Wagyu Beef vs Normal Beef: Which One is Better for You?

wagyu beef steak cubes versus normal steak

Wagyu beef is easily the most prized type of beef on the planet. The luxurious beef is always deemed on another level by all beef connoisseurs and experts. Today, we’re putting wagyu beef vs normal beef, so you can find the difference between them in terms of price, taste, and even benefits. Let’s dive in!

What Is Wagyu Beef?

Wagyu, pronounced “wag-you”, is an ultra-special breed of beef cattle that are originally from Japan. In fact, the word “Wagyu” literally means “Japanese Cow”.

Wagyu cattle, in general, are extremely different from the normal beef breeds that are found around the world. This includes the traditional European, British, and Bos Taurus cattle that are raised and bred around the world.

Wagyu cattle are characterized by their medium size and excellent temperament. This gives the meat superior eating quality. Compared to almost all kinds of beef from other breeds of cattle this results in unmatched meat quality and taste.

This gave the Wagyu beef an excellent reputation around the world for being the best kind of meat there is. A lot of attributes of the meat itself is significantly different from normal beef. For instance, it has perfect levels of fats around the muscles.

This gives it a remarkable marbled appearance as well as tenderness while you’re eating them that makes them simply melt in your mouth.

Wagyu beef vs normal beef. This marbling is only there in wagyu steaks
Beautiful marbling due to internally stored fat deposits

Origin

Before heading into more details about the beef and how it reaches your table, let’s have a brief background check on the origin of the unique Japanese cattle.

While Wagyu is originally a Japanese cattle breed, it comes in different genotypes within the same breed. There are four of these genotypes, including:

  • Kuroge Washu (Japanese Black)
  • Mukaku Washu (Japanese Polled)
  • Akage Washu or Akaushi (Japanese Brown)
  • Nihon Tankaku Washu (Japanese Southern)

The distribution of these genotypes isn’t equal. In fact, most of Japanese Wagyu is from the Japanese Black Genotype.

Moreover, each genotype has various strains depending on the region it comes from. For example, the Japanese Black includes Tajima, Tottori, Okayama, and Shimane strains.

On the other hand, the Japanese Southern makes about less than 1% of all wagyu cattle in Japan. Due to the hardiness of the Japanese Wagyu cattle, they were originally used as work animals. They have physical endurance and stature to handle hard work.

However, with the huge rise in popularity of the cattle, the Japanese government considered Wagyu a national treasure. In fact, the export of Wagyu cattle to other countries was banned in 1997.

wagyu cows laying down and watching the camera man
Cows chilling in the summer

Despite the ban, embryos and live Wagyu cattle have already been exported to various countries, including the United States, Australia, and others.

The Different Grades and Brands of Wagyu Beef

Not all Japanese meat is market Wagyu beef. While shopping for meat in Japan, you’ll find some meat marked with the Japanese word for Wagyu while others aren’t.

That’s because the Japan Meat Grading Association gives different scores to each piece of meat based on its yield and grade.

This system is measured from A to C, and it indicates the level of tenderness, marbling, color, and overall quality from 1 to 5.

Japanese meat grading explained. A5 is the highest grade wagyu meat
Wagyu scaling explained. Image by livejapan.com

For example, the highest possible wagyu mark is the A5 mark. Most wagyu farms around the world follow a similar grading system.

Japanese beef usually ranges from A4 to A5. However, in some countries like the UK, there isn’t a grading system. This makes it hard to trace the quality of the beef before you buy it.

There are also Full-blooded wagyu, which is purebred Japanese cattle, and crossbred wagyu. Crossbred Wagyu has less purity (about 50%) and is bred with other species. These crossbreeds are popular in Australia and America and have a decent taste for their prices too.

SnakeRiverFarms for example sells beautifully marbled and incredibly tasty Wagyu meat, harvested from crossbred hybrids. If you are looking for a cheaper alternative that still delivers, then I can highly recommend their products.

American Kobe Gold Grade Manhattan NY Filet. A piece of raw wagyu meat crossbred with high quality Angus
Look at this mouthwatering piece of American Kobe steak sold by SnakeRiverFarms

Why Is Wagyu Beef Expensive When Compared to Normal Beef?

In addition to its awesome and buttery taste, Wagyu beef is also notorious for being extremely expensive.

In fact, a pound of Wagyu beef can easily set you back up to $200. Additionally, one wagyu cattle head can easily cost you as high as $30,000 in some situations.

From the consumer’s perspective, this means a premium price tag per a single meal. For example, some American restaurants can charge you up to $25 for an ounce of wagyu steak. That is more than 4 times what an ounce of regular filet mignon would cost you.

So what is the reason behind these high prices? Let’s find out!

The Strict Rearing Guidelines

Even before you put your hands on wagyu beef, the process of making truly unique meat has already begun.

This strict rearing method is what makes wagyu beef extremely expensive. Although Wagyu means “Cow” in Japanese, not all Japanese cows get the “Wagyu” mark.

Instead, each cow qualifies for the Wagyu mark independently depending on strict guidelines.

For example, all cattle at breeding age are grazed on pasture. Additionally, young calves are usually fed in a very specific way and with specialized feeds. This special diet ensures the characteristic marbling that Wagyu beef is known for. But more on that later.

Young wagyu calves are usually fed by hand with milk replacers to ensure that they get the proper nutrition from an early age. Not only that, but they also get weather-resistant jackets that they can wear when the weather is too cold for them.

Selling the Young Calves In Auctions

Most young wagyu live on these farms until they’re 7 to 10 months old. At that point, the cattle are sent to auctions where they’re sold to fattening farms.

By the time they’re sold at these auctions, the young calves can already cost up to 40 times the price of normal beef cattle.

