Wagyu beef is known for its exceptional marbling and tenderness, making it a highly sought-after delicacy around the world.
But have you ever wondered how this premium beef is produced?
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the process of slaughtering Wagyu cattle, from breeding and raising to the final stages of certification.
We’ll also explore the differences between Wagyu and Kobe beef, and why authenticity is so important in the world of high-end meat.
So sit back, relax, and prepare to learn all about the fascinating world of Wagyu beef production.
How Do They Slaughter Wagyu Beef?
The process of slaughtering Wagyu beef begins with careful breeding and raising of the cattle. Wagyu cattle are a specific breed originating from Japan, known for their unique genetics and ability to produce high-quality meat.
Once the cattle have reached maturity, they are transported to a certified slaughterhouse where they undergo a strict grading process. This grading process ensures that only the highest quality meat is sold as Wagyu beef.
During the slaughter process, the cattle are first stunned to ensure they feel no pain. Then, their throats are slit to allow for blood to drain from the body. This is done quickly and efficiently to minimize any discomfort for the animal.
After the blood has been drained, the carcass is hung and cooled for several days before being processed into various cuts of meat. The meat is then inspected and graded again to ensure it meets the strict standards for Wagyu beef.
It’s important to note that not all beef labeled as “Wagyu” is authentic. Many producers use the term loosely, leading to confusion among consumers. Authentic Wagyu beef must come from one of four specific breeds of Japanese cows and meet strict grading guidelines.
Breeding And Raising Wagyu Cattle
Breeding and raising Wagyu cattle is a meticulous process that requires expert knowledge and attention to detail. The cattle are raised only by specialty breeders until they are between seven and ten months old, at which point they are sold to a farmer along with a birth certificate certifying their pure bloodline. These animals can cost as much as $30,000 each, which is up to 10 times more than the typical American Angus.
Once the cattle are in the hands of the farmers, they need to follow proper care and a good diet to produce good meat. The cows are taken to feeding farms where they are given names and allowed to roam and graze in a stress-free environment. Wagyu farmers take great pride in providing a humane life for their cows, and they are given plenty of room in their pens and outside on the pasture to graze. They often share a pen with only four or five other cows, whereas mass operations tend to keep dozens of cows in a single pen.
During this period, the cows mature for two or three years or until they reach about 1,500 pounds or gain around 50% fat. The way Wagyu are fed and cared for is important to ensuring that they reach this milestone. Wagyu are never given growth promotants, steroids, hormones or drugs to help them gain weight faster. The process is natural, which means it takes more time than it does in the typical methods used in the U.S.
Most Wagyu farmers provide their cows with three meals a day made up of high-energy ingredients, including hay, grain, and wheat. Often, this feed is imported from other countries, which contributes to the high cost of Wagyu cultivation. They are generally weighed once a month and are expected to gain around 2.5 pounds per day.
The breeding process for Wagyu cattle is also highly regulated. In Japan, there are strict guidelines for breeding practices that ensure the purity of the bloodline. Only four main cattle breeds – Kuroge (Black), Aakage (Brown), Nihon Tankaku (Shorthorn), and Mukaku (Polled) – can be used to produce authentic Wagyu beef.
The Importance Of Authenticity In Wagyu Beef Production
Authenticity is crucial in Wagyu beef production as it ensures that consumers are getting the high-quality meat they expect. Unfortunately, there have been instances where beef labeled as Wagyu is not actually authentic, leading to concerns among consumers and producers.
In Japan, the name “Wagyu” is carefully protected and trademarked, and there are four types of Wagyu meat named for the area where the animal was grown. Kobe beef, the most popular type of Wagyu, comes from Japan’s Hyogo Prefecture where Kobe is the capital. In Australia, a major exporter of Wagyu beef, there are five different descriptions for the meat, ranging from full-blood to Wagyu F1.
To ensure authenticity, some steakhouses are taking measures such as leaving the label on the plate or even showing customers an invoice. This is important because not all beef labeled as Wagyu is authentic and consumers should be aware of what they are paying for.
Furthermore, authentic Wagyu beef is only sourced from four specific breeds of Japanese cows and must meet strict grading guidelines. The cattle must be raised in a stress-free environment and fed a natural diet without growth promotants or hormones. They are never force-fed to make their meat more marbled, as this would actually lower the meat’s quality by placing additional stress on the animals.
