If you’ve heard of Wagyu beef, you’ve probably also heard that it is currently one of the most expensive meats in the world. Those who have gotten to taste it understand why. Wagyu beef has a unique buttery flavor, and it is so tender that it melts in your mouth more than any other steak you’ve had before. Still, at over $200 per pound, there has to be a better reason for the price other than that it tastes good.

There are quite a few factors that get reflected in the overall price of Wagyu beef. You may have heard some common rumors that the cows have to get massages to distribute the fat or that they only get fed grass and beer. Don’t believe everything you’ve heard. Instead, consider some of the genuine reasons why Wagyu beef is so pricey. 

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The 8 Reasons Why Wagyu is so Expensive

1. Geography

Wagyu cows grazing in grassy hill
Image Credit: ymgerman, Shutterstock

True Wagyu beef must come from Japan. If you know anything about their country, you know that 80% of the land is mountains. Farmers own long, narrow valleys tucked in between the mountains to raise their cattle. The entire country alone is smaller than California, meaning that there isn’t a lot of land to work with in general.

A typical lot for raising Wagyu beef in Japan could contain anywhere from 10 to 100 cattle, whereas the United States would have thousands. Wagyu simply isn’t as readily available to the public as regular beef is here in the U.S.

2. Feeding Times

Wagyu cattle are fed and raised for longer than other types of cattle. The average cow is fed for about 30 months before being sent to slaughter. Wagyu cows have to eat for double the amount of time to develop the fatty marbling in their muscles. So what does this mean? It means that rearing Wagyu beef costs twice as much as regular cattle.

3. Stress-Free Environments

One of the most important practices of Wagyu farming is the give the cattle a low-stress environment to live in. Animals who have high energy or that feel stressed have elevated levels of adrenaline and cortisol. These chemicals can quickly deteriorate the quality of the beef and make it less flavorful and tougher.

Many steps are taken to keep the cows stress-free. Farmers refuse to overcrowd their pens with too many cows. They also try to keep the area quiet and separate any cows that don’t get along. They’re also given a constant fresh supply of clean water and grassy fields.

4. Labor Costs

Labor alone is expensive in Japan, and the labor costs for Wagyu cattle farming are just as high. This could have something to do with their shrinking population and low fertility rates.

5. Security

Wagyu cattle on green meadow
Image Credit: Filmbildfabrik, Shutterstock

Raising Wagyu beef is a tradition that has been passed down for hundreds of years. There are many strict measures in place to keep consumers from buying from fraudulent Wagyu suppliers. Fraud is taken seriously enough that each Wagyu calf that is born gets its nose print taken and 10-digit identification number that is entered into a database to record their date of birth, parents, grandparents, breed, and feedlot they’re at.

6. Costs to Import

While farmers in the United States claim that they also raise Wagyu beef, there are no types of regulations put in place to verify the bloodline. The smaller operations from Japan mean that their beef is going to be more expensive. Importing that beef into our country is another story. There is an import quota on the entire U.S, and after it gets filled, there is a high tax on any Japanese imported beef.

7. Genes

Wagyu cattle were once raised on rice farms. They had heavy workloads and little food. Over time, their bodies adapted to store more energy within the muscles. This mutation is what gives the cattle their thick marbling. True Wagyu beef only comes from purebred cattle. While you may be able to find meat from crossbreeds, it is said that purebred cattle still tastes significantly better.

8. Demand

If economics class taught you anything, it should be that with demand comes higher prices. We aren’t sure that this beef is going to be in such high demand forever, but it doesn’t show any signs of slowing down soon.

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It’s hard to resist a piece of steak with such unique marbling that you just know it’s going to be one of the best things you’ve ever tasted. Wagyu beef is expensive, and, unfortunately, not everyone is going to be able to afford it in their lifetime. People who are lucky enough to afford this delicacy know just how special this meat truly is. The high price might seem ridiculous, but there are a lot of reasons for the pricing that make quite a bit of sense.

Featured Image Credit: SZimmermann, Pixabay