Where Does Wagyu Come From?
Delectable, succulent, mouth-watering. These are just a few of the words you’ll almost always hear when people are describing the amazing taste of Wagyu beef.
Chefs the world over describe Wagyu as being the absolute best quality when it comes to beef, and its reputation is well deserved!
But with several options out there like Japanese Wagyu, American Wagyu, and American Kobe, consumers might find themselves wondering where Wagyu beef actually comes from.
Let’s find out!
What is authentic Wagyu?
When it comes to figuring out if the expensive fancy steak on your plate is truly authentic, here’s a big hint — it’s in the name! Wagyu literally means Japanese cow or cattle. The “wa” means Japan and the “gyu” means cow or cattle.
And while you can find different versions of Wagyu in America, Australia, Canada, and even the U.K., the premium 100% genuine meat comes only from Japan.
That’s because the country runs a prestigious organization, the Japanese Meat Grading Association, that keeps a close eye on the genetics, quality, supply chain management, and even training for many workers throughout the Wagyu cattle raising process.
In fact, every single cow’s lineage can be traced to ensure its genetics are 100% purebred!
This, the special care put into raising Wagyu cattle, coupled with the special genetics unique to these cows makes for truly authentic Japanese Wagyu beef.
What are the different varieties of Wagyu beef?
When Japan first assessed these special breeds of cattle in the 1930s, they ended up classifying four different types of breeds:
- Japanese Black (Kuroge Washu)
- Japanese Polled (Mukaku Washu)
- Japanese Brown (Akage Washu or Akaushi)
- Japanese Shorthorn (Nihon Tankaku Washu)
The Japanese Black are the dominant breed in Japan, making up over 90% of all Wagyu cattle. Also note that there are other types of cows in Japan, but they aren’t Wagyu as they don’t belong to the organization nor have the same genetics and special breeding conditions.
There is another method to classification for Wagyu cattle though, and that’s dependent on the region they’re from.
Why is that important? Well, different areas of Japan often incorporate slightly different methods of raising their cows. Some areas use beer to help relax their cattle and make them hungrier (and thus grow more muscle and fat). Others might be more prone to massaging their cows in the cold winter when arthritis and cramping can be an issue.
Lastly, certain regions specialize in one specific type of Wagyu cattle, growing expertise over decades of experience raising only one breed.
Different regions often brand their Wagyu meat with the prefecture’s name. Ever heard of Kobe beef? That’s a type of Wagyu beef from the area around Kobe, the capital city of Japan’s Hyōgo Prefecture!
What are the main brands of Wagyu beef?
If you can believe it, there are over 200 brands of Wagyu beef in Japan! As mentioned before, many are named after the prefecture or area where they are from.
The Wagyu brands often considered to be in the top three are Kobe Beef, Matsusaka Ushi, and Ohmi Beef. They all share two qualities — they’re from the Kansai region in Japan and the cows belong to the Tajima strain of Japanese Black cattle.
Let’s run through some of the more famous ones.
Kobe beef is probably the most famous brand of Wagyu in the world. It was helped out in no small part by Kobe Bryant, reportedly named after the beef when his father ate it for the first time and loved it!
The director of the Kobe Beef Marketing and Distribution Promotion Association even attributed much of its global success to the basketball player’s rise in fame.
Kobe beef comes from cows raised on farms in the Hyōgo Prefecture, where the special strain of Japanese Black cattle is raised under specific conditions using special corn and rice. The meat is famous for its refined almost sweet taste and smell.
For more information, see the Kobe Beef Marketing & Distribution Association.
Matsusaka Ushi beef
Matsusaka Ushi is a brand of luxury Wagyu made from virgin cows raised under special conditions in the area surrounding Matsusaka city in the Mie Prefecture of Japan.
As with all Wagyu beef, the cattle are tracked both individually and genetically from birth to table to ensure their bloodline and quality of the product. The meat is famous for being extremely marbled with a high percentage of fat, giving it an amazingly rich feeling when eaten. Some of these cows are also famous for occasionally being fed beer to increase their hunger and relaxation.
For more information, please see the Matsusaka Cattle Council (the website is in Japanese).
Omi beef is raised in the Shiga prefecture of Japan. The meat is famous for the density of its fat and the extremely fine grain. The cattle are also raised with special care meant to give the animals as little stress as possible. Before the Meiji Restoration in the late 1800s, Omi beef was marinated in miso and was given as a medicinal cure!
For more information, please see the Omi Beef Production & Distribution Promotion Council (the website is in Japanese).
Do you want to try Japanese Wagyu beef?
WAGYUMAN is the largest importer of 100% authentic Japanese Wagyu beef in America. They also import the entire cow and do all of the butchering stateside to ensure the freshest possible taste for restaurants and consumers. Check out our amazing selection today!