If you enjoy steak, then you have heard of Kobe, Wagyu and Black Angus. These are premium cuts of beef known for being finely marbled where the fat is evenly dispensed with the actual meat. The marbling adds flavor and juiciness as the fat melts into the steak which makes the meat tender and juicy. Are you salivating at the moment?
What is Hanwoo?
Well, there is another type of beef that also has the premium qualities as these type of beef. Some may say even better than these peers. Most readers may not be aware, but South Korea also has a premium quality beef called Hanwoo. Hanwoo cattle are indigenous to Korea and share the same origins as Wagyu. Wagyu are offsprings of Hanwoo. They are one of the oldest indigenous cattle breeds in the world as they have been around for two millennia. Their beef is highly coveted in Korea and is priced accordingly where they cost more than Wagyu or Black Angus but not Kobe.
Hanwoo is known to have better fertility but their slow growth rate and reduced milking yield reduce total beef production. On top of that, being raised range-free, there is very limited space in South Korea for these breeds to roam freely. Historically, cow consumption was low in Korea and Hanwoo were basically used as farm animals. But with Korean economy growing and the rise of middle class, beef consumption picked up and Korea is trying to raise production.
In terms of look and taste, Hanwoo can be characterized as having the best qualities of Wagyu and Black Angus. In terms of marbling, Wagyu has the most and they can go to 70% fat. Hanwoo has about 50% fat while the American Angus can be 20% fat. So Hanwoo falls in the middle scale of beefi- and fattiness. Hanwoo gives good mix of beef flavor and fat and not being overwhelmed from either side.
Meat N’Bone has a great page in grading beef and marbling. Korean beef is not listed here and one reason for it, I will explain in next the section.
Like their Japanese counterpart, Hanwoo breeds are treated to beers, massages and quality grains. Hanwoo’s main staple is usually corn where Wagyu is oats. The breed and the way they are raised bring out the right balance of fat and beef.
Hanwoo rarity in the world
You may be asking “if the beef is so great, how come no one has heard of it?” There are a few reasons for this and hopefully this can change soon. One reason for lack of international recognition has to do with foot and mouth disease (FMD). Back in 2000, Korea had cases of FMD and was barred from exporting any meat. Only FMD-free nations were allowed to export. The ban was eventually lifted in 2014. However, the export boom did not happen.
South Korea beef consumption has been growing dramatically compared historically and this has caused further strain on an already depleted, slow-growing herd. Korea has become biggest importer of United States meat to satisfy all that demand. At the moment, the beef has been exported to Hong Kong and China. Will it ever come to the United States? I am hoping it will soon. There are authentic Korean restaurant that also want to serve it as well to give the diners true Korean BBQ such as Hyun in New York City.
For now, if you want to enjoy this beef, you will have to travel to Korea. I hope all the beef connoisseurs have found something new to try out.