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Wagyu (和牛 Wagyū , literally Japanese cow) refers to several breeds of cattle, the most famous of which is genetically predisposed to intense marbling and to producing a high percentage of oleaginous unsaturated fat. The meat from such wagyu cattle is known for its marbling characteristics and quality, and demands a high price. In several areas of Japan, beef is shipped with area names. Some examples are Kobe, Mishima, Matsusaka, Ōmi, and Sanda beef.
Wagyu 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.
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 four breeds of wagyu: Japanese Black (黒毛和種 Kuroge washu ), Japanese Brown (赤毛和種 Akage Washu ), Japanese Polled (無角和種 Mukaku Washu ), and Japanese Shorthorn (日本短角和種 Nihon Tankaku Washu ).
Japanese Black makes up 90% of all fattened cattle in Japan. Strains of Japanese Black include Tottori, Tajima, Shimane and Okayama. Japanese Brown, also known as Japanese Red, is the other main breed; strains include Kochi and Kumamoto. Japanese Shorthorn makes up less than one percent of all cattle in Japan.
The Australian Wagyu Association is the largest breed association outside Japan. Both fullblood and wagyu-cross cattle are farmed in Australia for domestic and overseas markets, including Taiwan, China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Indonesia, the U.K., France, Germany, Denmark and the U.S.A.
Australian wagyu cattle are grain fed for the last 300–500 days of production. Wagyu bred in Western Australia's Margaret River region often have red wine added to their feed as well.
As of 2007, the U.S. cannot ship beef to Japan, as Japan requires that beef imported from the U.S. be from cattle not older than 20 months; U.S. Wagyu cattle are usually slaughtered at 30–35 months.
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