What is Wagyu?
Wagyu (pronounced ‘wag-you’) is a breed of cattle native and unique in their genetics to Japan. The Japanese word Wagyu can be translated to mean Japanese beef – as ‘wa’ means Japanese and ‘gyu’ means beef. Wagyu were originally draft animals used in agriculture and were selected for their physical endurance. This selection favored animals with more intra-muscular fat cells – ‘marbling’ – which provided a readily available energy source. Wagyu is a horned breed and the cattle are either black or red in color.
There is some evidence of genetic separation into the Wagyu genetic strain as much as 35000 years ago. Modern Wagyu cattle are the result of the crossing of the native cattle in Japan with imported breeds. Crossing began in 1868 after the Meiji restoration in that year. The three major black strains – Tajiri or Tajima, Fujiyoshi (Shimane) and Kedaka (Tottori) evolved due to regional geographic isolation in Japan. These breeding differences have produced a Japanese national herd that comprises 90% black cattle with the remainder being of the red strains Kochi and Kumamoto.
Wagyu is raised in most prefectures of Japan, and more than 90% of Wagyu raised and fattened in Japan is of this breed. Fine strips of fat are found even in its lean meat (known as marbling). The flavor of the fat is exquisite, with a buttery, tender texture that dissolves in one’s mouth.