True Wagyu descends from specific Japanese cattle bloodlines known for their distinctive flavor: Japanese Black (Tajima-Gyu), Japanese Brown (Red), Japanese Poll, or Japanese Shorthorn.
In Japan, these breeds are also known by names relative to the location where they are raised. This is important to know. “Kobe” beef, for example, is world famous. It comes from Kobe, Japan and only wagyu beef from Kobe can and should be called Kobe beef.
The fact that the Japanese recognize the wagyu based on location is important. It reflects the fact that the same breed of wagyu can and will taste different based upon factors specific to where it is raised. Water, grass, weather and even environmental conditions are unique to each area. Wagyu from one location is thus marketed and used differently than wagyu from another location – just like wine.
Outside of Japan the confusion about wagyu goes much deeper due to how the cattle are bred:
- Full Blood Wagyu (It’s Wagyu) – This is the real wagyu – beef raised from certified 100% Japanese bloodlines. Think of it like race horses: breeding matters. The results you get from full blood wagyu is higher, better, finer and exceptional. Certification is required. That’s what makes wagyu wagyu.
- Purebred Wagyu (Not Wagyu) – Talk about a misnomer. These are cattle that contain up to about 93% wagyu – but not 100%. That makes them genetically different. They taste good, but not to the level of full blood wagyu.
- Crossbred Wagyu or American Wagyu (Not Wagyu) – This is the most common wagyu available outside of Japan and especially in the United States. If it contains up to about 46% wagyu it is called “American Wagyu” or “Kobe Style” or “Kobe-like” beef. In many cases, American Wagyu is cross bred with Angus beef – a marketer’s dream. Taking the best of American breeds (Angus) with the best of Japan’s breeds (Wagyu) does not give you the experience of either Angus or Wagyu. It gives you something different. It can be a very good product. But it is definitely NOT wagyu in any respect.