There's nothing like an exquisitely marbled Wagyu steak. Exhibiting abundant fine-grained, intramuscular fat streaks, Wagyu beef is some of the most decadent, tender beef in the entire world, beloved for its savory, buttery flavor. So how does it come to be? It's all about cow DNA.
If you know much about Wagyu, you're aware that authentic Japanese Wagyu essentially must come from Japan. That's because any Wagyu beef in the country is strictly graded by the Japan Meat Grading Association (JMGA) for quality. On top of that, Japanese Wagyu cattle are subject to regulated, mandatory progeny testing to ensure that only high-quality Wagyu DNA is kept for breeding.
But this doesn't mean that all beef labeled "Wagyu" is of 100% Wagyu genetics. In fact, if it's not from Japan, it probably isn't of 100% Wagyu genetics.
Typically, authentic Japanese Wagyu is made from the highly revered Kuroge-washu (Japanese Black) cow with a pure bloodline, but it is not uncommon for the DNA to be mixed with other breeds to produce unique results. There are cattle breeds throughout the world - including in the United States - that have a percentage of Kuroge cattle DNA mixed with other bloodlines, such as the American Angus. This has resulted in a whole new category of Wagyu beef known as American Wagyu.
Typically, American Wagyu is categorized into two subsets: purebred and full-blood. Knowing the difference is important to helping you understand the different Wagyu options so you get the best possible experience with every cut.
- Pureblood. Pureblood Wagyu contains more than 93.75% pure Japanese Wagyu DNA.
- Full-blood. Full-blood Wagyu is 100% traceable to Japanese Wagyu with no indication that the cattle have been crossbred. They can only be bred from two full-blood Wagyu parents.
- Crossbred. Crossbred Wagyu is at a minimum F1, meaning it has been crossed with another breed (most commonly with Black Angus in the United States). F1 Wagyu are 50% Wagyu and 50% Black Angus. F2 Wagyu are F1 cattle crossbred with full-blood Wagyu, making the offspring 75% Wagyu and 25% Black Angus. If crossed again with another full-blood Wagyu, it will be considered F3, which is 87.5% Wagyu and 12.5% Black Angus. A fourth cross, or F4 Wagyu, would be considered purebred Wagyu.
- Japanese. Beef can only be labeled Japanese Wagyu if it's bred in Japan using 100% Japanese Wagyu cattle with pure bloodlines.
Which One is Better?
Both pureblood and full-blood American Wagyu beef is going to provide you with much of the highly sought-after characteristics of authentic Japanese Wagyu, including a high level of marbling, tenderness and a significant umami flavor. However, the closer you get to 100% Wagyu, the more of these features you will get. With that said, some people actually prefer the more robust steak flavor brought forth from crossbreeding with American cattle, so determining which one is better is often a matter of personal preference.
We recommend savoring many different types of Wagyu beef, from the purest, most delicate and heavily marbled Japanese A5 Wagyu steaks to the heartier American Wagyu options.