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Fourth aurochs in North East Asia

This section has been prepared on Hanwoo. They are cattle indigenous to Korea and share the same origins as Wagyu from the North East Eurochs but they have a longer history. Cattle from the Asian mainland were introduced to Japan just over 2,000 years ago and there was another infusion of Korean genetics to Kumamoto and Kochi Prefectures between 1868 and 1910. Red Wagyu/Akaushi, which are fundamentally of the Kumamoto strain of Japanese Brown, resemble the Hanwoo type Korean cattle in appearance despite the infusion of other breeds in Red Wagyu/Akaushi.

History of Hanwoo

Korean native cattle have been raised in the Korean Peninsula since 2,000 BC. They were raised primarily Hanwoo bullfor draught and occasionally for sacrificial rites. Due to the low number of cattle in Korea and also religious and political issues, consumption of beef was low until the economy started to enjoy good growth. Even though Korean cattle in general are known as "Hanwoo" (Han-u and Hanu), the name applies to the most common type which has brown coat colour. "Heugu" have a black face, black is known as "Jeju Black", and "Chikso" has tiger colour.

In 2011, there were 3 million head of beef cattle in Korea across 160,000 households.

Hanwoo is known to have relatively superior fertility but their slow growth rate and reduced milking yield reduce total beef production. The Korean cattle industry has aimed to increase the cattle number to meet the growing demand for beef in Korea. With the improvement of the economy more palatable beef is increasing in demand.

Korea had been free of Foot and Mouth diesease for three years but a new outbreak was detected on 3rd December 2014 on pig and cattle farms. There has been culling of herds and vaccination is underway in affected areas with millions of doses of vaccine ordered.

The total number of slaughtered cattle during the 2011 outbreak was 852,000 of which 720,000 were Hanwoo cattle and the remainder were Holstein. Korea is only 42.8% self-sufficient in beef production, with the bulk of the beef imported from Australia, USA, New Zealand, Mexico and Canada (Jo et al., 2012).

Beef consumption

The consumption of meat has increased in Korea from 14 kilogram in 1980 to 40 kilogram in 2010 as a result of a shift from fish to beef. Beef consumption has risen from 3 kilogram to 12 kilogram per capita. The local breed Hanwoo is increasing in share and has risen from 36% in 2011, to 41.9% in 2012 and 44.6% in 2013. This is despite being twice the cost of imported beef as the local beef is considered to be frseher and to have more flavour (Jo et al., 2012).

Fatty acid composition

Samples from 24 month old Australian Angus steers and Korean raised steers were analysed (data from Fatty acid composition, atherogenic ratio and MUFA:SFA for Hanwoo and Angus 24 month steers grain finishedCho et al., 2005). 18:1 oleic acid was significantly (P < 0.05) higher in Triceps brachii than in the other two muscles. 18:2 linoleic acid was significantly (P < 0.05) higher in Triceps brachii and Semimembranosus than in Longissimus dorsi muscle. For Longissimus muscle, the proportion of SFA was significantly (P < 0.05) highest, while that of PUFA was lowest. Angus had higher omega-3 than that of Hanwoo over the three muscles. Hanwoo contained significantly (P < 0.05) higher omega-6 than Angus. MUFA:SFA was highly significant (P < 0.001) in breed, muscle and breed x muscle and is shown in the chart as the solid yellow line. Atherogenic index is shown as the dotted yellow line and a lower reading is associated with a more favourable fatty acid profile (Cho et al., 2005).

Flavour and taste

Sensory taste panel in Korea from Australian raised Angus and Korean raised Hanwoo beef produced different responses to those reported in the Marbling section. Saturated fatty acids such as 16:0 palmitic acid and 18:0 stearic acid were positively correlated with all sensory traits, while the unsaturated fatty acids (MUFA + PUFA) such as 16:1n7 oleic acid, 18:2n6 linoleic acid, 20:2n6 eicosadienoic acid, 20:3n6 g-linoleic acid, 20:4n6 arachidonic acid and 22:4n6 adrenic acid were negatively correlated with all sensory traits (P < 0.05). In particular, PUFA had significant negative correlation with with tenderness, flavour, juiceness and overall likeness. Individual fatty acids - 14:0 palmitic acid in Korean Hanwoo beef and 22:5n3 in Australian Angus beef (P < 0.01) - might affect the taste in Korean consumers (Cho et al., 2005).

Grading of beef in Korea

Korean consumers have a preference for marbled beef so the grading system in effect since 1992 gives a Beef Marbling Standard for Korean beef gradinghigh priority to marbling. The top grade is QG 1++ for Korean beef marbling scores (K-BMS) 8 and 9 for Longissimus dorsi at the 13th rib. 9.2% of Hanwoo slaughtered in 2011 graded QC1++. 22.6% were in QG 1+ from K-BMS 6 and 7. 30.6% were QG 1 with K-BMS 4 and 5. Fat content for the top three QG were 21.48%, 17.61% and 11.02% respectively (Jo et al., 2012).


Cho, S.H., Park, B.Y., Kim, J.H., Hwang, I.H., Kim, J.H. and J.M. Lee. 2005. Fatty acid profiles and sensory properties of Longissimus dorsi, Triceps brachii and Semimembranosus muscles from Korean Hanwoo and Australian Angus beef. Asian-Aust. J. Anim. 18(12):1786-1792.
Jo, C., Cho., S.H., Chang, J. and K.C. Nam. 2012. Keys to production and processing of Hanwoo beef: A perspective of tradition and science. Animal Frontiers. October 2012 2(4):32-38. With acknowledgement for kind permission from Professor Jo.

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