What is Wagyu
Wagyu literally translates to "Japanese Cow". The breed is highly sought after due to its consistent high quality and reputation. To protect the authenticity of Japanese Wagyu beef, lineage is thoroughly tracked and recorded from the time of birth. All Japanese Wagyu are provided with individually unique ID numbers. This allows anyone to trace the cattle's history. Details about the cattle such as its date of birth, gender, lineage, or breed may be verified on the Japanese National Livestock Breeding Center website. The NLBC provides this service to protect consumers and businesses from fraudulent suppliers. The Wagyu beef reputation has been built upon hundreds of years of meticulous husbandry, and strict measures were taken to protect its authenticity.
Wagyu in Japan come from four main breeds: Japanese Black, Japanese Brown, Japanese Shorthorn, and Japanese Polled.
The Superior Breed
Prior to 1867, Japanese practitioners of Buddhism refrained from eating meat. A strict ban was enforced prohibiting meat consumption. At that time, the native cattle breeds of Japan were being utilized for labor in the fields or in mines. Once the ban lifted, efforts were made to increase the musculature of the native cattle by cross breeding with imported breeds. The four Japanese native cattle breeds we know today as Wagyu were not established as indigenous until 1957.
The Japanese Black is by far the most popular cattle in Japan, accounting for more than 90% of all Wagyu beef in the country. Japanese Black is raised mostly for beef consumption and is known for its marbling and soft, tender texture. The famed Miyazakigyu, Tajimagyu, and Matsuzakagyu are all Japanese Black.
The Japanese Brown is also known as "Akaushi". They were predominantly used as work cattle during the Meiji Era. Japanese Brown cattle tend to be leaner and have lower fat content compared to the Japanese Black. They have been attracting more attention over the years due to its lower fat characteristics and milder taste.
The Japanese Shorthorn is one of the leaner Wagyu breeds raised in Japan. The cattle are mainly raised in the Tohoku Region. They rely less on eating grains and more on grazing. The genetic traits of the Shorthorn cattle emphasize a lean yet flavorful red meat.
The Japanese Polled was a result of crossbreeding the Aberdeen Angus with the Japanese Black. This is also known for producing a lean yet distinctive Wagyu taste. Although less tender than the Japanese Black, it has a robust beef flavor.
Wagyu Beef Across The Globe
There are many different Wagyu breeds and brands throughout the world. With the growing popularity of Wagyu, it is important to be able to differentiate the main differences between brands.
Japanese Wagyu Beef
The most popular breed is the Japanese Black which accounts for over 90% of the total Japanese Wagyu cattle population. They are fed for over 600 days and many times over 700 days on a grain diet. Unlike the US cattle industry, many feedlots in Japan house less than 100 cattle. Japan's temperate climate ensures consistent beef quality. The majority of Wagyu in Japan are full-blooded, and any crossbred Wagyu are clearly marked and sold as Kozatsu gyu.
For more information, visit the Japan Meat Information Center website.
American Wagyu Beef
American Wagyu is predominantly crossed with the Black Angus cattle and fed between 250 to 450 days on vegetarian grain diets. Its popularity has been steadily growing here in the United States as consumers are looking for a unique and valuable eating experience at home. Depending on the American Wagyu brand, cattle can be raised on a varying diet. Some are raised predominantly on corn, whereas others will be raised according to their state's local agriculture. The farmers in United States primarily raise crossbred Wagyu & Angus mixes with select full-blood and purebred American Wagyu available.
For more information, visit the American Wagyu Association website.
Australian Wagyu Beef
The Australian Wagyu industry is currently larger than the American Wagyu industry. Many Australian Wagyu producers will crossbreed with the Red or Black Angus to help with the different climates throughout the country. It is common for these cattle to be raised for 450 days on feed. Much like the United States, most of the Australian Wagyu cattle are crossbred, with select full-blood and purebred programs available.
For more information, visit the Australian Wagyu Association website.