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Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2011

British supermarkets find success with economic 'wagyu' beef hybrid


LONDON — A British supermarket has started selling an exclusive hybrid beef made with Japanese "wagyu" at low prices following a three-year breeding program.

News photo
Here's the beef: Butcher Angie Jessup displays "wagyu" beef at an Asda supermarket in London on Thursday. KYODO PHOTO

The beef, made from a mixture of wagyu and Holstein cow breeds, has been selling at select Asda stores since Wednesday for £23 ($36) per kilogram for sirloin cuts, against about £155 per kg, the price at which pure wagyu retails in Japan, and for around £180 per kilogram in London's top-class stores, Asda said.

Thanks to wagyu ("Japanese cattle"), the fat in the gourmet meat is more evenly distributed than in other meats and has a highly marbled appearance. The fine strands of unsaturated fat melt when the meat is cooked, giving it a greater depth of flavor than other beef.

The hybrid wagyu sold by Asda is less fatty and marbled than pure wagyu beef, which many health-conscious Britons might have found offputting. Holsteins are the most suitable breed for combining with wagyu in taste trials, according to Asda.

"The reaction from customers has been splendid. One central London restaurant owner came in yesterday and purchased 500 pounds worth of the wagyu," butcher Angie Jessup, from Asda's Battersea store in south London, said Thursday.

As it is expensive to produce pure wagyu, only a few British farms have produced it for luxury stores, but Asda decided to team up with farmers and produce their own cross-breeds to reduce costs and bring the benefits of the meat to a wider clientele.

The semen for the Asda breeding program comes from a wagyu bull in Cheshire, England. The bull has an impeccable pedigree and descended from wagyu cows exported from Japan in the 1980s.

Initially, about 10 cattle a week from a herd of 1,500 will be used to supply five supermarkets with a range of cuts.

Consumer enthusiasm has not been universal, however.

A chef recently reviewed the meat for The Times and described it as "unremarkable," adding that a nearby Japanese restaurant would have "chucked it out."

While the wagyu breed is considered to be indigenous to Japan, DNA testing has shown it was influenced by European breeds through cross-breeding in the early 1900s.

Wagyu are black or brown in color. The blacks originate from four areas — Tottori, Tajima (now in Hyogo Prefecture), Shimane and Okayama — each with slightly different attributes. Other types of wagyu originate from Kochi on Shikoku and Kumamoto on Kyushu.

Wagyu steak "teppanyaki" (iron grilled) can cost tens of thousands of yen.

Highly marbled wagyu with "shimofuri" (falling frost) is popular for its tenderness.

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