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Wagyu: Facts and Fiction

Wagyu: Facts and Fiction

Wagyu is a type of beef from Japan that’s known for its exceptional marbling and flavor. It’s also one of the most expensive types of meat in the world.

But along with the high price tag comes some confusion about what Wagyu really is -- and isn’t. Here are some facts and fictions that you need to know about Wagyu and how to make sure you are getting what you pay for.

#1. You cannot get real Wagyu beef in the U.S. - This is fiction. While it is true that Wagyu cattle and the Wagyu DNA can longer be exported from Japan, some Wagyu beef (just the meat) is exported into the U.S. Fortunately, between 1975 and 1997, the total ban on Wagyu cattle was lifted, allowing some full blooded Wagyu cattle to make into the U.S. The American Wagyu Association estimates around 30,000 Wagyu cattle currently in the United States, with only 5000 being full-blood. This means, while rare, you can get real Wagyu beef in America.

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#2. Anything labeled Wagyu and from Japan must be superior beef. This is fiction. In reality, the word Wagyu simply means Japanese cow. There are 4 distinct breeds of Wagyu from Japan, and only the Kuroge Washu breed produces the superior beef that people expect from "Wagyu."  Due to this fact, it is very important that you research where you are getting your beef from. Since there are other breeds of cattle in Japan that can be technically called "wagyu," people are bound to take advantage of this and cheat unsuspecting customers. With less than 1% of cattle in America being classified as pure bred Wagyu beef, there is a good chance that the Wagyu you are getting is cross bred with Angus or Hereford cattle, or even one of the mislabeled breeds mentioned above. So how do you know what you are getting when something is labeled "Wagyu" in the U.S.? 

Wagyu Beef
#3. If you buy something labeled Wagyu in the U.S., you are purchasing high quality meat. Again, this is fiction. As stated above, according to the American Wagyu Association, there are only around 5000 full bred Wagyu cattle in the United States. With that said, the majority of the beef classified as wagyu in America is not full bred. In reality, you are probably eating beef that has been cross bred with American Angus or Hereford. While the American Wagyu Association monitors the full bred Wagyu (or beef with over 93.75% pure Wagyu DNA), cross bred beef is merely self-regulated. This means that beef with only trace amounts of Wagyu DNA can be marked up in price, making the consumer believe they are buying and eating a superior quality beef. In reality, if you are buying Wagyu from a restaurant, there is a high probability that it is cross bred meat beef with only trace amounts of Wagyu DNA. 

If you are serious about getting real Wagyu beef, I recommend following the American Wagyu Association, which promotes and upholds the standards for Wagyu beef in the United States. Unlike cross bred cattle, the American Wagyu Association follows strict regulations and standards, ensuring that the beef meets the highest possible standard for full bred Wagyu beef in America. 

A5 Wagyu is the highest quality Wagyu you can buy and can only come from Japanese cattle whose genetics are strictly regulated. Meat labeled Japanese Wagyu must be bred in Japan and adhere to the strict breeding regulations that exist. Again, while this quality of meat can be found in America, it is very hard to find and will be extremely expensive.

American Wagyu can be classified as follows: 

  • F1 - 50% Wagyu / 50% Angus
  • F2 - F1 bred with full blood Wagyu making F2 75% Wagyu & 25% Angus
  • F3 - F2 bred with full blood Wagyu making it 87.5% Wagyu
  • F4 - F3 bred with full blood Wagyu - this is considered pure bred Wagyu

Check out my previous blogs, A Guide to Wagyu and Understanding Marbling in Beef , for more information on how to determine the quality of the beef that you are buying and consuming.

#4: Wagyu is nothing but fat and not worth the cost. This too is fiction. While Wagyu is known for its high marbling content, this does not mean all you are getting is fat. The fat content found in Wagyu contains far more unsaturated fats in comparison to American Angus, giving it a flavor unlike any other beef you can find. Unsaturated fats are known to help prevent heart disease and stroke as well, a fact that definitely makes Wagyu beef stand out from normal American beef. 

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