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What is wagyu beef and why the hefty price tag?

Our editor gives the low down on wagyu beef and why you should definitely get your hands on some if you can afford it.

by: Tessa Purdon | 07 Nov 2017

Chances are you've heard of the term 'wagyu' or seen it on a menu - as the ubiquitous lip-smacking burger or perhaps as a cut of steak. Either way, your eyes probably start watering from shock when you see what it costs.

You should be pleased to know though that it's actually much cheaper in South Africa than it is overseas - where you are likely to pay around R3000 per kilogram. Disclaimer: I only know this because my father is a farmer and wagyu breeder in the Eastern Cape who has many friends and business associates in The USA, Australia and New Zealand where wagyu is highly prized for its exceptional meat quality.

ALSO READ: Why you should know where your meat comes from

What is wagyu? (pronounced 'wag-you')
Wagyu is essentially a generic name for Japanese beef. It's also commonly known as Kobe beef but much like the origin designation rules around Champagne, we can only call it Kobe beef if it's from the Kobe region of Japan. ‘Wa’ meaning Japanese and ‘gyu’ meaning cow. They were originally draft animals used in Japanese agriculture and were selected for their physical endurance. 

Since then the world has figured out that they also produce some of the best beef around. There's even a myth that the cattle are given beer to increase their appetite and are massaged daily and although this may have actually happened once, it's definitely not an industry-wide standard and isn't the reason for the meat's premium price tag. The secret lies in the animals' marbling. Every chef's holy grail. 

Reposting @bernleroux: ... Wagyu + smoked dehydrated oyster (grated!) + umami jelly + bone marrow + truffle

A post shared by La Colombe Restaurant (@lacolombect) on

What the heck is marbling? 
Marbling refers to the small flecks of fat that can be found in between the muscle tissue. And it's not just any fat. This special fat (and yes, I'm going to call it special because it really is), has a low melting point - between 18°C and 20°C. Which means that the fat literally melts into the meat, producing a buttery flavour that's rich and juicy while having a silky tender texture. And it's this sensation - of the meat melting in your mouth, that really makes wagyu beef a magical and moreish eating experience.

The ratio of monounsaturated to saturated fat in wagyu is higher than in other beef, so it's also slightly more healthy as it offers high concentrations of essential fatty acids and has a higher percentage of good cholesterol to bad cholesterol when compared to other types of beef.

Renowned Japanese-born Australian chef, Tetsuya Wakuda shares the secrets to cooking wagyu steak. 

WATCH the video below!

Even though Japanese and Australian wagyu is revered, we have a fair number of local producers who are giving rise to some seriously world-class meat. Ultimately you'll only know what the fuss is about when you taste it. 

Follow The Wagyu Society of South Africa for all the latest news on SA wagyu and check out these local wagyu producers:

Oak Valley
Willow Creek
Cape Wagyu
Purdon Wagyu Angus Beef
Woodview Wagyu
Beyond Beef 
eBuhanti Wagyu

Have you tried wagyu beef? What are your thoughts?

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Read more on: wagyu  |  beef  |  meat

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