Wagyu branded beef entries exposed to unprecedented analysis       

Jon Condon, 01/12/2023

A smart phone app was used for point-scoring by judges involved in the AWA branded beef competition yesterday, under the watchful eye of chief steward Dr Alex Ball


THEY’RE arguably the most heavily-analysed samples of beef ever seen in a commercial branded beef taste test competition held anywhere in the world.

This year’s Australian Wagyu Association branded beef event, judged in Brisbane over the past two days, attracted a record 72 entries (57 last year) from all Australian states.

In addition to sensory eating quality analysis of some 560 samples by a team of 36 judges, each entry this year has been poked, prodded, scanned, imaged and laboratory-analysed by an unprecedented array of objective testing technologies.

Wagyu beef production is a $2 billion annual business in Australia today, and with each whole Wagyu striploin entry in this year’s Branded Beef competition worth anywhere up to $2000, the stakes were high.

Entries were judged in five classes, including Fullblood (100pc Japanese Wagyu genetics), Purebred (F4 and higher), Crossbred, and two classes for F1 carcases marbling scores 5-7, and 8+.

Marbling continues to advance

Beef Central’s Jon Condon again took part in the judging process. What was clearly evident this year was the continued progression of Wagyu beef in marbling performance, in both abundance and consistency.

Some extreme Fullblood entries produced the equivalent of Ausmeat Marbling Score 21 (Australia’s official marbling scale taps-out at 9+, while Japan’s upper limit reaches 12).

One entry showed an intra-muscular fat percentage (a proxy for marbling, measuring the ratio of fat to red meat within the muscle) of 65 percent. That’s a record high in this competition’s 13-year history. Only four years ago, the highest ever seen was 57pc.

Another striking feature was the abundance of marbling being produced in F1 and crossbred entries this year, with lots of F1 competitors in the 9+ range.

This comes despite a general trend towards fewer days on feed among F1 Wagyu cattle in Australia. Whereas 400 days was standard for F1s only four or five years ago, 350-360 days is now common, and one large F1 program now feeds F1s only around 300 days.

Despite fewer days on feed, F1 Wagyu marbling scores continue to advance, as reflected in this year’s competition.

While Angus still provided the majority of the maternal background for this year’s F1 competition entries, others displayed dairy background and even some bos-indicus derived cow origins.

Technology drives assessment

Beyond the tasting room where this year’s judges ranked entries for tenderness, juiciness, flavour, overall liking and raw steak cut appearance, there was a phalanx of analytical equipment in play. None was used as part of the taste test scoring process, but simply to provide data on performance, covering some 40 traits.

Here’s a summary of the analysis undertaken on this year’s competition entries:

  • MIJ camera beingh used in carcase grading

    MIJ Camera: Used to objectively measure marbling abundance, distribution and fineness; eye muscle area and meat and fat colour. MIJ is widely used in the Japanese Wagyu industry. The camera accurately measures marbling scores well beyond Australia’s 9+ limit, and Japan Meat Grading Association’s marbling threshold of 12. Of the 100,000 Australian Wagyu carcases whose digital marbling performance has been recorded using MIJ, one of the entries in yesterday’s competition was the highest ever seen.

  • Hand-held near infra-red spectroscopy for fatty acid composition
  • NIX Camera (see image below) for red-green-blue colour components of meat colour, measured in real time. This was done twice for each competition sample, firstly during the cutting and portioning process and again in the visual raw samples viewed by the judges. Despite its tiny size, the NIX camera (originally developed for highly accurate house paint colour sampling, of all things) can accurately analyse meat colour components.
  • Fatty acid samples from all 72 competition entries this year have been sent for laboratory analysis in Victoria for full fatty acid profile, the all-important ratios of saturated to unsaturated (desirable) fats, and chemical lean/fat ratios. Some Wagyu supply chains in Japan already offer premiums for carcases with more desirable fatty acid profiles.
  • DNA sampling using Neogen’s 100K SNP chip, providing data on genotype, breed content and parentage.

The tiny NIX Camera measuring red-blue-green meat colour components in one of this year’s competition samples

So who were the competition winners? All will be revealed at the 2024 AWA annual conference being staged in Cairns on 10-14 April next year. All we found out yesterday was that top three placings in each category this year were incredibly tight.









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