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Jan 15, 2023

HOW TOAuthentic Japanese Wagyu vs Imitation Products: Knowing the Difference

There’s a definite Wagyu boom for foodies and chefs worldwide, but have you ever asked yourself if the Wagyu you ordered is real? Is there such a thing as fake Wagyu? Don’t let your tastebuds (and wallet) be deceived!

Jan 15, 2023

Fake Wagyu is a thing?

Due to the high demand and high price of genuine Wagyu, it’s almost certain that someone out there will try to make a buck off the ill-informed. Some producers and retailers will flat out sell falsely labeled beef as Wagyu, but some more legitimate establishments also breed cattle using mixed Wagyu genetics. They also feed and care for the cattle differently, resulting in beef that doesn’t have the same taste, texture and quality as genuine Japanese Wagyu.

Is “Wagyu” on the supermarket shelf actually real?

Surprisingly enough, the Wagyu filets and patties that you’ve maybe seen at your local supermarket could actually be American Wagyu! American Wagyu – very different from Japanese Wagyu – only needs 46% Japanese Wagyu genetics and can be raised and slaughtered in America. This means that the final product has an entirely different texture and flavor compared to authentic Japanese Wagyu.

While the chances of encountering 100% authentic Japanese Wagyu in your local supermarket are quite low, it’s not completely impossible to procure Japanese raised Wagyu in the United States. In fact, meat delivery services like Crowd Cow offer authentic Japanese Wagyu, and consumers can even select which prefecture in Japan they want their beef from!

Guaranteeing that your Wagyu is authentic and Japanese

One surefire way to know that your Wagyu is the real deal is to import it yourself from a reputable Japanese farm…but that’s not very feasible for the average consumer. So how can you tell if your steak is really Tajima Wagyu (genuine Kobe Beef) or “Kobe beef?” Check for a small bronze statuette, as pictured below, at the restaurant. The statuette is distributed by the Kobe Beef Marketing & Distribution Promotion Association to show that the beef served at restaurants is authentic Tajima Wagyu.

Unless the local burger joint has this statuette on display, it’s highly unlikely that those $18 Kobe beef sliders are made with Tajima Wagyu.

Photo Credit: Kobe Beef Marketing & Distribution Promotion Association Official Homepage

One more thing to check for when purchasing Wagyu is the official Universal Wagyu Mark. Pictured below, this official seal was introduced in 2007 by the Japan Livestock Products Export Promotion Council (J-LEC) and is featured on the packaging of every shipment of authentic Wagyu distributed overseas. If it doesn’t have the official seal, you might not be getting genuine Japanese Wagyu.

Photo Credit: Japan Livestock Products Export Promotion Council (J-LEC)

Alongside the Universal Wagyu Mark, Wagyu cattle raised in Japan are tracked with an Individual Identification Number that records their place and date of birth, sex, breed, maternal parent’s history, transfer information and locations, fattening period, processing information and where they were slaughtered. 

J-LEC provides a service that allows chefs and consumers to read this information by scanning QR codes at authorized Wagyu retailers and restaurants. The information is available in 15 different languages for consumers to scan across the globe and learn the exact details of the Wagyu they’ve purchased.

Finally, if you can’t find either the logo or the statuette: ask the chef or staff about the heritage of the Wagyu on their menu. Since the procurement process for Wagyu is long and arduous, if your waiter or chef can’t answer questions about where the beef is from, their lineage, or how they acquired it – you might not be getting genuine Wagyu.

It’s important to note that at the time of writing this article, there were only a handful of restaurants in the United States that serve 100% authentic Wagyu. If the Wagyu you’ve purchased or ordered can’t be verified through any of the methods above, you might be getting duped. Thank you for taking the time to consider the importance of authentic Japanese Wagyu.