Auction at an European Wagyu Gala. Image credit: makotowagyu.com

Continued Care in the Fattening Farm

In the fattening farm, the wagyu cows are usually raised in barns and small pens. There, they are given names instead of “numbers” like on a normal farm.

Every wagyu cow has a birth certificate that determines its farm, breed, and bloodline. This makes it easy to trace back its lineage.

They’re also kept on a specific diet of high-energy concentrates made of rice straws, wheat, and hay. Most wagyu cows are fed three times a day according to strict guidelines.

They’re kept on this diet and allowed to grow up to 1,500 lbs (about 700 kg) and up to 50% fat. While this takes about 15 months with normal beef, this process takes about 3 years in wagyu beef.

Keep in mind that a longer fattening period means more costs. Especially when they’re fed with expensive feed concentrates that are usually imported for the highest possible quality.

A single fully matured cattle can consume up to 5 tons of specialty grain-mix. Considering this it is easy to understand how an animal can fetch $30,000 on an auction.

Wagyu Beef vs Normal Beef: Why so Special?

Now that you know more about wagyu beef, it’s time to know what makes its taste super special when comperad to normal beef.
Here’s what you need to know!

Better Cattle Rearing and Debunking the Myths

As you now know, the process of rearing wagyu cattle is time-consuming and follows very strict rules to ensure the quality of the meat. With cattle given names and fed special diets, it’s easy to tell that those cattle are pampered to get the highest quality of meat possible.

This is true on many occasions. However, there are a lot of myths surrounding this topic. Some people say that these cattle get daily hand massages and feed on local beer in Japan.

All these claims are clearly not true. Wagyu cattle do get massages but with a stiff brush. This helps in increasing the blood circulation to their muscles and relieve the stress to make their meat more tender.

An automated cow massager. Credit: Happycow

Despite being “just a myth”, there’s one Welsh producer that does massage their wagyu cows and feed them local craft beer. So, even that isn’t totally false!

Unique Texture That You Won’t Find Anywhere Else

The first thing you’ll come across when you have a piece of wagyu meat is its unique texture that you don’t usually see in normal beef.

The meat is distinctly marbled when compared to other beef. The marbled texture refers to the visible layers of white intramuscular (between the muscle) fat among reddish beef.

The redness of the wagyu meat comes from its genetically higher concentration in fatty acids. This results in a generally high marbling score when compared to other beef.

Among wagyu experts, a higher marbling score means more tenderness, juiciness, and flavor. Full-blood wagyu cattle have the highest marbling levels among all kinds of beef in the world.

Exquisite Composition That Puts It Head and Shoulders Above Competition

Wagyu beef needs to be high in fat content to be good. Surprisingly, this is true, and it’s also one of the secrets behind its excellent taste!

Fish are always known for being healthy meat despite having higher fat content too. That’s because there are “good fats” that your body benefits from if they’re consumed in moderation.

These good fats are omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. While most kinds of normal beef have high cholesterol and “bad fats”, Wagyu beef is rich in these healthy ones, making it actually healthy for you!

According to Healthline, good fats like omega 3, 6, and 9 has the following benefits:

  • Improves the heart’s health
  • Improves brain health and fights diseases like dementia
  • Helps in controlling weight (contrary to what people think of fats)
healthy fats displayed on a table
Contrary to popular belief, there really are healthy fats. Credit: magufoods.com

The Result: Unrivaled Taste

The abundance of good fat in a wagyu piece of meat isn’t only good for health. It also plays a significant role in making Wagyu beef the best-tasting beef in the world!

The fats in Wagyu beef are characterized by having a lower melting point than our mouth temperature while holding most of the flavor.

That’s why those lean slabs of meat aren’t always the best quality meat in terms of taste. In fact, fatless meat is extremely chewy and poor in flavor when compared to the buttery and rich flavor of wagyu beef.

Wagyu beef literally melts in your mouth releasing a euphoric and enticing flavorsome taste that you’ve never had before with any other type of beef.

What Are the Health Benefits of Wagyu Beef vs. Normal Beef?

In addition to consistency and taste, wagyu beef is easily one of the healthiest forms of meat in general. According to a meta-analysis study conducted on wagyu beef, it was found that it’s easily one of the healthiest kinds of beef and overall meat on the planet.

Here are some of the benefits you get from consuming wagyu beef:

  • Wagyu has lower cholesterol than normal beef, preventing coronary diseases
  • Has healthy fatty acids that promote weight loss in moderation
  • Wagyu has higher levels of conjugated linoleic acid, which is highly beneficial

Is Wagyu Meat Worth It?

Despite being remarkably pricier than most other meats, wagyu beef delivers a blend of buttery marbled texture, euphoric taste, and a variety of health benefits that you won’t find in any other normal beef.

If you’re a serious meat lover that wants to enjoy the full potential of what beef can be, you should always opt for Wagyu beef instead of normal one.

If you feel like you can’t afford to splurge, then you can also try SnakeRiverFarms. As mentioned before, they sell crossbred wagyu cuts, which offer similar experiences for a fraction of the price.

Look at that marbling! Even though its a Wagyu crossbred sold by SnakeRiverFarms. Yummy!

Wrap Up

There you have it. A complete guide with everything you need to know about wagyu beef.

Wagyu beef simply wins in every aspect when pitted against normal beef. It has some health benefits, due to omega 3-6-9 acids. Looks way better due to marbling. It literally melts in your mouth as the melting point is lower than your body temperature.

Wagyu beef is also better for the enviroment, since it can’t be mass produced. Skip one or two steak dinners for a single Wagyu steak. Cooked to perfection, you will never want to go back.

The Editorial Team

The Editorial Team

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wagyu meat for sous vide