Wagyu beef is known for its rich, buttery flavor and tender texture. But what makes it so different from other types of beef?
The answer lies in its high level of intramuscular fat, also known as marbling. This fat content is what gives Wagyu its signature taste and texture, but it also raises questions about the health benefits of consuming such a fatty meat.
In this article, we’ll explore the reasons behind Wagyu’s high fat content and examine the potential health benefits and drawbacks of indulging in this luxurious beef.
So, let’s dive in and discover why Wagyu beef is so fatty!
Why Is Wagyu Beef So Fatty?
Wagyu beef is so fatty because of the genetics of the cows from which it is sourced. Wagyu cattle are genetically predisposed to have higher levels of intramuscular fat than regular cows, which is why Wagyu beef is marbled and regular beef is less so.
In addition to genetics, modern Japanese Wagyu farmers feed their cattle a high-energy diet that further supports the development of intramuscular fat cells. This diet encourages the growth of more fat cells, resulting in a higher fat content in the meat.
But not all fats are created equal. The fat found in Wagyu beef is primarily monounsaturated fat (MUFA), which is considered “good fat.” MUFA is used by the body for energy and to support cell growth.
Furthermore, Wagyu beef has lower cholesterol levels than other meats, including fish and chicken. This is due to its high percentage of monounsaturated fat, which helps to lower cholesterol levels in the body.
Wagyu beef also contains essential fatty acids such as omega-3 and omega-6, which are believed to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s, and other conditions. The fatty acid profile of Wagyu beef contributes to its signature buttery, umami flavor.
What Is Wagyu Beef?
Wagyu beef is a type of beef that originates from Japan and comes from a specific breed of cattle with unique genetic qualities. The name “Wagyu” translates to “Japanese cow” in English. The breed was originally used as draft animals in agriculture and was selected for their physical endurance. Over time, farmers began to notice that the animals with more intramuscular fat cells, or marbling, had a richer flavor and were more tender. This led to the selective breeding of Wagyu cattle for their marbling qualities.
To be considered authentic Wagyu in Japan, the cow must be genetically tied to one of four Japanese-born breeds: Akage Washu (Japanese Brown), Kuroge Washu (Japanese Black), Mukaku Washu (Japanese Polled), or Nihon Tankaku Washu (Japanese Shorthorn). These breeds are known for their predisposition for marbling, which is the white specks of intramuscular fat that is spread throughout the meat. The heritage and subsequent nurturing of these breeds is what commands top dollar, with adult cows being sold for as much as $30,000.
Prior to slaughter, Wagyu cattle are fed a high-energy diet that encourages the growth of more intramuscular fat cells. This meticulous feeding routine can last up to two years, during which time the cow can amass up to 50% of its weight in fat. The result is a rich, luscious cut of beef that practically dissolves once it hits your tongue.
The Science Behind Marbling
Marbling is the term used to describe the visible layers of intramuscular fat in Wagyu beef. The marbling effect is created by the accumulation of fat cells within the muscle tissue. The development of these fat cells is influenced by a variety of factors, including genetics, feeding practices, and age.
During the early postnatal development phase, the intramuscular fat content in Wagyu cattle remains low and constant. However, as the cattle reach between 200 and 400 kg carcass weight, there is a linear increase in intramuscular fat deposition. Once the cattle reach their mature size at around 450 kg, the rate of intramuscular fat deposition slows down as feed intake and growth rate decline.
Cattle that have been restricted at some stage before the finishing phase often exhibit compensatory growth. However, they need to be fed for a longer period and to a higher carcass weight to achieve optimal grades. A minimum average daily gain (ADG) of 0.45 kg on grassland is recommended through the adverse winter in the USA.
The rate of intramuscular fat increase in grain-fed cattle is faster than that in pasture-fed cattle. The fatty acid composition also varies depending on breed type and feeding practices. Highly marbled Wagyu beef has a higher proportion of monounsaturated fatty acid (MUFA), particularly oleic acid, which gives it a unique flavor profile.
MUFA has little effect on total cholesterol levels in the body but can lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL)-cholesterol while increasing high-density lipoprotein (HDL)-cholesterol. Clinical trials have indicated that highly marbled beef does not increase LDL-cholesterol levels. In fact, high oleic acid beef such as Wagyu beef may even reduce risk factors for cardiovascular disease.
