Business

Cattle go on diet as new wagyu brand in Wakayama targets health-conscious meat lovers

Kyodo

Some Japanese black cattle in Wakayama Prefecture, renowned for the distinctive fatty marbling of their meat, have been put on a diet.

A new less-fatty wagyu brand has been launched in the prefecture in hopes of attracting health-conscious meat lovers looking for leaner beef.

Since 2015, the prefectural government has been working on the development of Kishu Waka beef, harvested from cattle that eat low-calorie feed, in cooperation with local farmers.

They succeeded in cutting the amount of fat in the meat by about 10 percent while increasing the vitamin content through raising the cattle on so-called ecofeed, an ecological and economical feed made from food waste and ingredients including pomace generated from the production of orange juice and soy sauce, both of which are local specialties of the prefecture.

According to the Japan Meat Information Service Center, there are over 150 wagyu brands that produce their meat from Japanese black cattle raised primarily in the Kinki and Chugoku regions.

Wagyu beef is graded — from 5 to 1 — based on fat marbling, or the way the fat is distributed through the meat, the brightness of the meat, its firmness and texture, and the brightness and quality of the fat, the center said.

Japanese black cattle make up 90 percent of all fattened cattle in the country.

Wagyu, marketed with famous regional names such as Kobe beef and Matsusaka beef, is renowned for the flavor of its fat — a creamy, tender texture that melts in the mouth.

Generally, beef with more abundant marbling is graded the highest, but the popularity of lean meat has surged lately on the back of health-conscious eaters.

In 2015, Ehime Prefecture launched its own low-fat beef brand, Ehime Akane Wagyu. The price gap between less-fatty beef and marbled beef is now narrowing in Japan.

However, a Wakayama prefectural official who deals with livestock said that, because of its quality grade, there is no reason to believe Kishu Waka beef will take off anytime soon.

“Kishu Waka has a quality grade from 4 to 2. Even if it were delivered now, it would definitely not fetch a high price in the wholesale market, which places a big emphasis on quality grade.”

So, for now, the idea is to heighten brand awareness, officials say. The prefectural government started providing Kishu Waka beef to local restaurants on a trial basis from February. The lean meat has been especially favored at yakiniku (grilled meat) shops.

Diners can find out which restaurants serve Kishu Waka on the prefecture’s website.

“Currently, only one cattle farm raises Kishu Waka beef cattle but we would like to eventually provide a stable supply by increasing the number,” an official said.