Japanese Wagyu is reputed to be the most exquisite beef in the world, with a tender, buttery texture that can stick in your mind for ages. The kind of meat that melts in your tongue, floods your palette with taste, and leads you to the apex of culinary paradise. And that is just the feeling brought by every “normal” piece of Wagyu, you know. Have you ever heard of a type called A5 Wagyu Beef, which is referred to as the king of Wagyu with the highest quality possible? To learn more about this culinary wonder, let’s jump right in.
1. What is Wagyu Beef Grading?
The wagyu grading system, which ranks the caliber of Japanese beef, employs a combination of letters and numbers. Additionally, any details on the types of wagyu being served have to be listed on the menu or accessible by speaking with the chef or waitress.
But don’t be rushed; you will learn about this in a more detailed way later. Now, it is better to understand “Why must Wagyu be Graded?” so that you can have a more proper assessment of the specialty of Wagyu.
Given that this beef is the best in the world, it is crucial to grade it properly in order to protect its integrity, transparency, and authenticity.
The Japanese government and businesses developed a grading system to assist consumers in understanding the quality of their products as a result of the great care given to producing high-quality products throughout Japan.
Customers can distinguish between different levels of taste, such as the flavor and tenderness of the beef, as well as the uniformity of flavor throughout the product, thanks to this grading system.
Yet, just take a little break here. Maybe we should reconfirm that, as you can see, this grade's fascinating aspect has nothing to do with taste. These rankings are mostly based on the quality of the meat because everyone has different flavor preferences that cannot be evaluated.
The wagyu grading system, which is unique to Japanese wagyu cattle, aids in securing the best-tasting steak. The goal of the Beef Carcass Grading Standard developed by the Japanese Meat Grading Association (JMGA) was to identify the cattle that can generate the finest marbling in the meat.
The BMS scale in the Japanese system ranges from 3 to 12, with 3 representing the bare minimum amount of marbling a steak should have and 12 representing a steak that is nearly white with marbling (BMS scores of 1 and 2 demonstrate virtually no marbling, so they are not even taken into consideration). For the best culinary experience, we aim to offer the highest-quality wagyu on the market.
The adoption of this grading system and the following decision to only accept grades higher than 3 inspired the global Wagyu beef industry to step up its game.
Additionally, it explains why A5 has emerged as the world's top wagyu beef grading standard.
2. How to grade a Japanese Wagyu Beef
Because Japanese Wagyu steak is the most premium, top-quality beef in the world, it’s expected to consistently be of exceptional quality, flavor, and appearance.
As we previously mentioned, Wagyu Beef grades are regarded very seriously. No fewer than three independent, highly-trained assessors perform quality assessments, which are considered very serious. The aggregate scores of these assessors determine the final grade.
Samples of meat from the animal's sixth and seventh ribs are used to start the grading procedure. Further samples were obtained throughout the rest of the body to verify the uniform quality of the flesh.
Each cow is given a final score after the entire process is finished.
Yield and Grade, two incredibly distinct criteria, form the basis of grading. Wagyu is graded using a letter system (A–C) for yield and a numerical system (1–5) for quality.
- Yield is defined as the proportion of meat to the actual carcass weight.
- Grade refers to the overall Beef Marbling Score (BMS), Beef Color Standard (BCS), Beef Fat Standard (BFS), and Firmness & Texture.
Beef must be assessed as Grade A for yield and Grade 5 for BMS, BFS, BCS, firmness, and texture to be classified as A5 Japanese Wagyu. In other words, the most prized Japanese Wagyu beef in the world comes from cows that meet the prestigious A5 standard after undergoing a rigorous grading process.
And back to the grading...
Specifically, here’s what you need to know about these two factors contributing to wagyu grading.
2.1. Yield grade
The yield grade defines the meat's "cutability," or the amount of flesh that can be extracted from a particular area of the cow's carcass.
A letter grade is allocated to yield.
‘A’ - at least 72% of the animal can be harvested.
‘B’ - 69 to 71% of meat is harvestable.
‘C’ - less than 69% of the animal is usable.
2.2. Quality grade
Wagyu beef's quality is assessed based on four separate factors:
- The marbling, which are tiny strips or flecks of fat;
- The beef's color and brightness;
- The firmness and texture;
- The color, sheen, and quality of the fat.
