What Is Wagyu Cattle

Wagyu beef cattle represent four strains or breeds of cattle. Broken down, Wagyu translates to “Wa” (Japanese) and “Gyu” (Beef). Therefore, anytime you see the name, “Wagyu,” it means “Japanese beef.” The four breeds of Wagyu include the following:

  • The Japanese Black (Kuroge Washu)
  • The Japanese Brown (Akage Washu) – also called the Red Wagyu (Akaushi)
  • The Japanese Shorthorn (Nihon Tankaku Washu)
  • The Japanese Polled (Mukaku Washu)

Only Japanese Black and Japanese Brown cattle are raised outside of Japan. The following information provides further details about these four distinct breeds.

meat cut and grade

The Japanese Black

Before the turn of the 20th century, the Japanese Black was used for heavy work activities. The breed was enhanced through crossbreeding with foreign strains during the Meiji Era. The Hanwoo or Korean Red was crossbred with the Simmental. The Hanwoo was used for heavy work during the Meiji Era. The Japanese Black was designated as a breed, indigenous to Japan, in 1944.

The Japanese Black is raised in most of Japan. Marbling, or the fine strips of fat tissue found in beef, are even found in the steer’s lean meat. People enjoy the taste of this strain of beef, as the fat conveys a tender and buttery taste. Age for slaughter is around 30 months. The Japanese grade for the cattle, on average. is BMS 5.6.*

The Japanese Brown

Also referred to as Akaushi (“Aka” means “red” and “ushi” means “cattle” in Japan), the Japanese Brown is raised mainly in the Japanese prefectures of Kochi and Kumamoto. The most common line of the Wagyu is found in the Kumamoto Prefecture. The cattle raised in that locale number several hundred thousand. In the Kochi line, which is only found in Japan, cattle number about 2,000. Kochi cattle are distinguished by dark areas on the feet and nose.

The more dominant cattle in the Kumamoto line were enhanced through crossbreeding. Like the Japanese Black, the Japanese Brown was certified as indigenous in 1944.
Characteristics of the Japanese Brown include a fat content of around 12% or less. Because the beef is quite lean, it conveys a firm texture and is delicious to the taste. As a result, the meat is often eaten for its health benefits. The slaughter age for this steer is about 25 months. The younger slaughter age contributes to reduced marbling. An average Japanese grade for this beef steer is BMS 3.2.*

The Japanese Shorthorn

Raised primarily in the Tohoku area of Japan, the Japanese Shorthorn breed was enhanced by crossbreeding the cattle with Nanbu cattle. From that time, the Shorthorn continued to improve until it was certified as an indigenous strain in 1957.
The meat is represented by low fat and a distinct and savory flavor. In addition, the meat contains a compound known as inosinic acid, which supports the metabolism. Both inosinic acid and glutamic acid in the beef enhance the meat’s flavor and level of protein. The grade in Japan for this beef is BMS 3* or below. Nevertheless, the meat is still liked and consumed for its unique taste.

The Japanese Polled

Japanese Polled cattle came about from crossbreeding the indigenous Japanese Black with the Aberdeen Angus (an import from Scotland) in 1920. The breed was further enhanced after that time, and was certified in 1944 as indigenous to Japan.
Polled cattle are notable, as they feature a one-of-a-kind Wagyu taste and a high amount of lean meat. The beef, which contains a substantial amount of amino acid, has a meaty and chewy taste. Only several hundred Japanese Polled currently exist in Japan.

Calves in farm for veal.

The Grading System for Wagyu Cattle

To better understand how Wagyu are graded and the quality of their meat, you need to quickly survey the Japanese grading system. The standards established for grading represent a yield grade and quality grade. Therefore, for a grade of “A5,” “A” is considered the yield rating while “5” denotes the quality grade.

How the Yield Grade Is Determined

The yield grade is the standard used to determine cutability (or the cut of the meat obtained from a specific part of the steer’s body). Therefore, grading is as follows:

Grade A = Above standard
Grade B = Standard
Grade C = Below standard

Grades of Marbling

Marbling, which represents the thin strips or flecks of fat seen in beef, is classified into five grades, with 5 being the highest grade. Moreover, the five grades are rated 1 through 12 by the Beef Marbling Standard or BMS.
Evaluating Marbling – How the Ratings Are Broken Down
The breakdown is calculated as follows:

Grade BMW Number –

5: 8-12 = Excellent
4: 5-7 = Good
3: 3-4 = Average
2: 2 = Below average
1: 1 = Poor

Other Grading Classifications

The color and brightness of Waygyu, the firmness and texture, luster, and quality of fat are all graded by visual evaluation. Each of these categories are graded from 5 to 1, as follows:
5 = Excellent
4 = Good
3 = Average
2 = Below average
1 = Poor

As a result, Wagyu cattle, in Japan, are scored and classified according to yield and quality gradings.

Open Field Cattle

Grading for Quality

The quality grade is also assessed further. For example, when determining the quality grade, the lowest rating from the four categories is recorded. Therefore, even if one category was given a quality grade of 4 and all the others were given a 5 rating, the overall quality grade is given a 4. Needless to say, quality grading can be stringent.

Wagyu Cattle Are Special

The Japanese Black Wagyu cattle are notably only fed rice straw and corn. Therefore, the cattle are raised diligently and carefully. This Wagyu strain, in particular, is noted for its exceptionally smooth texture, juicy flavor, and nice balance of fat. Given the unique characteristics of Wagyu cattle, especially the Japanese Black, it can be easily assumed that this type of meat is of a special and unique quality.