Wagyu beef is notoriously known as the “crème de la crème” of the meat industry. A delicacy: known for its intramuscular marbling resulting in a melt-in-your-mouth eating experience.
With its origins dating back to Japan, Wagyu cattle can be found roaming the green pastures of many countries – notably the United States, Australia and closer to home – South Africa.
The origin of Wagyu beef
There’s documented evidence which points to the movement of Wagyu cattle from Northern China around 200 AD. These were predominantly used for labour-type work, including farming, forestry, the transportation of goods and breeding but not for meat or milk production. In 1872, the Moeji emperor officially endorsed the consumption of meat – which was previously banned for cultural and religious reasons.
The Four Types of Wagyu
From 1886 onwards, Japanese cattle farmers imported thousands of cows to mix with their own, and in 1919 began to notice special characteristics of some of their herds, which would later be identified as four unique strains of cattle: Japanese Black (Kuroge Washu) Japanese Brown or Red (Akage Washu or Akaushi), Japanese Shorthorn (Nihon Tankaku Washu) and Japanese Polled (Mukaku Washu).
The Japanese Wagyu Trade Embargo
In 1976, the first Wagyu cows were imported to the USA with four bulls – two full-blood Black Wagyu bulls and two full-blood Red Wagyu bulls. In 1990, the first Wagyu cow was imported into Australia and then in 1991, a shipment of frozen semen and embryos.
When the Japanese government realised the value of their unique product, they declared Wagyu a “national living treasure”, banning further exports of Wagyu genetics from 1997 onwards. However, the small numbers of Wagyu exported to the United States between 1975 and 1997 (an estimated 200 cows) were enough to begin farming full-blooded, certified Wagyu outside of Japan.
The rise of Wagyu farming outside of Japanese borders.
Farming Wagyu outside of Japan requires great time and investment.
The most cost-effective way to begin breeding for Wagyu beef is through crossbred Wagyu, which is the process of introducing full-blood Wagyu bull semen to a female of another breed. Over time and with the use of genomics – which increases the genetic predictability of the breed – the breeding of top-quality Wagyu outside of Japan is made possible.
Wagyu farming in South Africa
Wagyu cattle were first introduced to South Africa in the early 1990s. The first Wagyu bulls were imported from the United States and Australia, and they were initially crossed with local South African breeds to create a hybrid Wagyu herd. Over time, South African Wagyu breeders have continually improved the genetics of their herds, to provide a combination of full-blood and crossbred Wagyu to the market.
What differences can be found between South African and Japanese Wagyu?
At the end of the day, Japanese Wagyu is known for its exceptionally high levels of marbling, tenderness, and rich flavour and is often considered some of the best beef in the world, with large price tags attached.
South African Wagyu is also known for its high levels of marbling, which gives it a tender and juicy texture and rich umami flavour. The flavour profile may differ slightly from Japanese Wagyu due to factors such as the breed of cattle, the environment, and their diet.
Ultimately, the quality of Wagyu beef can vary depending on various factors, including the genetics of the cattle, their diet, and how they were raised. While Japanese Wagyu is revered, there are certainly top-quality Wagyu producers in other countries, including South Africa.
Wild Coast Wagyu – how do we measure up?
Over the last 5 years, our farm has sourced Wagyu genetics locally and from Australia and the United States.
We have developed a herd of top-quality full-blood and crossbred Wagyu genetics through a strict breeding policy and farming practices, with our genetics ranked in the top 5% globally. Our animals are registered with the Wagyu Society of South Africa, which ensures their traceability through DNA sampling and testing.
We are committed to our mission of ethically and sustainably producing locally reared Wagyu with quality marbling that showcases wonderful umami flavour, without a $1000 price tag attached.