Each cow receives a numerical rating from 1 to 5, with the credible score of 5 only being attained when the firmness and texture of the Wagyu beef are both "very good." Wagyu beef's silky texture is partly due to the remarkable amount of marbling that is often indicated by this grade.
The beef is assigned a number grade from 1-5 for each of the categories.
2: Below average
Do you still want even more specific information about these criteria? Well, it is not too complex:
- The ratio of fat to lean meat
The marbling of wagyu is what makes it unique, so the first criterion that is evaluated is likely the most visible. The proportion of fat to lean meat is used to evaluate the beef. The more fat, the better.
BMS Grade Number:
5: Excellent 8 – 12
4: Good 5 – 7
3: Average 3 – 4
2: Below average 2
1: Poor 1
- The color of the meat
The lean meat's color is the next consideration. The degree of darkness or light is used to evaluate something. With lighter and darker meats receiving lower marks, mid-tones are considered to be of higher quality.
Visual evaluation is used to evaluate the color and brightness of beef.
2: Below average
- The color and glossiness of the fat
Another crucial consideration when determining the grade is the color of the fat. Another factor is the glossiness of the fat, which gives an indication of its quality and how delicate it will be. Higher quality wagyu must have fat that melts in the mouth.
The fat should be as shiny and light as possible in this situation.
The beef fat color standards are used to evaluate the color, sheen, and quality of fat, while visual evaluation is used to evaluate the luster and quality of fat.
2: Below average
- The firmness of the meat
Lastly, the beef is assessed based on how firm it is. Since it is challenging to provide a visual representation, this one is more up to interpretation.
Firm but tender meat is ideal. This keeps it from crumbling while cooking while also keeping it from being overly chewy.
Using visual evaluation, the hardness and texture of beef are also evaluated.
2: Below average
To qualify for this rating, Japanese beef must score the same on all quality criteria.
For instance, beef that receives an A for yield, a 5 on three of the four quality measurements, but just a 4 on the fourth, can only receive an A4.
As a result, everything marked as "A5 wagyu" is assured to be of the highest caliber possible.
Thus, if we only ensure the perfect rating in each category, we will get the best possible wagyu grade, an A5.
Not surprisingly, the A5 grade Japanese WAGYU cattle are grown with meticulous care and are only given high-quality feed (corn and rice straw). And as a trade-off, the mouth-watering flavor, incredibly smooth texture, and excellent fat balance stand out. These distinguishing qualities make WAGYU A5, the best Japanese beef, special.
But shockingly, you know that there is even something that is better than A5 wagyu.
Even though A5 wagyu is supposed to be the top wagyu grade, there is one more area of assessment that distinguishes the best from the truly mind-blowing.
There is additional grading based on the Beef Marble Score for the marbling category (BMS). The BMS, which assigns a number grade of 1–12, enables the distinctive marbling of the beef to be rated to an even greater degree of accuracy.
This demonstrates how crucial marbling, or "Sashi" as it is known in Japanese, is to the flavor of wagyu and the overall enjoyment of eating premium Japanese beef.
The grading of wagyu marbling is as follows:
Grade BMS No.
5: Excellent 8 – 12
4: Good 5 – 7
3: Average 3 – 4
2: Below average 2
1: Poor 1
Therefore, once BMS is factored in, the actual highest grade of wagyu is A5-12, which is extremely rare.
3. Grading Of Wagyu Beef, Further Explained
3.1. Marble Scores 3 and 4
Wagyu beef is superior to regular grocery store beef, especially at the lower end of the marbling scale, and even premium grade steak in terms of tenderness and flavor. Wagyu beef grades MS3 and MS4 have fine white fat streaks and marbling. If you're new to the world of Wagyu, this beef is the ideal place to start because of its tender texture and delectable flavor. It is also extremely affordable given the excellent quality of the dining experience.
3.2. Marble Scores 5 and 6
In comparison to lower marble scores, wagyu steaks are richer and more delicious, with noticeable fat webbing creating a creamier, butterier taste. However, there is no danger of a rich overload when you eat a lot of it.
3.3. Marble Scores 7 and 8
When Wagyu reaches this level, it's like having a magnificent, wandering stream of fat that is so rich and flavorful that it achieves a higher culinary plateau that was once only accessible to monarchs. This type of beef will alter your concept of great because it is decadently rich and luscious to the point of being decadent, and it is so soft that a knife can cut through it like butter. Savor it in a little bit fewer quantities than usual because it is so rich and buttery.
