Wagyu (和牛) is the famous Japanese beef cattle known for its marbleized fat distribution. This type of beef is usually used in the menu of Yakiniku, shabu-shabu, teppanyaki and more. A grading system is specifically made for quality control and classification of various breeds and brands of beef.
There are 4 main breeds of wagyu, including Japanese Black, Japanese Brown, Japanese Polled and Japanese Shorthorn. 90% of wagyu came from Japanese Black because it is easy to reproduce, and holds the highest chance of having marbelized body fat. Japanese Brown usually has less than 12% body fat, and the selling point is on the authentic taste of the muscles. Japanese Shorthorn holds more inosinic acid and glutamic acid that enhances the flavour of the beef, and Japanese Polled have more amino acid that deepens the aftertaste.
Additional to breeds, there are further categorization branched into countless wagyu brands. These various brand names depend on ancestors, location, grade, and usually, need proof of certification. Two of the most popular brands are Matsusaka and Kobe.
Matsusaka beef (松坂牛) are Japanese Black heifers, registered under the Matsusaka beef management system, lived in Matsusaka since 1 or younger, and raised in Matsusaka. Candidates who pass all the above criteria will be offered a sticker and a certificate.
Kobe beef (神戸牛) is the best quality Tajima beef (但馬牛), which needs to be a heifer aged 28 – 60 months, registered in the system, graded between B4-A5, weight 270-499.9 kg, and BMS needs to be No. 6 or higher. Qualified Kobe beef has a stamp.
The grading scale of beef is consolidated by the Japan Meat Grading Association, which grades around 70k cows monthly. The beef grading system uses one alphabet letter and one score number, such as grade A4, each representing a different aspect of the meat.
The alphabet represents the “yield grade” of a cow, which is the percentage of flesh that can be collected, excluding bones, organs, extra fat and skins. Grade A beef has 72% or more collectable meat, grade B has around 69% to 72%, while grade C has 69% or less. Most wagyu belongs to grade A, yet this alphabet grade is not related to the actual taste of the beef. The taste of the beef is mostly affected by the score number, which measures the meat quality.
Beef Marbling Score (BMS) is used to rank the meat quality, which depends on fat distribution. This score ranges from 1 to 5, as the image above has shown, No.1 is grade 1, No.2 is grade 2, No.3-4 is grade 3, No.5-7 is grade 4 and No.8-12 is grade 5. Fat removes dryness and chewiness of the beef, explaining why more fat will be resulting in a higher grade. Combining the alphabet and score number, the highest-graded beef is A5, and certainly, it is also the most expensive beef grade (20 ounces for $265 on Amazon).
Although the price can be a little expensive, I strongly recommend wagyu to everyone who hasn’t tried it. It is totally different from regular beef, it is the type of meat that will make you believe in love at the first bite.