Beef up on your Wagyu knowledge
The difference between Japanese, Australian, and American Wagyu.
Think about your menu. What sets you apart? Is it unique flavor combinations? Your presentation skills? The quality of your ingredients? One thing that we know that will keep the customers coming back through your door is best-in-class protein. And when it comes to the best of the best in the protein world, we instantly think of Wagyu beef.
Wagyu is considered one of the world’s finest foods, but it’s often misunderstood. With labels like “Kobe” and “Angus” floating around, imposters all over the place, and three unique countries to get Wagyu from, it’s easy to see how you could get tripped up.
So, we’re going to give everything you need to know about this coveted cow, so you can spot an imposter from a mile away.
What is Wagyu?
Alright, before we get too deep into it, we need to explain exactly what Wagyu is. “Wagyu” (pronounced wah-gyoo, not wah-goo) translates to “Japanese cow.” Simple enough, right? Sorry, but no. With the addition of American and Australian Wagyu, this definition has expanded quite a bit. Wagyu originated from Asian cattle breeds that were bred for centuries as working animals. As a result of their natural environment and working conditions, over time, these cows developed a unique natural ability to store extra energy as a fine, evenly distributed intra-muscular fat. This evolutionary change results in intense, perfect marbling in Wagyu that gives this cut its deserved reputation for superior taste, texture, and tenderness. In addition to being descendants from the original Japanese bloodline in some way, Wagyu cattle are raised with extreme care and consideration.
Wagyu cows must:
- Be raised in a stress-free environment
- Eat a diet of high-grade wheat, rice plants, and hay
- Live in clean areas with access to open space
- Have no added hormones
Although Wagyu is a little different in each of the three countries – Japan, America, and Australia, the beef must consist of:
- Evenly distributed fat for intense marbling
- A smooth texture and soft mouthfeel
- Higher percentages of monounsaturated fats, omega-3, and omega-6 fatty acids, which melt at a lower temperature, making this cut of meat full of umami goodness
The Birthplace of Wagyu
Wagyu’s genetic origins can be traced back 35,000 years. Initially, these cows were used as a draft animal for agriculture work and bred for physical stamina. But what we all know and love as Wagyu beef started taking shape during the Meiji Restoration in Japan, beginning in 1868, when the ban on meat-eating was lifted.
Currently, there are four main meat-producing breeds in Japan, each with traceable bloodlines:
- Japanese Black (Kurogewashu) – These account for about 90% of cattle in Japan.
- Japanese Brown (Akagewashu) – Slightly larger than the Japanese Black and second in cattle numbers.
- Japanese Shorthorn (Nihon Tankakushu) – Only 1-2% of Japanese cows, with a distinct dark reddish-brown coloring.
- Japanese Polled (Mukaku Washu) – Less than 1% of cattle in Japan.
To get even more niche with it, there are three bloodlines of Japanese Black, including Tajima, Kedaka, and Shimane. Tajima is the master bloodline for two of three dominant “luxury beef” brands in Japan, including Kobe Beef.
Defining Kobe Beef
While “Wagyu” refers to any cattle that is bred in Japan or in the Japanese-style, Kobe beef is a particular type of Wagyu. To be classified as Kobe beef, the cow must be a Japanese Black from the Tajima bloodline that is raised to strict standards in the prefecture of Hyogo.
Real Kobe beef is almost impossible to get in the U.S. because of the strict export restrictions. And there are a lot of fake marketing claims out there, so, don’t be fooled. To be allowed to use the “Kobe Beef” label, beef must pass inspection to ensure that certain criteria have been met:
- Marbling score of 6+ on Japanese beef marbling scale
- Carcass meets certain overall weight requirements
- Yield of animal was grade A or B
- Carcass passes defect inspection
- Animal was raised in Hyogo prefecture and is a Kurogewashuu or Japanese Black cattle breed
Beef Marbling Standard
All beef is measured on the Beef Marbling Standard (BMS), measured from 0 to 12. Your typical USDA Prime beef ranges from 4 to 5. A standard steakhouse cut of Angus breed averages around a 2. Wagyu is typically ranked between 4 and 7, and Kobe must be a 6 or higher on the BMS scale. The coveted Japanese “A5” standard must be a score of 8 or higher.
Obviously a 12 is very rare, but it has happened before. This rises to level of a competitive champion and is considered a work of art. (People have even written poetry about this type of beef!) 11 is also super uncommon and is only sold in the very finest steakhouse or high-end department stores. Anything with a score of 9 or above is too rich and fatty for most people to eat an entire steak by themselves.
The Country Difference
As Japanese Wagyu took off, other cattle farmers wanted to incorporate some of the characteristics of authentic Wagyu into their domestic beef. America and Australia have worked hard to create their own brand of Wagyu beef. And although Japan is the original, the American and Australian Wagyu each have their own unique and delicious flavor profile.
Halperns’ Wagyu Program
Now that you know everything there is to know about Wagyu, you probably want to know where you can get it. At Halperns’, we are proud to supply our partners with three amazing options for Australian and domestic Wagyu beef.
- W. Black – Australian Wagyu produced by Australia’s leading Wagyu breeders and genetics, resulting in beef that’s bold, confident, strong, rich in flavor, and fine in texture.
- Imperial Wagyu – American Wagyu done the right way with their promise for “Excellence, Elevated” with unmatched marbling, flavor, and tenderness that’s sought after by connoisseurs around the world.
- Wagyu-X – Full blood Japanese Tajima black bulls crossed with high-grade Angus to produce a premium Wagyu beef with mouth-watering flavor, fantastic fine marbling, and tender feel.
- True Grit 100% – True Grit Cattle Company is a fifth-generation family farm that has been around for 100 years with the ardent goal of raising the very best full-blood Wagyu cattle.
Ready to add Wagyu to your menu? Connect with your local Halperns’ or Gordon Food Service rep or get setup with someone at firstname.lastname@example.org.