In our last blog article we tried to put some light on the difference between Wagyu and Kobe Beef (Click here to read the article). As this whole Wagyu topic (American Wagyu, American Style Kobe Beef etc.) is still very complex, we decided to break it down into different articles, so we can dive deeper into each sub topic without overstraining you with too much information in one blog post.
After having explained the difference between Wagyu and Kobe Beef we now have a look at the so called “American Wagyu”, also known as American Style Kobe Beef, which can be found all across the US and even in Europe.
“American Japanese Cattle”
As “Wagyu” is Japanese and can be translated with “Japanese Cattle”, “American Wagyu” literally means “American Japanese Wagyu”.
The History of American Wagyu
The original Wagyu breed has a long tradition and history of over 3,500 years. The American Wagyu Beef history is much younger. In 1976 the first two black and two red full blood wagyu bulls were shipped to the US from Japan by Morris Whitney and were the origin of the American Wagyu breed. The two black bulls (Mazda and Fuji) originally came from Tottori and Hyogo Prefecture. If you read our article about the difference between Wagyu and Kobe, you should know by now that Japan consists of 47 prefectures and beef from Hyogo prefecture is typically declared as Kobe beef. The two red bulls (Rueshaw and Judo) were imported from Kumamoto Prefecture. After taking semen collections by the Colorado University they were bought by Wagyu Breeders Inc. and joined to Angus, Holstein, Hereford and Brangus cows in Texas. That’s when the breeding of American Wagyu started.
By 1991 there were less than 300 Wagyu crossbred females of breeding age that contained 75% of Wagyu genetics or higher.
In 1989 the Japanese began to reduce their tariffs on imported beef and encouraged U.S. producers to produce a high quality product for Japanese meatlovers. As original Kobe Beef was very expensive and hard to get even in Japan, this American Wagyu, also known as American Style Kobe Beef, was a great alternative for the Japanese.
In the 1990s several importations of quality Wagyu took place. All importations were bulls, heifers, semen and calves. Find them as follows:
- 1993: Mannet Company Ltd. exported the first shipment of full blood females along with two more bulls. One of the bulls named Michifuku is thought to be the most important bull to ever leave Japan and was formally the #1 marbling bull in the US Sire Summary.
- in 1994 Japanese Venture Partners imprted 3 black bulls, 10 black heifers and 2 red heifers to the United States.
- In the same year Mannet Company Ltd. also exported 2 black bulls and 8 black heifers.
- Also in 1994 3 red bulls, 9 red heifers and 6 red calf born were imported by Marie Wood, respectively artificial inseminated.
- 1995: Takeda Farms sent 5 black bulls and 35 heifers to the US.
- 1997: 3 black bulls and 84 black heifers were imported by Chris Walker of Westholme.
- Takeda Farms again exported 6 black bulls to the United States.
- The last importation of Wagyu cattle was recognized in 1997 by Mannett and consisted of 1 black bull and 9 black heifers.
In total there were less than 200 importations of Wagyu cattle until the export ban for Wagyu in Japan was put back in place and since then no more full blood genetics have ever left Japan again.
American Wagyu today
In 1990 the American Wagyu Association was in incorporated in Texas and serves to register Wagyu cattle in the US. Today there are about 30,000 Wagyu influenced cattle in the US. Due to crossbreeding, fewer than 5,000 are 100% full blood Wagyu, which means that they can directly be tracked back to their Japanese ancestry.
There are concrete guidelines when to be called Wagyu Beef and when not. To be called American Wagyu Beef it has to contain at least 50% Wagyu. This is the most common type in the US. But there are of course higher grades as well. With 75% Crossbred Wagyu it is classified as F2. The higher the percentage , the more prevalent the inherent qualities of Wagyu are, such as intense marbling, which gives the beef the tenderness and flavor its famed for.
American Wagyu is beyond prime
Even though the grading system of beef is so complex that we would need another article to cover this topic, I would like to slightly tap the surface of this topic.
The US Department of Agriculture defines three beef grades:
- Select (most common in the US)
Wagyu normally fits into the prime beef category (which is the best and least common one), but 100% full blood wagyu can have marbling levels 2-5 times higher than the highest level considered in USDA grading. Therefore Wagyu is just better than the grading system allows 😉