Around the year 100, Wagyu cattle were brought over from China and Korea to Japan and for the vast majority of its history, the Wagyu breed was strictly a work animal. It worked in the rice fields, the mines, and the forestry industries. It was never a food animal. In fact, until 1860 when Emperor Meiji eased the restriction, Japanese did not eat the meat of any four legged animal, as a part of their Shinto beliefs.
Generation upon generation, the keepers of the Wagyu breed selectively bred for cattle that could work long days and live a long, productive work life.
One adaptation that resulted from selective breeding pressure was the ability of Wagyu cattle to store energy in a form that they could quickly access. This energy was stored as fat within the muscle tissue. In other words, Wagyu developed the ability to produce thoroughly marbled beef, which is the source of the beef’s remarkable flavor and texture.
Selective breeding also led to Wagyu fat having a composition much different from other breeds, with a lower melting point, making it much more liquid at body temperature. This liquid fat kept the Wagyu cattle’s muscles and joints better lubricated, leading to a much longer working life. Today in ‘beef terms’, this means Wagyu fat contains less saturated fat and more unsaturated fat than other beef, making it a lighter, sweeter, and healthier fat.
After World War II, Japanese soldiers had developed a taste for beef abroad. Combined with the mechanization of the 1960’s where tractors took the jobs of Wagyu cattle, for the first time, a market was created for Wagyu cattle as ‘beef’ animals. It was then that the amazing characteristics of the Wagyu breed were fully realized. Today, Wagyu is the breed behind the most luxurious beef brands in the world, such as Kobe Beef, Matsuzaka Beef, Omi Beef, … and Mishima Reserve