What is Wagyu Beef: Explained

EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT WAGYU BEEF

Westholme Wagyu Top Sirloin
Westholme Wagyu | Wagyu Top Sirloin

Wagyu is highly marbled beef that comes from Japanese cattle. Wagyu is Japanese for “Japanese beef.” Designated by Japan to be a living national treasure, this expensive red meat is unrivaled for its even marbling, tenderness, and buttery taste. 

Yet not all wagyu beef is created equally. There are lots of purveyors who label their beef as “wagyu,” but true wagyu beef is from Japan and adheres to strict standards, including the genetics of the cattle and the meticulous raising of the cattle. 

Australian and American wagyu beef are luxury meats, but they are not as pure, flavorful, and marbled as Japanese wagyu beef.

Read More: Best Mail Order Steaks

What is Wagyu Beef?

Wagyu beef is beautifully marbled meat derived from Japanese cattle. True wagyu beef is identified by genetics and breed. Cattle must be genetically tested and be related to one of four Japanese cattle breeds:

  • Japanese Black (Kuroge Washu)
  • Japanese Brown (Akage Washu)
  • Japanese Polled (Mukaku Washu)
  • Japanese Shorthorn (Nihon Tankaku Washu)
Westholme Wagyu Steak Sampler
Westholme Wagyu | Wagyu Steak Sampler
Shabu Tatsu A5 Wagyu
Shabu Tatsu | A5 Wagyu

What is A5 Wagyu? Wagyu beef is graded on its quality, and A5 is the best. The meat is evaluated for color, marbling, yield, firmness, and texture.  

Wagyu beef’s quality is measured on a grading system comprised of two scores:

  • Letter score: A, B, or C, determined based on yield
  • Number score: 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5, degree of marbling (on a scale of 1-12) plus the meat’s other qualities and characteristics like color, brightness, texture, fat, and firmness.

The scores are combined to determine the grade. The top grade is A5. A5 wagyu is in short supply due to strict production standards, labor intensive breeding and production, and it’s superior grade.

What’s the Difference Between Japanese and American Wagyu?

Japan began crossing its native cattle with imported breeds in 1868. Most Japanese wagyu beef is Kuroge Washu, which is known for its finely grained marbling. Production is highly controlled in Japan. The country does not export live wagyu or even embryos, but ranchers abroad have been able to mix their herds with wagyu DNA that was previously allowed out of the country. 

Snake River Farms American Wagyu Kobe Filet Mignon
Snake River Farms | American Wagyu Kobe Filet Mignon
Saltbrick Prime American Wagyu Sirloin
Saltbrick Prime | American Wagyu Sirloin

American wagyu is not 100% Japanese wagyu. America’s version has less marbling and fat. While American wagyu costs less, it is still considered superior meat. There are three types of American wagyu as defined by genetics and the USDA:

  • Fullblood wagyu: 100% pure Japanese wagyu
  • Purebred wagyu: 93.75% pure Japanese wagyu
  • Crossbred wagyu: 46.875% pure Japanese wagyu

What is so Special About Wagyu Beef?

This beef is special because it only comes from four select Japanese cattle breeds. The beef is prized for its taste and exquisite marbling, white specks of intramuscular fat. The standards for raising and producing this Japanese meat are strict and highly regulated by the Japanese government. 

Since 2007, proof the cattle was bred domestically, meets required breed conditions, and a 10-digit individual identification number assigned by Japan’s cattle traceability system are required.

What Does Wagyu Taste Like?

Wagyu is tender, flavorful, rich, and buttery. Its dense marbling is a key contributor to its terrific taste and silky texture. The high fat content contributes to the beef’s distinctive melt-in-your mouth texture.

