Why Wagyu Beef is So Expensive? A single cow can be sold for up to $30,000
Wagyu beef is one of the most expensive meats in the world. This meat is produced in Japan. It is prized for its rich marbling and buttery taste. It will cost you up to $200 per pound for high-grade Wagyu. And a single cow can sell for as much as $30,000.
But, what makes this meat so expensive?
The word “Wagyu” literally translates to Japanese cows. And generally, there are four main breeds. They are Kuroge, Akage, Nihon Tankaku, and Mukaku. These cows are bred for physical endurance. And that gives them more intramuscular fat cells. The fat is distributed evenly throughout their muscle. That is the reason why Wagyu beef looks pink and tastes so tender. Japanese government tightly regulates Wagyu production in order to protect the value and quality of the meat.
Wagyu meat is graded on two main factors. Those factors are, how much meat can be yielded, and the quality of the mottled fat. Only A3 to A5 Wagyu is certified for sale in Japan. And the price will increase with the grade of the Wagyu meat.
This beef gained almost legendary status. There are many myths about Wagyu farms and the way the animals are treated. Such as daily massages and being fed beer. But those are often not true.
These cows are raised very differently in each region by different farmers. But they are often raised by a breeder until they’re about 10 months old. Then they are sold at auction to a fattening farmer.
By the time the calves are sold at auction, they can already take 40 times the price of US cattle. The fattening farmer will keep the animals in small pens and feed them a mixture of fiber and high-energy concentrate. That mixture is made from rice, wheat, and hay. These cows are often fed this mixture three times a day for almost two years. When the animals are almost 50% fat that process stops. Only the breeding cattle and the pregnant cows are allowed to graze on pasture.
The cost of the beef was increased by the length of the fattening process and the import prices of the huge amount of concentrated feed. Each cow will eat 5 tons of feed during this flattering period. A cow can sell as much as $30,000 when cow goes to auction.
Comparatively, Black Angus cattle which are considered the cream of the crop in countries like the United State and Australia typically don’t sell for more than $3,000. Depending on the kind Wagyu meat can cost close to $200 per pound. High marbling is the common goal of this meat. But that approach varies by farm and area.
More than 300 varieties of Wagyu are available. The most notable cuts come from 10 regions in Japan. One of the most expensive meat is Matsusaka Wagyu from Mie Prefecture. This meat is made exclusively from convergent female cows. That meat is highly-priced because of the tenderness.
In 2002, a Matsusaka cow sold for 50 million yen. That is around $400,000. But the best know Wagyu meat is Kobe beef. Kobe beef comes from the city of Kobe in Kyoto prefecture. Kobe beef is made exclusively from steers or castrated bulls.
Kobe can be commonly seen on US restaurant menus. Customers can choose items like Kobe burgers but authentic Kobe beef is too tender to be formed into a patty. Several US restaurants are actually serving hybrid wagyu beef from domestically raised Wagyu and Angus cows.
The highest-ranking Wagyu is A5 Miyazaki. This beef is a two-time winner of the Wagyu Olympics. This meat can cost you $100 or more per pound. At SakaMai in New York city is the Wagyu of choice. This restaurant is famous for serving it in $85 “katsu sando”. It is a popular Japanese-style sandwich.
There might be something even more sought after than the A5 Miyasaki. Hell does the rarest steak in the world. Olive Wagyu comes from cattle raised on pressed dried olive peels mixed into their feet. It was developed in 2006 by a Japanese cattle farmer named Misaki Ishi. Only about 2.200 of these cows were slaughtered in 2018. They all lived on the island of Shodoshima. It is the home of Japan’s oldest olive oil plantation.
This special Wagyu is said to be extra tender. It can cost from $120 to over $300 for a steak. While this meat’s popularity grows worldwide, the domestic picture is a little different. Wagyu’s popularity in Japan is actually decreasing slightly. That’s because the country is importing more US beef than any other country as of 2017.
The value of Japanese exports of Wagyu has risen over 200% in the past 5 years. But while Japan’s population ages, farmers are struggling to keep up with the increased global demand. This keeps raising prices even more. But the high cost keeps discouraging international sales.
In 2013 Japan exported 5 billion yen worth of Wagyu meat. In 2018, exports hit 24.7 billion yen and many slaughterhouses are getting halal certification so that they can export to Muslim countries. But Japan encounters some competition when it comes to producing high-quality Wagyu. Because countries like the US, Australia, and the UK have been working on breeding their own Wagyu. They usually rely on cross-breeding.
Most British, American, and Australian Wagyu is only 50% purebred. But that might be changing soon. For example, In the UK, the Wagyu breeders association now registered DNA verified full-blood Wagyu bulls and certifies authentic British Wagyu.
New methods and increased regulation may result in a product as good as the original Wagyu. That means soon there will be lot more Wagyu that costs a lot less.