The past several years has seen an increase in restaurants offering everything from Wagyu burgers to imported Japanese cuts. Unfortunately, this surge in offerings has resulted in some controversy and confusion. Due to the use of the term “Wagyu”, many steak lovers are finding themselves unsure of what Wagyu actually means and what it is they are actually eating. In the following, we hope to clarify some of the questions most often presented by our customers.
The word “Wagyu” refers to all Japanese cattle and means “Japanese Beef,” “Wa” meaning “Japanese” and “gyu” meaning “Beef.” There are four breeds of Wagyu: Japanese Black (Kuroge Washu), Japanese Polled (Mukaku Washu), Japanese Brown (Akage Washu or Akaushi) and Japanese Shorthorn (Nihon Tankaku Washu).
Kobe describes beef from Wagyu cattle that are born, raised, and slaughtered in Japan’s Hyogo Prefecture, whose capital city is Kobe.
Authentic Kobe beef is very expensive, so one can be certain any “Kobe,” “Kobe-Style” or “American Kobe” product you see on any menu that costs $15 is not actual Kobe and likely some classification of a percentage of Wagyu. This is not to say the beef used to make these products is not premium beef. But with authentic Kobe being imported in very limited amounts to approved restaurants and priced between $20-$60 an ounce, it’s safe to assume most “Kobe” at an average, casual restaurant, and anything labeled “Kobe-Style” or “American Kobe” is actually only a percentage of Wagyu.
Wagyu is a breed of cattle. In the same way that Angus cattle produce Angus beef, Wagyu cattle produce Wagyu beef. The primary difference is that Wagyu beef is known for its high marbling content and rich flavor.
When consumers find Wagyu beef in the States, it is most likely the Wagyu beef is from cattle that has some sort of Wagyu breeding in its genetic line, but it can describe varying degrees of Wagyu purity. This is where a great deal of confusion comes to pass.
For beef to be called “Wagyu” or “American Wagyu,” it only has to be a minimum of 46% Wagyu. The crossbreeding of Wagyu cattle with American breeds is a common practice in America and results in what you know as American Wagyu cattle and beef. Out of the estimated 30,000 Wagyu-Influenced cattle in the USA, 85% are crossbred.