3.4. Marble Score 9+
Welcome. You've just passed through meat heaven and are now in whatever is on the other side. Only about 1% of Wagyu cows have these marble scores, which are the rarest and hardest to locate. Wagyu MS9+ is a slice of serious meat that can only be dreamed of, with delicious, perfectly marbled meat that will amaze even the most fastidious of connoisseurs. In fact, it is so flavorful that you should only eat modest amounts of it—roughly the amount of a typical dish of steak. Purchase it to impress someone and demonstrate the genuine essence of luxury on the most momentous of occasions or as a gift.
4. Where can you find A5 beef?
I bet you are yearning to taste a slice of A5 Wagyu meat right in your dinner tonight.
Yet, it is a pity that you won’t find A5 beef in grocery stores because most of it goes straight to fancy restaurants and hotels. It’s also incredibly difficult to ship A5 meat without risking its quality. For that reason, A5 beef may be better enjoyed at a restaurant than at home.
You can see how unique and lovely this cut of beef is after reading this summary. As a result, true-grade A5 wagyu is extremely hard to come by.
However, even if you are lucky enough to come across a store that sells this high-quality delicacy. Have you thought about how much A5 Wagyu could be?
Although the cost of A5 wagyu varies widely, some industry norms to anticipate can include an average selling price of $250 per lb.
Going back to the beginning and examining the cost of the animal itself is one of the best ways to comprehend the pricing differences between Japanese and American wagyu beef.
A Japanese wagyu cow typically costs over $30,000, which is substantially more expensive than an American cow, which costs about $2,000.
Several variables contribute to this enormous cost disparity.
- Firstly, in contrast to the hundreds of cows on an American cattle farm, the Japanese breeds share their field with only about 100 other cows. Because Japanese wagyu cattle are a rare breed and are more difficult to obtain, the shortage of area to raise more of them contributes to the price increase.
- Moreover, another important factor in the pricing discrepancies is the amazing culinary experience that consumers of Japanese A5 wagyu beef enjoy. Larger-scale farms in the US and other nations struggle to match the flavor produced by the premium food and way of life they lead.
- Last but not least, the price of A5 wagyu beef is also increased by other factors such as specialized farmers, traceability systems, and import expenses.
5. Wagyu outside of Japan
You might now also be curious about Australian and American Wagyu beef.
Both American and Australian Wagyu are evaluated to maintain quality, despite not being as well-known or exceptional as Japanese Wagyu. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is in charge of overseeing and grading beef in the United States to make sure it complies with American standards, just like the Japanese Meat Grading Association is in charge of grading Japanese Wagyu. Australia experienced a similar situation.
The USDA divides Wagyu beef into three grades: Select, Choice, and Prime. Similar to the JMGA guidelines, these categories take coloring, marbling, and other factors into account.
Australia's AUS-MEAT marbling standard, however, only allows for the meat to be marbled up to a BMS 9 (9+ is the maximum and is used to denote anything that is thought to be above a 9).
While wagyu in Japan refers to pure-bred wagyu, the name, unfortunately, has other meanings in other countries.
Although there are relatively few pure-bred Japanese cattle in the US, the meat just needs to be 46.9% Japanese to be called wagyu. In the United States, wagyu is frequently crossbred with Angus cattle and may include more Angus beef than wagyu.
Even still, restaurants are not included in even this very broad definition of wagyu; it only pertains to producers and slaughterhouses. In other words, restaurants are free to label any beef as wagyu, and many do.
For instance, enjoying wagyu in Japan versus America or Australia is a different experience. This isn't just because of pure-bred versus cross-bred cattle; texture, taste, and marbling are also impacted by the climate, environment, rearing methods, and the feed the animals are fed.
Only wagyu produced in Japan is subject to the stringent grading system mentioned above, and the great majority of it is consumed domestically. Japanese Wagyu is raised to such a high standard that there are no categories for such profuse marbling in the American and Australian grading systems.
I hope that with this article, you can probably fulfill your curiosity about this wonderful type of meat. A5 is significantly superior to A4 and A3 Japanese Wagyu, or any other sort of beef, even though each steak is distinct and has its own characteristics. The Japanese Wagyu A5 is superior not just in terms of flavor but also in terms of texture, fragrance, and overall feeling. It would be marvelous if we could taste an A5 or any other grade of Japanese beef, isn’t it?