For about $150 per pound, dedicated carnivores and food connoisseurs alike can get their forks on a luxury: Wagyu beef. Its trademark marbled flesh and soft texture have launched the meat into caviar-like status. And because its fat has a melting point lower than the average human body temperature, it melts in your mouth. The vast majority of the beef comes from Japanese Black cattle.
Part of its allure is the smell — a unique sweet, coconut-like aroma. New research from the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry pinpoints 16 compounds that give it this distinct smell, 10 of which are newly associated with the meat. The strongest element: compounds derived from fatty acid.
Satsuki Inagaki, the lead author, says that while the smell of the beef is important, scientists weren't sure what was behind it. The paper points out that a previous study identified one compound that that played a large role in the beef's smell, but that there was a potential flaw in the study: the meat wasn't cooked to an optimal temperature.
In the recent research, conducted through Ogawa & Company, Ltd., the researchers analyzed several beef samples — along with Wagyu they looked at grass-fed Australian beef and U.S. beef as comparisons.
Alone, these compounds are not necessarily special. Inagaki says that some are also found in foods like tea, beer, citrus fruits, fennel and peanuts. The paper explains that one compound is associated with egg whites, and another with cooked chicken. What sets Wagyu beef apart from other foods, Inagaki explains, is the balance of these compounds.