Hida Beef

Wagyu Breed and Marbling

The most well-known characteristic of wagyu is marbling of the meat. How much does wagyu breed play role in marbling of meat?

Using meat grading result data in Japan, I would like to show you the relation of wagyu breed and marbling.


  1. Wagyu in Japan
  2. Wagyu Outside of Japan
  3. How Much Does Wagyu Breed Play Role In Marbling Of Meat?
  4. Wagyu Breed Improvement in Japan


Wagyu in Japan

Among four wagyu breeds (Japanese Black, Japanese Brown, Japanese Shorthorn, and Japanese Polled), Japanese Black is the one that has intensive marbling meat.

High graded meat (such as A5) must be intensively marbled in Japanese meat grading system. Since the grading system has started, percentage of Japanese Black among Japanese wagyu breeds has increased; 98.1% of wagyu slaughtered in Japan was Japanese Black in FY2019 (April 2019 – March 2020) [1].

Learn more: Definition of Wagyu, Meat Grading System


Wagyu Outside of Japan

Wagyu must be 100% wagyu breed in Japan. Crossbred of wagyu and non-wagyu is called “交雑種 (kouzatsushu, meaning “crossbred”)” and can never be called wagyu in Japan.

On the other hand, outside of Japan, even crossbred is called wagyu. In fact, a lot of wagyu sold outside of Japan is crossbred.

The reason why crossbred is common is because number of 100% wagyu breed cattle is limited. In addition, female wagyu can give birth to one cattle in one pregnancy, which takes about nine months; it is hard to produce 100% wagyu rapidly with limited number of female wagyu.

Therefore, a lot of crossbred wagyu is produced using wagyu breed semen and non-wagyu female cattle. Many wagyu association outside of Japan defined crossbred as wagyu.

Learn more: Definition of Wagyu


How much does wagyu breed play role in marbling of meat?

In Japanese meat grading system, the Meat Quality Grade (1-5, 5 being the best) shows the marbling of the meat. Meat Quality Grade 5 has Beef Marbling Standard (BMS) of 8 or more.

Meat Quality Grade 1 2 3 4 5
BMS (No.) 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12

Learn more: Meat Grading System

The relation of three breeds

  • Wagyu Breed (100% wagyu)
  • Crossbred (mainly crossbred of wagyu and diary breed)
  • Diary Breed (Holstein, Jersey etc.)

and Meat Quality Grade is shown in Graph 1. This data is from Japanese Meat Grading Association; wagyu is 100% wagyu, and crossbred is usually 50% wagyu.

Breed and Grading
Graph 1. Breed and Grading [2]

As you can see, wagyu breed plays important role in Meat Quality Grade. Crossbred is rarely graded 5 and is usually 2-3 meat quality grade in Japan.

But even among fullblood 100% wagyu, only 40% has meat quality grade 5. A5 beef (which means the meat quality grade is 5) is just a handful and is very precious wagyu beef.


Wagyu Breed Improvement in Japan

The export of wagyu DNA (semen, embryo, and live wagyu cattle) is currently banned in Japan to protect wagyu breed. Only wagyu meat can be exported.

The wagyu raised outside of Japan is produced with wagyu DNA which was exported in late 1900s. Since then, wagyu breed has been improving in Japan. Especially in recent decade, the percentage of high grade wagyu has increased (Graph 2).

To experience best quality marbling meat, be sure to choose 100% wagyu from Japan!

Trend of Wagyu Meat Grade
Graph 2. Trend of Wagyu Meat Grade [2]

[1] National Livestock Breeding Center. “Statistic of Reported Information” Search Service of Individual Identification Information of Cattle. https://www.id.nlbc.go.jp/data/toukei_slaughter.html Accessed Nov 18, 2020. (Japanese)

[2] Japan Meat Grading Association. “Beef Grading Result” Year Heisei 1-31. http://www.jmga.or.jp/rating/archive/#beef_result Accessed Nov 18, 2020. (Japanese)