Japanese Wagyu VS Australian/US Wagyu: What's the difference?

Wagyu refers to a class of cattle breed that is highly marbled and thus desired for its taste. Historically, the name “Wagyu” 和牛 is meant to refer to all Japanese beef cattle, with “Wa” meaning Japan and “gyu” meaning cow. However, the different names of Wagyu refer to the specific region that the cattle is raised, such as Kobe, Kagoshima, Matsusaka and Ohmi. Kagoshima waygu would refer to wagyu beef that is raised only from the Kagoshima region in Japan. Kind of like Champagne only coming from Champagne, France. 

Wagyu breeds

Credits: Livejapan.com

Every type of Wagyu actually originates from four different Japanese cattle breeds, namely the Japanese Black, the Japanese Brown, the Japanese Polled, and the Japanese Shorthorn. Kobe beef, arguably the most famous wagyu comes from Kuroge Washu Wagyu (Japanese black). 

Raised using special techniques, Wagyu receives its extraordinary texture and delicious flavour from its “marbling,” which refers to the streaks of fat in the lean muscle of the meat. Due to how marbling affects the texture of Wagyu, each bite feels like it melts in your mouth. Along with the mouth-watering flavour and texture of Wagyu, it is well-known for its invigorating aroma, produced by the rich resources of the natural environment where the cattle is raised.

With this in mind, many people will probably wonder: What is the difference between Japanese Wagyu versus Australian/ US Wagyu?

Difference Between Japanese Wagyu and Australian/ American Wagyu

Although Japan has traditionally permitted limited exports of its Wagyu beef, they have rarely permitted exports of their actual cattle. Despite Japan's strict laws banning exports of any Japanese cattle, Japan reportedly allowed exports of a limited number of its prized cattle for about 20 years starting in 1975. Various countries like Australia and America cattle breeders imported a small number of Japanese cattle during this time period, which were mainly the black cattle breed (Kuroge).

From that point on, Australia / America has had a select few cattle licensed farmers who have managed to raise 100% fullblood Wagyu beef cattle, as well as many crossbreeds.

For example, Blackmore Wagyu and Stone Axe Wagyu are Australian farms that have managed to breed 100% fullblood Wagyus from Japanese Wagyus in the past and are now almost identical to Japanese Wagyus with almost no detectable trace of other breeds.

Fullbood Wagyu VS Purebred Japanese Wagyu VS Japanese Wagyu 

Fullblood Wagyu are completely traceable to Japanese Wagyu cattle with no evidence of crossbreeding - their genetics are 100% Wagyu. These cattle are the offspring of a bull and cow whose forebears originate from Japan, however, they are not raised in Japan and can be bred in Australia/ American farms.

Purebred Wagyu must have more than 93.75% pure Japanese Wagyu genetics. These cattle result from a Fullblood bull and a crossbred cow after many generations.

No wagyu can be labelled Japanese Wagyu if it is bred anywhere else in the world with anything other than 100% Japanese Wagyu cattle, maintaining complete wagyu genetics. Japanese Wagyu must come from Japan.

F1 Wagyu Crossbreeding Explained

F1 wagyu classifications

Occasionally you'll find Wagyu beef that are labelled F1 or F2 Wagyus - this is the result of crossbreeding fullblood Wagyus which result in a lower Wagyu genetic percentage versus fullblood and purebred cattle.

The first cross of a Wagyu fullblood bull with another breed is referred to as an F1 Wagyu. Example, the offspring of a fullblood Wagyu bull that mates with an Angus cow is referred to as F1 Wagyu.

Further crossing of Wagyu are generally referred to as breeding up leading to F2-F4 Wagyu. With every generation that is bred with a fullblood wagyu, the Wagyu genes percentage increase eventually leading to a 100% Fullblood Wagyu.

The below table shows the result of consecutive generations of crossbreeding.

Cross number Level of Wagyu % Genetics Definition
First cross 50% Wagyu Crossbred Wagyu F1 50% Has 50% or higher Wagyu genetic content. The first generation of crossbreeding a Wagyu fullblood sire and the dam of another breed.
Second cross 75% Wagyu Crossbred Wagyu F2 75% Has 75% or higher Wagyu genetic content. At least 2 generations of crossbreeding, using a Wagyu fullblood sire and a crossbred Wagyu F1 dam.
Third cross 87.5% Wagyu Crossbred Wagyu F3 87+% Has greater than 87% Wagyu genetic content. At least 3 generations of crossbreeding, using a Wagyu fullblood sire and a Crossbred Wagyu F2 dam.
Forth cross 93.75% Wagyu and above Purebred Wagyu F4 93+% Has greater than 93% Wagyu genetic content. At least 4 generations of crossbreeding using a Wagyu fullblood sire and a
crossbred Wagyu F3 dam.