THE unique flavour, texture and aroma of Australian Wagyu beef can now be marketed using a world-first flavour profile ‘wheel’ developed by the University of Queensland in partnership with the Australian Agricultural Co.
Sensory and flavour expert Dr Heather Smyth from the Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation, and the Australian Agricultural Co’s Westholme brand are behind the new flavour wheel, designed to provide product descriptors and to differentiate the different Wagyu cuts and marbling grades.
Flavour wheels have been widely used since the 1980s to better describe everything from cheese to coffee, olive oil and beer. The US Department of Agriculture developed a flavour wheel for beef during sensory research into fatty acid profiles more than ten years ago, sometimes used in branded beef taste tests in Australia. While that wheel was developed for generic fed beef, the QAAFI project may be the first looking specifically at Wagyu beef, which has distinctly different fatty acid profiles to mainstream beef.
While long-feeding of Wagyu cattle – typically fed 400-500 days – tends to strip-out some of the distinctive flavour notes embedded from different pasture history, the annual AWA branded beef competition clearly shows that variations exist between Wagyu samples from different brand programs and feedlot rations.
Dr Smyth said the new flavour wheel would help to increase Australian Wagyu’s credentials and marketability for export.
“Westholme’s flavour wheel has many applications and is a significant development for the industry. For example, the flavour wheel will enable exporters and chefs to select Wagyu products based on the specific sensory experience they will provide consumers – including aroma, flavour, texture and after-taste,” Dr Smyth said.
During blind taste tests of a selection of Westholme and other premium Wagyu beef samples, an experienced flavour panel identified nearly 100 words to describe Wagyu based on sensory attributes across texture, aroma and flavour.
A meat scientist oversaw the cooking process to ensure each sample was grilled to medium with an internal temperature above 60°C.
“I would describe the flavour as intensely caramelised – a tender roasted juiciness, buttery and dissolving sweetness in the mouth that lingers,” Dr Smyth said.
Some cuts were found to be more delicate with complex notes such as game meat, white pepper, fresh bread crust and hints of brassica.
The Westholme Wagyu flavour wheel paves the way for premium Australian beef to stand out on menus around the world and is thought to be a global first for any red meat.
“AA Co wanted accurate and informative tools to describe the unique flavour and sensory properties of Westholme Wagyu, so we developed a language tool – a lexicon – which can be used for marketing and product education,” Dr Smyth said.
It taps into how the ‘terroir’ – the unique environment of the vast, natural grasslands of Northern Australia where Westholme cattle are produced – and other factors such as the animals’ genetics, age, gender, diet, handling and processing imparts a unique flavour signature into Westholme beef.
Quality assurance offered by the flavour wheel reinforces the provenance of premium Wagyu beef.
Dr Smyth envisaged the flavour science could spearhead geographical indicators such as ‘western Queensland Wagyu’ as a clear mark of provenance and quality comparable to Coffin Bay oysters or King Island cheese.
“This research lifts Australian beef to a new standard as world-leading producers of distinctive, quality food,” she said.
AA Co chief executive Hugh Killen claimed Westholme was distinctly different from other beef brands.
“We were lacking the technical information, the science, to demonstrate this to our customers, which is why we helped develop the flavour wheel,” Mr Killen said.
“We wanted to be the first in the industry to show the value of our premium product at home and abroad – to clearly demonstrate the distinct flavours of home-grown, quality Australian Wagyu and then be able to properly describe these differences.”
“There is a lack of understanding and education around Australian Wagyu and this wheel can help change that. We’re extremely passionate about showcasing our product and our point of difference, but also about innovating and driving education in this space.”
Lifting Wagyu’s value-proposition
The Australian Wagyu Association’s chief executive, Dr Matt McDonagh, welcomed the food wheel initiative, saying consumers both within Australia and overseas rightly expected a piece of Wagyu beef to be a unique, luxury food experience, but some did not know what to expect.
“You have to the product like fine wine – anybody can pick up a bottle of red wine, but for the person who isn’t experienced in high quality red wine, they may not appreciate a true, high quality article without further education.
“The ability of the flavour wheel for Wagyu will help people understand the product they are consuming. It’s a positive step forward,” he said.
Dr McDonagh said there could be opportunities for Wagyu brand owners to target a portion of the ‘wheel’ that they felt they had an ability to deliver, and include this in their brand marketing in a more sophisticated way.
“The more that Wagyu products can differentiate themselves from other beef products, through education, is a great idea. In general, the category of beef is a high quality product, but perhaps the industry has not necessarily done enough to explain why. It helps validate Wagyu’s price point and quality claims.”
“It is something that the Japanese industry has done quite well in describing its own products, but is perhaps not something that the Australian industry has done so well, to this point.”
“This project involving AA Co and QAAFI is a really good step forward, in better differentiating the product, so that consumers do understand the value proposition that Wagyu provides,” Dr McDonagh said.