In laymen’s terms, Wagyu produce meat that is tender, delicious, succulent and healthy.
Wagyu are genetically predisposed to lay down more fat in their muscles (intra-muscular marbling) rather than under their skin (subcutaneous). This intramuscular fat melts as the meat is cooking, keeping it tender, juicy and flavoursome, and facilitating even cooking of the meat.
Why Surrey Springs Wagyu?
On our farm at Surrey Springs (20 km east of Gympie in southeast Queensland), we specialise in breeding and producing F1 Wagyu. This means our full-blood Wagyu bull is joined with heifers from other breeds, usually Droughtmaster, Charolais, Brahman and Brangus-cross. This results in finer marbling that is more suited to the way we like to eat our beef – in larger, thicker cuts such as steaks. We call our product “Aussie-Style Wagyu”.
We do not administer growth hormones, or antibiotics to stimulate or keep our animals from becoming ill, as they are all free-ranging, pasture-fed and naturally healthy. The only treatments they receive through necessity, as our farm is on the coast and therefore susceptible to a number of parasites that must be controlled for the animals’ welfare, are immunisation as youngsters, and treatment for ticks, internal parasites and buffalo fly as necessary.
We also grow crops such as oats (in winter) and sorghum (in summer) to supplement our “cash cows” as they grow out for processing. Our animals eat these crops when they are available as a plant (not grain) and are free to wander in and out of available crop cells as they like.
Through experience, we have also found that Wagyu do not start naturally marbling on pasture until they are at least two years old. For this reason, we grow our animals to at least 30 months, giving rise to tender, flavoursome, healthy, grass-fed, free-range, prime beef – a rarity in domestic marketplaces throughout Australia.
What are Wagyu?
Wagyu literally translates to “Japan” (Wa being an old name for Japan) “beef” (gyu).
Wagyu are breeds of beef cattle that naturally produce intense intra-muscular marbling containing high levels of oleaginous unsaturated fat.
Known today as the world’s best beef, Wagyu had humble beginnings as draught animals introduced to Japan almost two millennia ago to assist in rice cultivation, transportation and heavy work.
Not generally bred for eating, the Japanese Wagyu herd was closed for 200 years from the middle of the 17th century when the Shogun prohibited the importation of more cattle from the Asian continent and eating of any four-legged animals. This is probably due to traditional Buddhist influences during this time.
Mechanisation of Japanese agriculture resulted in an increase in consumption of beef as redundant working animals were fattened for slaughter. Improved economic conditions and individual wealth also meant more people could afford to eat beef.
Japan’s geographical isolation and importation closure have allowed Wagyu to develop in isolation into the unique breeds they are today. Even now, Japan protects its Wagyu genetics by prohibiting any genetic exports. The Wagyu in Australia today have come from American stocks that were brought from Japan on only two occasions – once in 1976, and again in 1993 (resulting in the expulsion of one of Japan’s top Wagyu breeders from the Japanese Wagyu Association for his part in the export).
There are several breeds of Wagyu, among them are red and black. The black Wagyu are considered to produce a superior, more finely marbled meat and are therefore highly prized among beef lovers.
Eating Wagyu may actually be beneficial to your health
Wagyu naturally produce high levels of oleaginous unsaturated fat. They also produce higher percentages of Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids with grass-fed animals having healthier ratios than their lot-fed counterparts (1:3 rather than 1:26). Additionally, the ratio of monounsaturated to saturated fats is improved by the increased marbling.
Dr Tim Crowe, dietician and Deakin University of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences lecturer says of Wagyu: “But even the saturated fat contained in Wagyu is different. Forty percent is in a version called stearic acid, which is regarded as having a minimal impact in raising cholesterol levels. So really, the profile of marbled Wagyu beef is more beneficial to human health. It can be described as a healthier type of meat”.
Dr Crowe goes on to say: “Wagyu is higher in a fatty acid called conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). CLA has potent anti-carcinogenic properties, as well as being an anti-inflammatory agent. It has a whole raft of potential health benefits – reducing heart disease, diabetes and asthma, reducing body fat gain, and increasing the immune response”, says Dr. Crowe. “Wagyu cattle contain the highest amount of CLA per gram of any foodstuff – about 30% more than other beef breeds – due to higher linoleic acid levels, Wagyu may therefore have an important role to play in increasing the overall health characteristics and eating quality of Australian beef.”
Interestingly, the Wikipedia entry on CLA (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conjugated_linoleic_acid) states that grass-fed animals can produce between 300 and 500% more CLA than grain-fed counterparts.