Lone Mountain Wagyu Beef Filet Mignon
Lone Mountain Wagyu | Wagyu Beef Filet Mignon
LAVO Wagyu Meatballs
LAVO | Wagyu Meatballs

Each cut of Wqgyu beef has its own taste and texture. The most popular  cuts are the rib, loin, and chuck. Other cuts include:

  • Fillet: steaks like Châteaubriand and Fillet Mignon
  • Ribloin: thinly sliced for sukiyaki and shabu shabu
  • Sirloin: steaks, roasts, sukiyaki and shabu shabu
  • Short Rib: steaks, sukiyaki, and BBQ

Wagyu is eaten in smaller portions than other red meats. It may be pricey, but the smaller portions are due to the beef’s rich and buttery taste. It’s meant to be savored. Compared to non-wagyu meats, wagyu has an umami flavor and never tastes greasy, dry, or chewy.

Is Wagyu Beef Healthier Than Beef?

Yes, it is healthier than regular beef. This high quality red meat is healthier than other beef like Black Angus. It’s high in “good” fat, including oleic acid, which is often found in heart-healthy oils. Wagyu has lower saturated fat and cholesterol, according to the USDA.

Wagyu beef has a higher monounsaturated to saturated fat ratio. It also has higher levels of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), an omega-6 fatty acid, according to the American Wagyu Association, a not-for-profit organization that registers wagyu cattle in the U.S.

Most Famous Wagyu Meats

It used to be that the most famous beef came from Japan, but now ranchers from America and Australia are producing exceptional Japanese-influenced beef.

Westholme Wagyu Filet of Ribeye

Chef’s Obsession: Westholme Wagyu

Westholme Wagyu‘s cattle were first brought to Northern Australia from Japan more than 20 years ago. These cattle have a lineage that traces back to champion wagyu bulls and cows. Westholme’s cattle are born wild and roam free on vast Queensland pastures, where they feed on native Mitchell grass. The result is the finest New York strip steaks, ribeyes, bavette, and culotte.

Lone Mountain Omi A5 Wagyu Steaks

100% Fullblood Cattle: Lone Mountain Wagyu

New Mexico’s Lone Mountain Wagyu‘s cows are 100% fullblood wagyu cattle. In order for the Lone Mountain ranchers to raise 100% Fullblood wagyu, each cow must be DNA-certified with a birth certificate and three generations of Japanese parentage proven out. From strip loins to beef sausage links to beef jerky, Lone Mountain Wagyu makes all meat-y dreams come true.

Snake River Farms American Wagyu New York Strip

Finest American Wagyu Beef: Snake River Farms

Since 1968, Snake River Farms has been producing American raised wagyu beef for some of America’s top restaurants. This family-owned business started with a small herd of wagyu cattle from Kobe, Japan. Once in America, the Japanese cattle were crossed with American Black Angus to create an entirely new herd that has been raised along the high plain of the Snake River in Boise, Idaho.

All of Snake River Farms’ cuts are wet-aged for 28-days, which limits its exposure to air and makes for a well-marbled, juicer, and tender ranch-to-table beef and filet mignon wagyu.

Wagyu gonna do? Order the world’s best Wagyu beef shipping nationwide on Goldbelly! 

Lauren-Mack
Lauren Mack

Lauren Mack is a journalist who writes about all things food for Goldbelly. She is passionate about exploring the world one meal at a time. Her favorite things to Goldbelly include cakes, biscuit sandwiches, and ice cream.

Lauren has been a journalist for more than two decades and has specialized in writing about travel and food for much of that time. Her work has appeared in 150+ websites, magazines, apps, and guidebooks, including Cheapflights, CultureTrip, INSIDER, Lonely Planet, Newsweek International, Savory Traveler, Seeker, The Daily Meal, ThoughtCo (formerly About.com), Thrillist, Time Out, TripSavvy, and Zagat.

A lover of Taiwan's night markets, Singapore's hawker centers, and New York City's food trucks, Lauren has never skipped a meal or dessert. She has an insatiable appetite for exploring the world's best food and will try — almost — anything. Her favorite foods are pizza, ice cream, dim sum, sushi, and Taiwanese braised pork rice, and she can't resist a chef's tasting menu.

From backpacking across Europe and Asia to circumnavigating the globe by ship to living like a local in multiple cities, her travels have taken her on food explorations to 60+ countries on five continents. She has called Miami, Beijing, Taipei, and New York home.