Japanese-Canadian master chef Hidekazu Tojo said that Top Tier Foods’ new vegan Wagyu beef—known as “Waygu”—was very impressive.
Tojo—who is widely credited with inventing the California Sushi roll—said that he previously felt unimpressed with vegetarian beef products. The world-renowned, Vancouver-based chef told the South China Morning Post (SCMP) that he was initially “unsure about” the quality of the vegan Wagyu.
“But when I tried it, I could not believe it was made from plants,” he told SCMP. “My first impression was that it was real wagyu beef.”
Vancouver-based Top Tier Foods expects full-scale production of the soy-based beef to begin in August. Manufacturing will take place in Japan.
The company signed a distribution agreement with Wismettac Asian Foods, a major global distributor of Japanese cuisine.
According to Blair Bullus, president of Top Tier Foods, consumers recognize Wagyu beef for its “succulent texture and marvelous subtle flavors.”
“We set about trying to make a plant-based alternative that would live up to this standard for texture, taste, and quality,” he continued. “So that those who choose not to eat meat can still enjoy a product of Wagyu beef’s legendary quality.”
The Challenge of Wagyu
Wagyu beef traditionally comes from one of four specific Japanese breeds of cattle. It features distinctive fat “marbling,” flavor, and tenderness. Conventional Wagyu can cost up to $100 per steak.
Producing vegan Wagyu presents a technical challenge. Top Tier said it is leaning on Japanese culinary tradition. Layering the soybean fibers and flavoring them with rice wine, ginger, garlic, and soy sauce helps create the texture of traditional beef.
Tojo added that anyone who isn’t an “experienced Wagyu eater” would struggle to tell the difference between the beef and plant-based versions.
“The reactions from chefs and consumers have been the most satisfying aspect of bringing ‘Waygu’ to market,” said Bullus. “From large-scale sushi restaurants to master chefs and everyday consumers, the reaction has been resoundingly positive.”
Top Tier is not the only company working on alternatives to traditional Wagyu beef. Australian food group JAT Oppenheimer recently launched its own vegan Wagyu under the name V Meat. And Californian food-tech company JUST announced plans to develop clean, cultured meat from Wagyu cattle cell lines in late 2018.