What are the Differences Between Wagyu, Kobe, and Angus Beef?

Most people will have heard of Angus beef, and possibly even Wagyu beef.  There may even be a few who have been privileged to learn more about Kobe beef.  But to the uninitiated, it all sounds the same – cows are cows, aren’t they? They make good steaks.  Maybe some better than others, but aren’t they just all the same thing?

At A5 Meats, this is the part we love best: introducing the wonderful world of Wagyu beef to our friends.  It may not be common knowledge, but there are massive differences between Angus beef and their Wagyu counterparts.  With a pinch of mystery, thousands of years of heritage, and plenty of myth and secrecy to whet your appetite, join us to learn more about precisely what makes them different. 

Once people know the difference, they never go back! 

First of all, let’s share a little more about what Wagyu, Angus, and Kobe are – this will make it more straightforward when we look at the differences.  Let’s take a closer look. 

What Characteristics Do Wagyu, Kobe and Angus Cattle Have?

Let’s start with Wagyu beef – the king of meats, prized worldwide, and the subject to fierce rivalry among elite chefs and top restaurants around the globe. 

The name – “Wagyu” – literally means ‘Japanese Cow’ in Japanese.  They were traditionally used in Japan as heavy hauling draft cattle on farms and in rice paddies. Their small frame perfectly suits the ability to turn and maneuver in more compact spaces than their larger counterparts.  Not only that, Wagyu are capable of incredible feats of strength and endurance due to their unique ability to draw incredibly quickly from stored energy reserves.

Related: 8 Things You Didn't Know About Wagyu Beef 

Their mighty energy reserves are primarily down to how Wagyu lay down fats within their muscle fibers, rather than ‘around’ them, as cattle usually do.  This finely webbed fat network gives a pale pink - almost pearlescent - appearance and distinctive texture not found in regular beef.  It also has the advantage of providing much more accessible fat reserves, as their systems have to work less hard to release that precious energy.

There are four breeds of Wagyu cattle: the Japanese Black, Japanese Brown, Japanese Shorthorn, and Japanese Polled. 

By far, Japanese Black is the most popular type, making up around 90% of Japan’s domestic Wagyu population.  But there’s more to discover here – a descendant of the Japanese Black is the Tajima bloodline.  The Tajima family includes Kobe Wagyu.

So, Kobe Wagyu are a type of Wagyu – in the same way, for example, that a poodle is a type of dog, or an eagle a kind of bird.  Wagyu defines the animal’s primary denomination as a type of cow, and the ‘Kobe’ name is part of the family tree that descends from it.  Kobe Wagyu are characterized by their compact build, with a shiny, richly colored soft coat. Kobe’s temperament is famed among farmers for being very docile and gentle, with a kindly nature and easy going disposition.

Kobe Wagyu aren’t named Kobe Wagyu just because it sounds pretty.  There is a whole raft of rules, restrictions, and quality testing to get through before the name ‘Kobe Wagyu’ can even be used. 

The strict measures required for an animal to pass as ‘Kobe Wagyu’ include: 

  • The female must be a heifer (defined as a cow which has not given birth yet) or bullock (a steer or a castrated bull)
  • It must be of the Tajima bloodline, and this must be supportable and evidenced by DNA testing
  • The animal has to be born and raised in Hyogo Prefecture – not outside or around it at any point
  • One of a limited number of authorized slaughterhouses in Kobe, Sanda, Kakogawa, Nishinomiya, or Himeji in Hyogo Prefecture should process the cow (again, the correct documentation is mandatory)
  • The carcass must pass a strict set of quality grading tests.
    • The meat must hold a minimum Beef Marbling Score of 6 or above (on a scale of 1 to 12)
    • The yield grade categorization must be A or B (on an A to C scale), meaning at least 69% of the animal is usable
  • These tests provide an overall score scaled from 1 to 5. To qualify as ‘Kobe’ beef, the award has to be a score of at least a 4
  • The weight of the animal at slaughter must be under 499.9kg

Wagyu inspectors command a great deal of respect in their industry, training for many years.  The awarded grade must be concurred by three separate inspectors before it is finalized and confirmed.  These are not your standard burger cows, that’s for sure.  We know more about the relationship between Wagyu and Kobe, so let’s learn more about Angus at this point. 

What makes Angus beef different than others?

Angus cattle are incredibly easy to breed  - they mature early, have excellent maternal instincts, and give birth easily.  Their calves also tend to feed well and generally without problems. 

In terms of build, Angus cattle are medium sized compared to other cattle but carry greater mass than Wagyu, with males weighing up to 850kg.  The Angus as a breed is exceptionally hardy, originating from Scotland. They survived harsh winters in the north of the country, often enduring snowfall and storms.   

Angus meat is firm, with a robust flavor and distinct marbling characteristics.  For this reason, Angus beef is widely regarded as superior to standard cattle, with their large muscles producing substantial, thick steaks. 

Angus cattle arrived in the U.S. in the late 1800s and have become popular worldwide, particularly in the fast food industry, where it is often on menus listed as a premium option. 

How Are Wagyu, Kobe and Angus Beef Different?

