Wagyu beef is a high-quality beef known for its tender texture and superb flavor. While you can find Wagyu beef raised in America, it is not the same as the Wagyu beef that has been developed in Japan for hundreds of years. Let’s take a closer look at the difference between American Wagyu Beef vs Japanese Wagyu!
For steak lovers, wagyu beef has become a delicacy around the world. The meat, which comes from Japanese Wagyu cows, is naturally tender and marbled with fat that creates a rich and decadent flavor.
Authentic Wagyu beef comes from very specific regions in Japan with strict standards for how the meat is produced and graded. It has become a very popular choice for high-end restaurants and consumers. The fame of Wagyu beef has caused many meat producers to try to recreate those same conditions in other parts of the world.
It’s possible to find wagyu beef in America, but for a truly discerning meat eater, the result is not quite the same. If you’re curious about what makes each region’s beef unique and which is better for your palette, read on!
Origin of Wagyu Beef
Wagyu literally translates to “Japanese cow”, and historically it did refer to any indigenous Japanese cow.
Over the years several distinct breeds, which came from crossbreeding indigenous and foreign cows during the Meiji restoration in the late 1800s, have been established as official Wagyu beef. These include the Japanese Black, Japanese Brown, Japanese Polled, and Japanese Shorthorn.
As these breeds were created, the Japanese government recognized their significance and moved to preserve them as a national treasure. For most of their history, these breeds were not allowed to be exported. During a small window from 1975 to 1997 a small number of Japanese Black and Japanese Brown cows were allowed out of the country and ended up on American soil.
Since then, those few American cattle farmers have been certified to raise full-blood wagyu and crossbred wagyu cattle with this distinct heritage. No Japanese polled or shorthorn cows were ever allowed outside the country.
Still, the meat produced by these American farmers is not the same as the meat coming from Japan. This is because many of those cows have been crossbred and Americans are not held to the same standards as the Japanese farmers.
Many people take this to mean that Japanese wagyu beef is superior to American wagyu beef, but this is not necessarily the case. Japanese cattle farmers will tell you their beef is superior because of their strict guidelines for how each cow is cared for. American farmers may argue their crossbred cows provide the best of both worlds with a tender texture but a stronger beef flavor than Americans prefer.
Cattle Raising Techniques
Japanese cattle farmers recognized over centuries that happy cows produce the very best-tasting meat. In order to ensure the most consistent, delicious meat, they set very strict guidelines for the care of Wagyu cows.
These strict guidelines for how the animals are cared for are one of the main differences between American Wagyu Beef and Japanese Wagyu Beef.
During the first year of their lives, Japanese beef cattle are raised by farmers who specialize in providing the very best care. After the first year, they are sold at auction to another farmer who is prepared to offer the cow a carefree, comfortable life.
Japanese cattle farmers must ensure that their cows:
- Come from the same genetic line
- Eat high-quality, nutritious wheat, rice grass, and hay
- Have access to open space to move around in
- Are provided clean and fresh drinking water
- Live in very small groups with no cows they don’t get along with
- Avoid any stressful situations or loud noises to maintain a low cortisol level
American farmers may try to use these same techniques on their American wagyu cattle, but they are not monitored in the same way. They may also use hormones, drugs, and steroids to aid production.
The Japanese Meat Grading Association enforces strict standards for Japanese meat, giving a grade for yield and quality. The association grades the meat’s marbling, brightness, fat brightness, texture, and quality and gives it a letter (A-C) and a number (1-5) grade. The highest grades available are A4 and A5.
Only the best quality meat is considered Wagyu Beef.
The American Wagyu Association was created in 1990 and while it is a newer organization compared to the Japanese association, they follow the same Japanese grading system for grading American meat.
Flavor and Texture
Ultimately all the work that goes into raising Wagyu cows is about creating the best-tasting meat possible.
Authentic Wagyu beef is known for being marbled with fat which makes the meat incredibly tender, juicy, and full of flavor.
Japanese Wagyu may have more marbling than American Wagyu, which makes the meat slightly more tender. It is typically served sliced very thin and enjoyed in small portions.
American wagyu beef is still full of marbling, though may have a little less fat content than Japanese wagyu, and is known to have a slightly stronger beefy flavor to it.
No matter if you choose American or Japanese Wagyu, you should be prepared that all the work that goes into raising the very best meat does come with a price tag. Wagyu beef is a delicacy and it is priced as such.
There are several companies that sell Wagyu beef online and will ship directly to your home. To ensure you are getting the best meat, be sure and pay attention to the meat’s grade.
Kobe beef is a specific type of Wagyu beef that comes from Japanese Black cows in the Hyogo prefecture in Japan. Only cattle that are born and raised in this region qualify as Kobe beef. Some sellers may advertise a Kobe-style beef but this is not the same.
Many chefs believe this very specific breed and region produce the highest quality beef. Kobe beef is considered the most expensive beef in the world.
Wagyu beef is very juicy and tender, but when it is cooked properly it is considered more buttery than greasy. The marbling of fat creates an umami flavor that is not easily forgotten. This intense flavor is what this type of beef is all about!
Wagyu cows are generally one color that is either a deep red or black. Their coat is shiny which is a sign of the great care they receive.
Wagyu cows are also known to be a very sturdy breed with an even temperament that makes them naturally easy-going and resilient to all types of weather.
Wagyu Beef has been studied and perfected for many years to ensure the absolute best flavor and texture. There are incredibly high standards for how wagyu cows are cared for and fed to ensure the best product at the end of their life.
Producing this meat requires high-quality nutrition and care–which is expensive. The only way to continue to produce the best is to pass the cost of this care on to the consumer. Ultimately you get what you pay for. If you want the very best, it will cost you.