What is Wagyu Beef?

Every steak lover has heard of Wagyu beef. It is a Japanese beef considered one of the best in the world due to its unique marbling, flavor, and tenderness. Many people do not understand Wagyu, mainly due to misinformation. In this article, we will explain everything you need to know.

What Is Wagyu Beef?

Wagyu means Japanese cattle (“Wa” means Japanese, and “gyu” means cattle). So the term Wagyu refers to all Japanese beef cattle. In Japan, Wagyu must be a 100 percent purebred of one of the four Japanese cattle breeds (Japanese Black, Japanese Brown, Japanese Shorthorn, and Japanese Polled) or a 100 percent mix of these breeds.

List of Japanese beef cattle breeds:

  1. Kuroge Washu (Japanese Black)
  2. Mukaku Washu (Japanese Polled)
  3. Nihon Tankaku Washu (Japanese Shorthorn)
  4. Akage Washu (Japanese Brown)

Japan produces a lot of wagyu brands in different regions of the country. Many of them are categorized and named according to region and breeding methods. The most well-known and prized are Kobe beef, Matsusaka beef, Olive Wagyu, and Yonezawa or Omi beef.

Wagyu beef is luxurious meat known for its generous marbling and tenderness. The most expensive and one of the more highly prized brands of Wagyu is Kobe Beef.

Wagyu cattle have a long and storied history in Japan. For an in-depth look at the history of wagyu beef in Japan, we refer you to this article.

raw wagyu beef
raw wagyu beef

History of Wagyu Breed in the USA

The first Wagyu cattle (Two red and black bulls) were brought to the United States in 1976 by Morris Whitney. Due to the lack of Wagyu females in the USA, all four bulls were crossed with American Angus cows. The result was the birth of the first American Wagyu.

In the following years, imports of Japanese cattle (Wagyu) to America, including females, continued. The result was finally the birth of the first fullblood calf in the USA.

In 1997, the Japanese government banned the export of wagyu cattle. Since then, American ranchers have focused on breeding and raising a larger herd of American Wagyu.

The history of the export wagyu breed to the USA is, of course, much more extensive. To know it better, we recommend reading the article on Wagyu International.

American vs. Japanese Wagyu

Let’s start with the difference in genetics. Japanese Wagyu is fullblood (the two parents are 100% wagyu), while most American Wagyu is crossbred. More precisely, American Wagyu is crossed with black Angus (A minimum of 50% Japanese Wagyu genetics is required to meet “American Wagyu” standards). 

Find out what is Angus beef in our next article.

Another significant difference is the different diet and method (as well as time) of raising the two types of cattle. Japanese Wagyu must meet a higher amount of strict regulations to be authentic Wagyu.

American wagyu beef is a much better choice for steak all at once, mainly because it has less marbling than Japanese wagyu beef. This also results in a beefier taste. As for Japanese Wagyu, such a high-fat content melts the cooked steak in your mouth. 

It sounds great; however, Japanese Wagyu is not suitable for eating in larger quantities at once (at least not for everyone). This meat needs to be savored – eat a little, and you’re full. In this aspect, American Wagyu is a much better choice; it is just more like a “traditional steak.”

Japanese Wagyu and American Wagyu are great; however, they differ in many ways. Japanese Wagyu is a better choice if you are thinking of enjoying a small amount of an incredibly tender piece of meat. American Wagyu, on the other hand, is a much better choice for people who plan to eat a large steak. Both types of beef are great, but you should try them to see which will be better for you.

What Does Wagyu Beef Taste Like?

Wagyu beef raised in Japan is prized for its intense flavor, firm texture, and rich marbling. The top-quality beef (like A5 Wagyu) melts in your mouth with a level of tenderness, making it one of the most luxurious meats available anywhere. 

Rich fat content gives the meat a robust flavor and dense texture. But, it’s important to note that not all marbling is equal, just as not all wagyu beef is equal.

What you need to know about the wagyu grading system

It’s important to familiarize yourself with the beef marbling standards associated with the meat if you want to have a solid understanding of Wagyu beef. For this, we must refer you to our different article that describes all Wagyu Beef grades (Japanese, American, and Australian) in detail.

Summary

No matter which Wagyu you choose, it will be a completely new and unique culinary experience for you. Unfortunately, Wagyu beef is expensive and usually hard to find when it comes to top-quality cuts (such as A5 Kobe). Beware of fake Wagyu, especially with legendary brands like Kobe.

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Written by: Adam Wojtow

Adam is the founder of Steak Revolution. He loves sharing his knowledge of steaks with everyone, ensuring you get the perfect steak every time.