Differences Between Wagyu And Kobe Beef
While Kobe beef is a type of Wagyu beef, there are notable differences between the two. Kobe beef comes from a specific strain of Fullblood Japanese Black cattle, raised only in Japan’s Hyogo Prefecture, with the capital city of Kobe being the epicenter of production. On the other hand, Wagyu beef refers to any of the four Japanese cattle breeds, including Japanese Black, Japanese Brown, Japanese Shorthorn, and Japanese Polled.
To be classified as Kobe beef, the cattle must meet strict criteria. They must be born in Hyogo Prefecture and fed on grasses and grains from within the same region. The meat must also be slaughtered and processed within Hyogo Prefecture. Additionally, Kobe beef must have a marbling rating (BMS) of 6 or higher on a 12 point scale and a meat quality rating of 4 or higher on a 5 point scale. The overall weight should not exceed 470 kg.
In contrast, Wagyu beef can come from any of the four Japanese breeds and can be raised outside of Japan. While all Kobe beef is Wagyu beef, not all Wagyu beef can be classified as Kobe beef.
Kobe beef is known for having intricate marbling, which many consider to be the most abundant in any type of beef in the world. Due to its strict production standards and limited availability, Kobe beef is considered one of the most expensive and sought-after types of meat globally.
While both Kobe and Wagyu beef are known for their high-fat content and dense marbling, there are differences in taste profiles between the different strains of Wagyu. For example, Matsusaka beef from Mie prefecture and Ohmi beef from Shiga prefecture are legendary strains of Wagyu that have their own unique taste profiles that some may prefer over Kobe.
The Slaughtering Process: A Step-by-Step Guide
The slaughtering process for Wagyu beef begins with the cattle being transported to a certified slaughterhouse. The process involves stunning the animal to ensure it feels no pain, followed by slitting its throat to allow for blood to drain from the body. This is done quickly and efficiently to minimize any discomfort for the animal.
After the blood has been drained, the carcass is hung and cooled for several days before being processed into various cuts of meat. This process is known as dry aging, which allows enzymes in the meat to break down proteins and tenderize the beef.
Once the dry aging process is complete, the meat is inspected and graded again to ensure it meets the strict standards for Wagyu beef. The grading process takes into account factors such as marbling, color, texture, and overall quality.
It’s important to note that the slaughtering process for Wagyu beef must be done carefully and efficiently to ensure that the meat retains its high-quality characteristics. This includes using clean equipment, keeping hands clean, wearing clean clothing, and keeping work and storage areas clean.
In addition, it’s important to ensure that the cattle are raised and transported in a humane manner, as this can have an impact on the quality of the meat. Authentic Wagyu beef must come from one of four specific breeds of Japanese cows and meet strict grading guidelines to ensure its authenticity and quality.
Certification And Quality Control In Wagyu Beef Production
Certification and quality control are key aspects of Wagyu beef production. In Japan, the Japan Meat Grading Association is the only authorized meat grading institution by the Japanese government. Each Wagyu carcass is scored according to their standards, which assess both the Meat Quality Score and Yield Score.
The Meat Quality Score is based on five factors, including marbling, meat color, fat color, brightness, and texture. Each factor is graded from 1 to 5, with 5 being the highest score. The Yield Score refers to the ratio of meat to the total weight of the carcass and is graded A, B, or C, with A being the highest score.
In the Japanese grading system, carcasses fall into one of 15 different grade categories, with A5 being the highest and C1 being the lowest. This strict grading system ensures that only the highest quality Wagyu beef is sold.
Additionally, the exportation of Wagyu beef is controlled and certified by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in Japan. Kobe Beef, a subset of Wagyu beef that comes directly from the region around Kobe, is even more strictly controlled by a traceability system and certified by the Kobe Beef Marketing and Distribution Promotion Association.
Halal certification is also becoming more common for Wagyu beef products. Halal beef is produced in accordance with Islamic dietary laws and must be produced in a specific way consistent with Islamic principles. The certification process includes strict guidelines for animal welfare, diet, and slaughter.