Oleic acid is a monounsaturated fat found in high levels in Wagyu meat. Not only does this account for the superior flavour of Wagyu, but oleic acid is attributed to lowering cholesterol in the blood.
What the chefs say about Wagyu
Wagyu is simply the best beef to eat and is highly sought after by gourmands and top chefs the world over.
Matt Moran (Aria) raves “The juiciness is second to none”.
Tetsuya Wakuda says “the meat itself is so good, all we do is not spoil it”.
Superior product fetches superior prices
At The Old Brewery restaurant in Perth, a legendary steak called the “Tomahawk” comprises a Wagyu scotch fillet on-the-bone (OP rib), averaging 1.8 kg (1.3 to 2.7 kg), and costs (as at 24 January 2013) $14.50 per 100 grams. That’s an average of $261.00 for a single steak! http://www.theoldbrewery.com.au/ for more details.
Nobu Japanese restaurant in London has a Wagyu tartar with caviar appetiser for £25.75 ($38.60 23/1/13 – thanks to a strong Aussie dollar), Wagyu and Foie Gras Gyoza with Spicy Ponzu for £17.50 ($26.23 23/1/13), and F1 Wagyu beef for £34 per 75 grams (around $102 for a small 150 g steak = $680 per kg). Incidentally, F1 Wagyu is what we’re producing at Surrey Springs.
The Melbourne Nobu restaurant’s current (January 2013) dinner menu lists Wagyu rib eye for $41 per 50 g ($820 per kg) and “David Blackmore” Wagyu for $53 per 50 g ($1060 per kg). Minimum order is 100g.
Koko restaurant in Melbourne has 300 grams of Wagyu Japanese hotpot style striploin (porterhouse) for $198 or $660 per kg, and “Signature Mayura” 300 g striploin for $380 or $1266 per kg.
At Hanabashi in Melbourne, Wagyu is $21 for entrée, $40 for main (Wagyu Japanese steak) and $71 (Premium Wagyu Japanese steak) for a steak.
In Japan, Wagyu fetches prices in excess of $400 per kg.
As with all animals bred for our table, stress affects the quality of the meat. Whether it be environmental stress such as extreme weather, feed stress (usually not enough feed), ill health, or handling and processing stress – it all affects the end product. In some Wagyu “farms” in Japan, the Wagyu spend up to 18 hours of their day resting in a quiet controlled environment. They are even provided with suspended tyre toys to prevent boredom.
The less stressed the animals are, the higher the meat quality will be, and the higher the price the producer can command.
One British Wagyu producer sells his fillets for 120 pounds ($180) per kg, and sirloins for 80 pounds ($120) per kg. Even cheaper cuts fetch high prices – no surprise when you consider that Americans will pay more than $45 for a Wagyu burger.
Interesting Wagyu facts
It has only been since the early part of the 20th century that Japanese beef has become famous.
In some parts of Japan, Wagyu are fed beer or sake, apparently more to stimulate their appetites and aid digestion rather than to enhance the flavour of their meat, which doesn’t appear to be affected by the alcohol.
Wagyu is also sometimes referred to as “Kobe-style” beef, but in Japan, it may also adopt the name of the region it was grown in, much like Burgundy wine or Champagne.
Cattle are also sometimes massaged, but this may also be for practical reasons, rather than for meat quality. It may be that animals living on small holdings (of which there are many in Japan) may not have enough space to fully exercise their muscles, so are massaged to prevent cramps.
Wagyu cattle initially grow at a slower rate than some of the other beef breeds, but after 24 to 30 months, they develop quite rapidly and begin to lay down increased levels of marbling in their muscles. The best Wagyu meat therefore should be at least 30 to 35 months old and have lived a life as stress-free as possible.
While Wagyu appear to be smaller than their same-age counterparts, they actually yield more meat and are heavier than they look compared to other breeds.
Wagyu marble more rapidly than any other breed in Australian beef herds.
Most Australians prefer a lightly marbled beef with less fat. Other excellent beef breeds such as Droughtmasters, Brangus (Brahman-Angus cross), Angus and Charolais are crossed with pure-bred Wagyus to achieve the perfect beef for Aussie Palates.
In Australia, Wagyus for export and domestic trade are lot-fed for between 300 and 500 days, and occupy up to 40% of feedlot space in any 12-month period. Free-range grass-fed Wagyus are quite rare, despite their superior health qualities and more favourable conditions for the animals.
More Wagyu information and source material
Information on oleic acid: http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-oleic-acid.htm
Information on CLAs: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conjugated_linoleic_acid