In addition to the looser rating system and divergent cattle-farming techniques, the biggest difference between American wagyu and Japanese wagyu is that Japanese wagyu is purebred, where American wagyu is crossbred. “[American wagyu] is still going to be crazy marbled with intense flavor, but it’s most likely wagyu bred with angus,” Henderson says.
“Almost all of that stuff is angus beef crossbred with wagyu in an uncontrolled, unregulated, unspecified percentage of DNA,” Heitzeberg says. “I’ve eaten my bodyweight several times over in Japanese wagyu and American wagyu, and I haven’t tasted anything that’s angus mixed with wagyu at any percentage that tastes like Japanese wagyu does at 100 percent.”
Because of this, American wagyu doesn’t have the sweet umami flavor that Japanese wagyu does, and it never quite reaches that same melt-in-your-mouth level of marbling. Though Heitzeberg is quick to stipulate that this doesn’t mean that American wagyu isn’t delicious.
“The American stuff is wonderful. You can eat more of it,” he says. “With the Japanese stuff, because it’s so fatty and rich, most people can’t eat more than a few bites of it before it’s so overwhelming. So if you’re in the mood for a steak dinner, and you want a giant steak, you can’t really do that with Japanese wagyu.”
American wagyu packs the familiar beefy flavor of an angus steak. “The Japanese stuff is almost like a light beer experience. You just don’t have as much of that beefy taste, and then you have that umami flavor that’s hard to describe. It’s almost like a sweetness,” Heitzeberg says.
If you have the opportunity, order one of each. “Try different types of wagyu from different countries and compare one to the other,” Tentori says. “You’ll learn something new, and you will appreciate it for more than just being so expensive.”