattle born and bred in Japan. It is not possible to re-import foreign-produced beef and sell it as “Wagyu” in Japan.

Types of Wagyu and Their Unique Characteristics

Cattle that are recognized as Wagyu are four breeds including “Japanese Black,” “Japanese Brown,” “Japanese Shorthorn,” and “Japanese Polled” and interbred hybrids of those four breeds. Among these breeds, 90% or more are “Japanese Black” which is raised across the country. Japanese Black Beef has the characteristic of elaborate “marbling” (the fat is entwined in the meat in an irregular mesh pattern).

“Japanese Brown” is bred mainly in Kumamoto and Kochi prefectures, characterized by an exquisite balance of red flesh and fat, with a rich flavor. “Japanese Shorthorn” originated in the Tohoku region and Hokkaido, and a large portion of the red flesh is rich in amino acids. “Japanese Polled” is a precious variety produced in Yamaguchi Prefecture, which has less fat, and you can taste the umami and flavor inherent in the beef.

From 2007, in order to sell beef with the “Wagyu” label in Japan, proof is required that the cattle were bred domestically and meet the required conditions for the breed, along with a 10-digit individual identification number assigned by the cattle traceability system. This number must be indicated by retailers, etc. with some exceptions, so that consumers who purchase the meat can check information about the product on the Internet.

Well-Known Branded Wagyu

For many branded Wagyu with the name of the production area, each area established their own standards for growing methods and quality, etc. and only the excellent meat that has met the standards is certified as branded beef. “Matsusaka Beef” in Mie prefecture, “Kobe Beef” in Hyogo prefecture, “Omi Beef” in Shiga prefecture, and “Yonezawa Beef” in Yamagata prefecture sell at high prices and are also well-known abroad.

Over 200 branded Wagyu are said to exist nationwide. The habitat differs depending on each production area and the producers raise the cattle with commitment. Each brand has its own appealing points as a local specialty product.

Differences in the Definition of “Wagyu” and “Domestic Beef”

“Domestic beef” refers to the meat produced from cattle raised in Japan, regardless of breed. Beef of foreign-bred cattle that are processed abroad and imported are sold as imported beef, but in the case of cattle transported from overseas to Japan, it is considered domestic cattle only if it was bred in Japan for a longer time. To be precise, “Wagyu” is included in “domestic beef,” but it is a common practice to differentiate it by emphasizing the fact that it is a Wagyu.

Domestic cattle include dairy breeds such as Holstein and Jersey, meat-specific breeds other than Wagyu, and hybrids of meat-specific breeds and dairy breeds. Domestic beef is characterized by the fact that it is generally less expensive than Wagyu, and widely distributed.

Production Under Strict Quality Control

Export of Wagyu started in the 1990's, but the breakout of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) in Japan, the United States, and Canada in the 2000’s resulted in the temporary ban of import and export of beef products. Meanwhile, the Japanese government has implemented the regulation about beef traceability to streamline the control of cattle using individual identification numbers, in an attempt to improve hygiene control at the production and meat processing stages. With the increasing popularity of Japanese “Wagyu” in the countries where the import was resumed, beef produced under the strictest quality control system in the world is delivered to the dining table.

In 2017, the “Universal Wagyu Mark,” an indication to prove that the beef was produced in Japan, was redesigned with the aim of differentiating authentic Japanese produced “Wagyu” from “Wagyu” produced elsewhere. Thanks to an increasing number of Wagyu beef products that have acquired “Halal certification,” an accreditation given to products manufactured in accordance with Islamic precepts, “Wagyu” is spreading all over the world.

The Flavor of Wagyu Integrated with Japanese Food Culture

Japanese “Wagyu” is considered remarkable, not only because of its taste, but also because of its melting texture and unique sweet flavor. In particular, for Japanese Black beef with tender and juicy taste, a simple cooking procedure is good enough to appreciate its inherent flavor. In addition to Yakiniku (Japanese style barbeque), steak, and roast beef, you can taste Japanese Black beef even as Tataki (grilled beef served cold).

In Japan, the creation of dishes such as Shabu-shabu, Sukiyaki, and Nikujaga (meat and potato stew) helped develop a unique culture of enjoying beef. Growing popularity is observed among foreign tourists for beef bowl shops where you can readily eat beef just like fast food, many of which exist throughout the country. Amid the recent popularity of aged meat, variations to enjoy beef continue to increase and Wagyu is in the spotlight along with Japanese food culture.