Wagyu beef passes the taste test of science

The University of Queensland news release, 9 August 2020

The unique flavour, texture and aroma of Australia’s famous wagyu beef can now be marketed using a world-first flavour profile developed by The University of Queensland in partnership with the Australian Agricultural Company (AACo).

Sensory and flavour expert Dr Heather Smyth and Australian Agricultural Company’s (AACO’s) Westholme brand are behind the new flavour wheel, which was designed to provide product descriptors and to differentiate the different wagyu cuts and marbling grades.

Flavour wheels are commonly used by the wine, seafood, coffee, beer and cocoa industries to describe flavour and sensory properties, but the science has now been applied to wagyu beef for the first time.

Dr Smyth, from The University of Queensland’s Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation (QAAFI), said the flavour wheel would help to increase Australian wagyu’s credentials and marketability for export.

Dr Heather Smyth holding Westholme Wagyu in the sensory test kitchen.

Australian Agricultural Company Chief Executive Officer Hugh Killen.

‘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 aftertaste,’ 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.

Westholme wagyu beef is measured and sliced into uniformly sized portions before being cooked and served to a consumer taste-testing panel.

Dr Heather Smyth cooking the wagyu beef.

‘‘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 are more delicate with complex notes such as game meat, white pepper notes, fresh bread crust and hints of brassica.’

The Westholme Flavour Wheel for wagyu beef 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.

‘AACo 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’ [from the French terroir for soil or region]—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 impart a unique flavour signature into Westholme beef.

Westholme wagyu beef before cooking.

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 that of 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.

AACo CEO Hugh Killen said that Australia’s premium wagyu brand Westholme is distinctly different from other beef brands.

Cooked wagyu beef being measured, cut and served on sample plates for panellists.

‘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 homegrown, 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.’

Research contact

Dr Heather Smyth, Centre for Nutrition and Food Sciences, Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation, The University of Queensland

E. h.smyth@uq.edu.au  · M. +61 468 732 394