When it comes to the top-tier of quality beef, one name that commonly stands at the top as the most superior cut of meat is none other than Wagyu. Historically, the name “Wagyu” is meant to refer to all Japanese beef cattle, with “Wa” meaning Japan and “gyu” meaning cow. However, the different names of Wagyu refer to the specific region that the cattle is raised, such as Kobe, Matsusaka Ushi, and Ohmi. Every type of Wagyu actually originates from four different Japanese cattle breeds, namely the Japanese Black, the Japanese Brown, the Japanese Polled, and the Japanese Shorthorn; however, the legendary Wagyu that is so commonly referred to is notably known as Kuroge Washu Wagyu.
Raised using special techniques, Wagyu receives its extraordinary texture and delicious flavor from its “marbling,” which refers to the streaks of fat in the lean muscle of the meat. Due to how marbling affects the texture of Wagyu, each bite feels like it melts in your mouth. Along with the mouth-watering flavor and texture of Wagyu, it is well-known for its invigorating aroma, produced by the rich resources of the natural environment where the cattle is raised.
With this in mind, many people will probably wonder: What is the difference between Japanese Wagyu and American Wagyu?
The Difference Between Japanese Wagyu and American Wagyu
While Japan has historically allowed minimal export of their Wagyu beef, they have rarely allowed any exporting of their actual cattle. Despite Japan’s strict regulations restricting the exporting of any Japanese cattle, for about 20 years beginning in 1975, Japan actually allowed the export of a small number of its prized cattle. During this time period, American cattle breeders imported a select number of Japanese cattle, which were mostly the black cattle breed. From this point on, there has been a select few cattle farmers in America that are regulated and certified to raise 100% fullblood Wagyu beef cattle, as well as several crossbreeds.
One notable difference between the Wagyu beef that you will find in Japan and America actually has to do with regulations and grading standards governing how the cattle must be raised and the overall meat qualities required to be considered true authentic Wagyu beef.
Here in America, the American Wagyu Association, which was formed in 1990, was formed to guarantee that the Wagyu produced in the U.S. will match the strict standards that the Japanese Meat Grading Association has developed over a long history of producing Wagyu beef. These grading standards are mostly based on yield and overall meat quality, which is determined based on characteristics such as marbling, color, firmness, texture, and fat quality. While there is a range to these standards, the top-tier grades include A4 and A5 Wagyu beef.
More recently, the Japanese have actually developed camera technology to objectively measure certain traits such as ribeye area and shape, meat and fat color, and marbling. Since the American Wagyu Association is committed to these standards as well, this camera technology has slowly been introduced into the research done for meat in the United States.
While the Japanese have perfected the grading standards for Wagyu over many centuries, the American Wagyu standards have been largely attempting to follow their lead. At the same time, the USDA already has a strict grading system as well, which has been known to ensure quality standards for over 150 years.
Based on this, as well as the incredibly low number of actual Wagyu beef cattle in America, it is very common to come across restaurants that market “Wagyu” or “Kobe” beef, when in fact, it is typically going to be a cross-bred version of Wagyu, which might resemble Wagyu, but does not contain all of the superior qualities of authentic Wagyu.
One of the reasons that there can be such a difference is also raising techniques. In Japan, in order to produce a beef as exquisite as Wagyu, specialty raising techniques are required. One of the most important factors when raising cattle to produce high-quality beef is the stress level of the cattle. Because of this, the living conditions in which cattle are raised for Wagyu beef in Japan are focused on maintaining the health and comfort of the cattle. By providing the cattle with high-grade rice plants, wheat, and hay, as well as guaranteeing that their sheds are clean and they have access to enough open space, not only are their needs met, but the cattle receive the highest quality of care and attention in order to ensure the best meat quality.
While these conditions might be met on some farms in America that raise Wagyu breeds or cross-breeds, many will not be regulated as intensely as they are in Japan. Since these raising conditions are actually extremely important for the quality of the meat, slight differences can produce vast changes in quality between Japanese Wagyu and American Wagyu.
Where’s the Wagyu?
Whether you find yourself in Japan or America, Wagyu will always be an easily recognizable name that always implies superior quality. While there does exist several differences in regards to the types of cattle and the standards required to be considered Wagyu in either country, you can still be sure that the meat you will be receiving is incredibly flavorful, fatty, tender, and juicy.
Stop by an LB Steak today to experience the difference of Japanese and American Wagyu yourself!