Japan's Wagyū beef refers to several breeds of cattle genetically predisposed to intense marbling and to producing a high percentage of oleaginous unsaturated fat. The meat from wagyū cattle is known worldwide for its marbling characteristics, increased eating quality through a naturally enhanced flavor, tenderness and juiciness, and thus a high market value. Highly prized for their rich flavor, these cattle produce arguably the finest beef in the world.
Wagyū cattle's genetic predisposition yields a beef that contains a higher percentage of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids than typical beef. The increased marbling also improves the ratio of monounsaturated fats to saturated fats.
Wagyū were initially introduced in the second century to Japan from the Korean Peninsula as beasts of burden to help cultivate rice. Because of Japan's rugged terrain and isolated areas, different breeding and feeding techniques were used such as massaging or adding beer or sake to their feeding regimen. It is suggested that this was done to aid in digestion and induce hunger during humid seasons, but it appears to have no effect on the meat's flavor. Massaging may have been introduced to prevent muscle cramping on small farms in Japan where the animals did not have sufficient room to use their muscles.
There are five major breeds of wagyū: Japanese Black, Japanese Brown, Japanese Polled, Japanese Shorthorn and Kumamoto Reds. Kumamoto Prefecture is famous for its red wagyū cattle. The more famous black variety has its origins in Kobe.