Ultimate Japan Wagyu beef guide

After sushi and ramen, Japanese beef is on the list of must-eats for many visitors to Japan.

But other than knowing that it tastes great and costs a lot, many tourists turn up with little knowledge of what to expect from Japanese beef.

Considered the caviar of beef in Japan, Wagyu (which literally means “Japanese cow”) refers to specific breeds of cattle that come from a direct, traceable and pure bloodline.

There are four Wagyu breeds: black (accounting for more than 90% of Wagyu beef), brown/red, shorthorn and polled.

In recent years, efficient marketing efforts have elevated Wagyu to near-divine status among foodies.

But they’ve also led to confusion about what Wagyu is and what separates Wagyu beef from the even-more heralded Kobe beef.

Here’s help for beef eaters visiting Japan.

What is Wagyu beef?

For more than 200 years during the Edo Period (1603-1867), Japan’s isolation from the outside world ensured the purity of its livestock, which over time became more and more homogenized.

When the country opened to world trade in the subsequent Meiji Era, Wagyu breeding accelerated.

Unlike cattle in other countries, which are often bred for a range of traits, Wagyu were and are raised with one goal in mind: supreme flavor.

“Genetics is everything,” says Jason Morgan, owner of The Meat Guy, a Nagoya-based meat importing business.

By contrast, most United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) beef comes from cattle that’s about 22 months old.

Japan’s lack of vast pastures means Wagyu tend to live a sedentary life, which also contributes to generous marbling.

The National Livestock Breeding Center (NLBC) maintains records on each cow’s ancestry, birthplace, ranch location, fattening days and other details.

Restaurants can usually provide a 10-digit tracking number for any steak upon request, which has a code that links directly to the NLBC database.

In addition, the Japan Meat Grading Association gives each carcass a score based on its yield (A-C) and level of marbling, firmness, color and overall quality (1-5), with A5 being the highest possible mark.

Most Japanese Wagyu beef is in the A4-A5 range.

Ultimate Japan Wagyu beef guide

Read the rest here: