Australian Wagyu vs. Japanese Wagyu: What's the Difference?
By Nicholas Fiorentino
By Nicholas Fiorentino
If you’re new to the world of Wagyu, understanding the key differences between Australian Wagyu beef versus Japanese Wagyu beef can be difficult. Although both types of beef are Wagyu, they are considered by many to be different, especially in terms of flavor, taste, tenderness. Wagyu from both nations possess their own characteristics and traits that give them a unique and savory flavor.
Here, we break down the complete difference between Australian Wagyu and Japanese Wagyu.
Defining Wagyu beef plays a vital role in understanding the difference between Australian Wagyu and Japanese Wagyu. Simply put, Wagyu simply translates into “Japanese Cow” (Wa = Japanese, Gyu = cow). Wagyu beef has been prized throughout the world for its rich taste and tenderness along with the vast fat deposits that give it its “marbled” appearance.
Wagyu beef can come from anywhere in the world but contains direct traces to Japanese Wagyu cattle. In Japan, there are four main breeds of Wagyu, Japanese Black, Japanese Brown, Japanese Polled, and Japanese Shorthorn. Japanese Polled or Shorthorn cattle are not raised anywhere outside of Japan.
Scientists have found evidence of Wagyu genetic strains as far back as 35,000 years ago. Wagyu cattle have been raised for their beef in Japan for centuries and were originally used in agricultural settings thanks to their extensive endurance. Modern Wagyu cattle are actually the result of breeding native Japanese cattle with breeds imported from abroad.
In the mid-1800s, the Japanese government sought to introduce “Western” food culture and habits into Japan. This led to a variety of American, Asian, and European cattle being imported into Japan. However, in 1910, the Japanese government prohibited infusions of outside breeds to Japanese cattle. Over time, these cattle have evolved into the Wagyu beef we know today thanks to their extensive isolation in Japan.
Traditionally, the Japanese government has not allowed the export of live Wagyu cattle or their DNA, declaring the cattle a “national treasure”. However, between 1975 and 1997, the Japanese government did allow the export of a handful of animals that were taken to Australia, the United States, and other nations.
This allowed other nations outside Japan to begin raising and producing their own Wagyu beef cattle. Australia received its first Wagyu genetics in 1990, with the first five full-blood Japanese cattle arriving in 1997.
After the Japanese ban on exports of Wagyu DNA and live animals in 1997, Australia turned to America and acquired 40 cows and nine bulls of Japanese descent in 1999 that were originally born and raised on American soil.
Outside of Japan, Australia now has the largest population and breed association of Wagyu. Since 1997 however, no additional Wagyu cattle or DNA have been exported from Japan. Australian farmers rely on breeding their existing Wagyu cattle to continue their production.
Wagyu Beef Characteristics
Wagyu beef is prized for its immense amounts of marbling or intramuscular fat that is found in each and every cut. When examining a cut of Wagyu beef, whether from Australia or Japan, you will notice these extensive white fat deposits. The rich flavor and tenderness of Wagyu is directly correlated to the amount of fat in each cut of beef.
Although Australian Wagyu beef does possess large amounts of marbling, it is typically not to the extent of Japanese Wagyu’s marbling. This has a direct impact on the taste and tenderness associated with each country’s Wagyu.
Both countries have their own unique systems used to assign a grade to the marbling of Wagyu beef. In Australia, the AUS-MEAT system is what is used to assign marbling scores to certain cuts of Wagyu. The AUS-MEAT system gives Wagyu beef a marble score from MS0 to MS9, with MS9 being the highest achievable level of marbling (MS standing for Marble Score).
There have been instances of Australian Wagyu being graded higher than MS9, receiving scores as high as MS12. However, these are often graded, labeled, and sold as MS9+. Australian Wagyu beef given a marble score of MS5 or less is typically not considered Wagyu. Only beef that receives a minimum of MS6 using the AUS-MEAT grading scale will be given the title of Wagyu.
In Japan, the Japanese Meat Grading Association (JMGA) is responsible for conducting the grading of cattle. The JMGA utilizes BMS (the Beef Marble Score) which ranges from BMS3 to BMS12 when grading the marbling of a certain cut of Wagyu beef, with BMS12 being the highest obtainable and most desirable level of marbling.
The Japanese Wagyu grading system is highly complex, with inspectors training for a period of at least three years before serving as a grader for the JMGA. When grading Japanese Wagyu, three separate inspectors assess each carcass and discuss their findings afterward. Since beef with a Beef Marble Score (BMS) of BMS1 or BMS2 show almost no signs of marbling, they are not even considered by inspectors to be Wagyu.
In Japan, inspectors go above and beyond just marbling scores when grading Wagyu beef in comparison to their Australian counterparts. In addition to marbling, Japanese inspectors also examine the beef’s yield and firmness/texture.
The yield is simply the measure of how much beef is available compared to the weight of the carcass. The higher the yield, the higher the yield grade. Any Wagyu carcass with a yield of 72% or more is given a grade of “A”. Carcasses with a yield between 69-72% are given a grade of “B”, with anything below 69% receiving a “C” grade.
Next, the firmness and texture are examined by the JMGA inspectors. Wagyu beef with very good firmness and texture is given a grade of “5”. Average firmness and texture will result in a grade of “3”, with inferior firmness and texture receiving a “1”. The yield and firmness/texture grades are placed together when assigning an overall grade, such as “A5”. The “A” represents the yield with the “5” representing the firmness/texture grade.
Australia and Japan’s Wagyu inspectors have their own processes for assigning marbling scores to each carcass. In Australia, inspectors will grade Wagyu based on the beef found between the 10th and 11th rib of the carcass. In Japan, however, graders will inspect the beef found between the 6th and 7th rib. Once a cut of beef from a specific rib location is cut and examined, the entire carcass receives the same grade as the inspected cut.
Wagyu’s texture and the size of the cattle are both important factors in determining the quality of Wagyu. Australia’s climate and overall enviornment is vastly different than that of Japan’s, which has a direct impact on the beef’s texture.
Due to the differences in climate, soil, and the types of grasses found on Australian farms, beef aficionados will notice a difference in the texture between Australian and Japanese Wagyu. Much like wine, climate and soil play a direct role, with certain grasses consumed by the cattle making their beef more tender.
Regardless of the nation the cattle are raised in, the location within the nation also has a direct impact on taste. Northern Australia also offers cattle plenty of open space and access to tropical grasses for feeding thanks to its more humid environment. In Southern Australia, the grasses are often more “traditional”, with feed varying from farm to farm. However, Australian Wagyu cattle do not graze as long as Japanese Wagyu cattle, which leads to smaller cattle that have less yield.
Feeding techniques will also have an impact on Wagyu beef’s texture and size. Japanese Wagyu cattle are fed for at least 600 days if not more before slaughter. In comparison, Australian Crossbred Wagyu are fed for only 350 to 450 days. The more extensive feeding cycle of Japanese Wagyu cattle leads to the cattle being larger and fattier with a more robust tenderness.
Australian Wagyu cattle are typically given a diet of grass with wheat and barley. On the other hand, Japanese Wagyu cattle are fed using the Total Mixed Ration system (TMR) which consists of grains, wheat, and barley.
Of course, one of the most important variables of Wagyu beef is its unique and unmatched taste. Thanks to the aforementioned variables above, professional chefs and food connoisseurs will notice a slight difference in taste when comparing Australian Wagyu beef to Japanese Wagyu beef.
Although both Australian and Japanese Wagyu are highly marbled, only Japanese Wagyu is regarded as having the “melt-in-your-mouth” texture. This is largely due to the higher levels of marbling that typically occur within Japanese Wagyu. Since Japanese Wagyu cattle are fed for up to 250 more days before slaughter than their Australian counterparts, they may be more tender and possess more marbling.
You may notice that Japanese Wagyu possess a unique “sweet” flavor, which may be attributed to the higher levels of marbling found in Japanese Wagyu.
Another important factor that has a direct impact on the taste of Wagyu beef is genetics. As mentioned above, a small number of Wagyu cattle were exported to nations outside of Japan for a limited number of years. As of today, 95% of Australia’s Wagyu cattle are crossbred with other cattle breeds.
Crossbreeding combines the genetics of a Wagyu bull with a different breed of cow and takes place over generations. With every combination of the female offspring joining with a Wagyu bull, the percentage of Wagyu genetics will rise in the bloodline. After a certain number of generations, the offspring can be referred to as purebred, meaning they contain at least 93% Wagyu genetics through crossbreeding.
The other term used to describe the genetics of Wagyu cattle is “Full Blood”. These cattle are directly traceable to Japanese Wagyu cattle with no crossbreeding. Although they do not need to be raised inside of Japan, they are required to have genetics that can be traced back to a Japanese herd. Wagyu cannot be labeled as Japanese Wagyu if it was bred anywhere else besides Japan.
For most consumers, price plays an important role when choosing between Australian Wagyu and Japanese Wagyu. Traditionally, Japanese Wagyu has been more expensive than Wagyu beef raised anywhere else, including Australia. The Japanese government only allows a minute amount of true Japanese Wagyu to be exported, limiting the supply drastically and thus increasing the cost.
Additionally, Japan is a small and mountainous island nation with minimal land for raising cattle in comparison to Australia’s vast amounts of open plains. This can make it more difficult and expensive for Japanese farmers to raise their Wagyu cattle.Japanese Wagyu cattle also go through longer feeding and life cycles than Australian cattle. Japanese cattle farmers are also well aware of the elite status Japanese Wagyu beef holds, making Japanese Wagyu more expensive than its Australian counterpart.
When comparing Australian Wagyu versus Japanese Wagyu, you may notice a difference in taste, texture, and tenderness. Multiple variables will have an impact on the flavor profile associated with each cut of Wagyu Beef. However, regardless of where your Wagyu beef is from, you can be certain that you will be enjoying a special cut of beef that is world-renowned for its rich taste.
If you are looking to give either Australian Wagyu or Japanese Wagyu a try, it’s important to work with a butcher that understands what highly graded Wagyu beef is. The Meatery works directly with producers of the world’s best Australian and Japanese Wagyu beef to deliver a memorable dining experience.
Our Wagyu beef receives the highest marbling scores by both Australian and Japanese inspectors and is sourced from producers with generational experience in raising the most succulent Wagyu beef.
With a vast selection of both Australian and Japanese Wagyu in a variety of cuts, we are certain you will find a cut of beef that exceeds your expectations. To view our hand-selected cuts, or to learn more about our diverse offerings, visit us online or in-person at our San Diego butchery.