The Best Japanese Beef Varieties

Japan is renowned for its high-quality beef varieties, spanning various types and quality levels. Among the most famous are Kobe, Matsusaka, and Omi/Yonezawa beef. The more regular ones include Kokusan Gyuniku and Kuroge Wagyu.

Marbling is a key feature of Japanese beef. Grades going from A5 (the highest) to A1 indicate the level of fat content and marbling within the meat. A5 is characterized by the most marbling, resulting in a rich and tender eating experience. This preference for heavily marbled meat is a hallmark of Japanese beef, making it a favorite among locals.

Due to limited land and expensive upkeep, raising cattle in Japan is comparatively expensive, which results in higher beef prices. This is in contrast to countries like the US, Canada, and Australia, where expansive land allows for cheaper cattle farming. Nevertheless, Japanese beef continues to be in high demand.

Among the many varieties, Miyazakigyu stands out, having dominated the Wagyu Olympics for nearly two decades (the Wagyu Olympics is an event where Japanese cattle breeders compete over who has the best beef). Despite the fame of Kobe and other well-known brands, many experts consider Miyazakigyu superior in quality.

Hida beef offers a fattier alternative, ideal for dishes like shabu shabu, where its richness complements the freshness of vegetables. Similarly, Kumamoto’s aka-ushi, known for its tender and flavorful profile, offers a distinct taste derived from grass-fed, free-range cattle.

For those with a taste for specific cuts, Sendai’s gyutan (grilled beef tongue) is notable for its soft, flavorful, and non-chewy texture.

In Hokkaido, the B series has a good balance of lean meat and marbling, making it a preferred choice for many. It is used in popular establishments like Ikinari Steak. The Hokkaido variety is favored for its lower fat content yet satisfying flavor.

Akaushi beef from Kumamoto Prefecture, on the other hand, is known for its juiciness and meaty taste. This can be enhanced even further by simple seasoning like salt brining. This approach underscores a fundamental principle of Japanese cuisine: meat, no matter which type, should be enjoyed in its natural state, without the need for sauces or heavy seasoning. Only then, it is possible to truly appreciate its inherent flavor and texture.

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