Kobe or not Kobe


Wagyu vs Kobe


It would have difficult to miss the increase in menu listings featuring “Kobe” meat products. Kobe Burgers, Kobe Steaks and even Kobe hot dogs have been appearing on menus up and down the length and breadth of the U.S.A for some years now.

Unfortunately, authentic Kobe beef is very rarely seen on restaurant menus in the USA as legitimate Kobe beef is priced around roughly $20-$60 an ounce. If you see something on a menu referred to as Kobe priced less than that, it is most likely domestic or imported Wagyu beef.

In the same analogy that suggests “All that glitters is not Gold” then the same is true for Kobe beef as All Kobe beef is Wagyu, but not all Wagyu beef is Kobe. What we see most of in the USA, is American Wagyu or Australian Wagyu (Kobe Style) beef.

We have all seen the pictures of Japanese farmers massaging their cows, feeding them Sake and playing them classical music to relieve stress and make the meat more tender. Whether this is true in all, cases is debatable, but what cannot be denied is that this breed produce Wagyu beef that has intense marbling with softer fat ( will melt with the only the temperature from your hand), and is lower in cholesterol than regular beef, plus it is rich in monounsaturated fats and omega fatty acids.

What does all this mean? If prepared correctly, outstanding taste and depth of flavor.

The most exclusive Wagyu in the world comes from Kobe, Japan.  In the USA some restaurants refer to Kobe and Wagyu beef as the same grade, thinking it refers to the same premium imported Japanese beef, when it does not. Under Japanese law, Kobe beef can only come from Hyōgo prefecture (of which Kobe is the capital city) of Japan.

Japanese terminology

  • Wa means Japanese or Japanese Style and Gyu is the Japanese word for a Cow or Cattle hence Wagyu means Japanese or Japanese Style Cattle.
  • Kobe Is a city in Japan and the capital city of the Hyōgo Prefecture. Kobe is also considered a region of Japan. Think of it like Champagne being a region in France.

Kobe cows are fed a special diet of dried corn, barley, rice straw, soybean and wheat bran with additional nutritional supplements. They are not allowed to feed on pasture grass.

To be authentic certified Japanese Kobe Beef, the breed of cattle has to have a clear provenance by being born, raised and slaughtered in the Hyogo Prefecture of Japan and  be between 28-60 months of age. Many other criteria have to be met, but the beef will carry the “Japanese Chrysanthemum” seal officially certifying it as Kobe Beef. The certification process is VERY strict and in addition to the seal the beef must also carry a ten-digit identity number referencing its origination and specific cow.

But of course all of this comes to nothing if the Wagyu or Kobe steak is not prepared correctly, the intense marbling and soft fats will render down very quickly and be absorbed into the meat (hence the fantastic taste) but over cook the meat and the rendered fat will just burn away leaving a very dry piece of meat and a waste of money.

When purchasing meat of this quality and price, the customer must exercise care and “caveat emptor” (let the buyer be aware) comes into play in this confusing market.

My personal preference? A center cut prime USDA Back Angus New York strip cooked medium rare, I’m off to the grill right now!




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