Why Is Wagyu Beef So Expensive?
Wagyu beef is known for its high price tag, and there are several reasons for this. Firstly, raising Wagyu cattle is a time-consuming and expensive process. Farmers who raise Wagyu cattle in Japan typically have much smaller feedlots, ranging from 10-100 cattle, compared to thousands of cattle on a single domestic lot in the United States. This allows for more personalized care and monitoring of each animal, which is crucial for the development of the unique flavor profile that Wagyu beef is known for.
Additionally, Japanese Wagyu cattle are fed for over 600 days on a special high-energy diet, which is significantly longer than the 120-day feeding period for domestic beef in the United States. This prolonged feeding time requires more resources and labor, which drives up the cost of production.
Another factor contributing to the high price of Wagyu beef is its rarity. High-grade Wagyu is primarily imported from Japan, where it is raised in small quantities due to limited land availability. The popularity of Wagyu beef has also increased in recent years, leading to a higher demand and further driving up the price.
Finally, there are costs associated with importing Japanese Wagyu beef to countries like the United States. Import quotas and taxes can increase the price of authentic Wagyu beef even further.
Health Benefits And Drawbacks Of Eating Wagyu Beef
While Wagyu beef is known for its delicious taste and texture, there are both health benefits and drawbacks to consuming it.
One of the major benefits of Wagyu beef is its high concentration of monounsaturated fats, which can help to lower cholesterol levels in the body. These fats are also used by the body for energy and to support cell growth. Additionally, Wagyu beef is rich in essential fatty acids like omega-3 and omega-6, which have been linked to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s, and other conditions.
However, it’s important to note that Wagyu beef is still high in saturated fat and calories, which can contribute to weight gain and inflammation in the body. Consuming too much saturated fat can also increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.
It’s recommended that Wagyu beef be consumed in moderation as part of a balanced diet. While it does provide valuable nutrients like protein and iron, it should not be relied upon as the sole source of these nutrients.
How To Cook And Enjoy Wagyu Beef At Home
Cooking Wagyu beef at home can be a luxurious and rewarding experience. Here are some tips on how to cook and enjoy your Wagyu beef:
1. Let it come to room temperature: Before cooking your Wagyu, let it sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes. This will help it cook more evenly.
2. Season simply: To let the natural flavors of the Wagyu shine through, season it simply with salt. You can add more salt after cooking if needed.
3. Sear it properly: Searing the surfaces of roasts and thicker steaks (over 2.5 cm/1 inch in thick) will help them to retain moisture during cooking and results in a nice browned color. Sear your Wagyu in a pre-heated pan for 1.5-2 minutes on each surface, before moving to a moderate heat to finish cooking. For a steak that’s cut to about 1/2′′ to 3/4′′ thick, use the hot and fast method of cooking, which involves cooking for about 2 minutes per side.
4. Don’t overcook it: The best temperature to enjoy the luxurious texture and sweet, buttery flavor of Wagyu is medium-rare, which is around 130°F. Avoid overcooking your Wagyu as this can make the meat tough and dry.
5. Let it rest: After cooking, let your Wagyu rest for at least five minutes before enjoying. This allows the meat’s fibers to relax, widen, and reabsorb those delicious juices.
6. Portion properly: For the Japanese A5 Wagyu, plan to serve about one to two ounces of meat per person. Divide up your steaks into smaller pieces if needed, only cooking a little at a time and keeping the rest frozen.
7. Enjoy with simple sides: To complement the rich flavor of your Wagyu beef, pair it with simple sides like roasted vegetables or a fresh salad.
By following these tips, you can cook and enjoy your Wagyu beef at home like a pro. Remember to savor every bite of this delicious and unique culinary experience!
Conclusion: Is Wagyu Beef Worth The Splurge?
After learning about the unique genetics and feeding practices that produce the high-fat content in Wagyu beef, the question remains: is it worth the splurge?
For meat-lovers who appreciate the rich flavor and tender texture of high-quality beef, Wagyu is an experience not to be missed. The unique combination of genetics and feeding practices result in a truly special product that is unmatched in taste and tenderness.
While it is true that Wagyu beef comes with a higher price tag than other cuts of meat, the health benefits and flavor profile make it a worthwhile investment for those who can afford it. Additionally, there are more affordable cuts of Wagyu beef available for those who still want to experience its unique qualities without breaking the bank.