Wagyu, Kobe, and Angus' meat all differ in a slightly different way for Wagyu and Kobe beef.  In terms of physical appearance, Wagyu is heavily marbled with a fine webbing of delicate fat, producing a distinctive pale pink appearance.  It has a famously succulent, juicy mouthfeel with a buttery umami flavor. 

Those beautiful intramuscular fats have a low melting point, meaning it literally ‘melts in the mouth,’ as well as breaking down during cooking.  After cooking, the meat has to rest for a few minutes. At this point, the fats are reabsorbed into the meat fibers, helping along with the juicy texture that makes Wagyu so famous.

Kobe beef is a type of Wagyu (as we learned earlier ), so it carries those same characteristics. Kobe, however, is known to have an exceedingly soft, smooth texture with a flavor edging toward sweet and nutty when compared to other Wagyu varieties.

Angus beef is also heavily marbled, but with a far firmer texture and deeper coloring.  The cuts themselves are larger than Wagyu, as the animals are more substantial in size at slaughter.  While the marbling is more significant than in other standard breeds of cattle, it is not as delicate as, nor is it the same as the fats in Wagyu cattle.  But there’s one more crucial difference where the flesh itself is concerned – and it may surprise you.

Health Benefits of Wagyu, Kobe and Angus Beef

Wagyu beef (and therefore Kobe beef) share a fascinating secret. They are among the healthiest meats around today – again, this is down to those fats laid down during their extensive grazing period.  This fact is hard to believe at first; after all, beef has never been famed as a ‘healthy alternative’ – that is, not until now.  The science speaks for itself.

Wagyu beef is high in monounsaturated fats (known as ‘heart healthy’ fats) and low in saturated fats.  That sounds great, but what do these fats do? Monounsaturated fats can lower a substance called LDL cholesterol in the bloodstream.  LDL cholesterol is detrimental to our health, coating inside arteries, subsequently causing blockages in vital passageways throughout the body.  

Related: Why Is Wagyu Beef Healthier Than Other Meats? 

On the other hand, HDL cholesterol increases thanks to monounsaturated fats. It goes straight to the liver for safe processing (avoiding blockages along the way).  Wagyu beef is top of the table for monounsaturated fats, boasting an impressive 63 times the amount contained in fish.  Fish has always enjoyed a reputation for being healthy, although Wagyu contains less salt. 

It doesn’t end there.  Pork has a reputation for being lean – but Wagyu only has five calories per 100g extra.  Angus Beef? You guessed it – Wagyu has around 20% less cholesterol than standard beef (and that includes Angus).

Wagyu beef is rich in linoleic acid, believed to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes and heart attacks.  Linoleic acid levels found in Wagyu are significantly higher than amounts in other meats – a staggering 30% higher than traditional beef. 

Impressively, this leaves Angus standing at the start line of the race without even a shot at reaching the same lofty heights.

The Costs of Wagyu, Kobe and Angus Beef

Of course, there is one significant difference between Wagyu in general, Kobe Wagyu and Angus – and that’s cost.  The cost of raising and rearing Wagyu is quite simply staggering, and here’s why.

Wagyu cattle are privileged, and that’s no exaggeration. Dedicated experts have carefully tended them over thousands of years.  Once weaned, each calf receives a carefully developed mix specifically formulated by each farm.  Japanese Wagyu diets usually broadly have a basis in rice, hay, and wheat.  The exact recipes are a closely guarded secret, passed from generation to generation.

Related: Why Is Wagyu Beef So Expensive? 

Staying with their mothers for around the first ten months, Japanese Wagyu enjoy a far more extended grazing period than standard cattle, and of course, Angus.  Grazing periods for Wagyu range widely but can be anywhere from around three years to up to five years. Regular cattle usually graze for just eighteen months, or thereabouts.

Angus also don’t enjoy the more careful attention to mental health standards that Wagyu and Kobe experience.  Increased cortisol (the stress hormone) in the body can trigger the fight or flight responses – which increase heart rate and breathing, and therefore burn precious calories.  This increase results in burning up fat stores – not acceptable when dealing with prized Wagyu, as they need those fats to stay on board!

For this reason, Wagyu farmers make all sources of stress disappear as soon as they arise.  Any problems (from feed to temperature, or even animals not getting along) are dealt with immediately.  There are myths that Wagyu get a massage daily – this is unlikely to be accurate, but not wholly untrue.  It’s not uncommon for aching muscles to receive a soothing rub if the animal shows signs of stiffness in the joints.

All this time, investment, and dedication mean cost differences are vast and almost incomparable between Angus and the Wagyu family, including the Kobe strain.  Wagyu calves can reach around 40 times the price of a regular steer - a Matsusaka Wagyu heifer sold in 2002 for 50 million yen – the equivalent of over $460,000!  

Wagyu is, however, still attainable through specialist suppliers.  A Five Meats are proud to present our meat packs, delivered chilled (never frozen) straight to your door.  Our customers return year after year to enjoy the freshest, finest hand selected cuts available. 

Our packs are hugely popular, so we recommend keeping an eye on our website for the latest selections.  You can also send us a message, give us a call, or even come and see us in San Francisco – we’d love to meet you!