Kobe and Wagyu Beef Explained

Note: We have a new feature on Wagyu which you can find here.

There’s a certain allure to quality Japanese beef; £1 will get you twice as much Silver than Kobe Beef while a decent chunk can cost a week’s wages. But what is Kobe and Wagyu beef, what makes this beef so special and why are people willing to pay so much for it. We’ve got the answers below.

What’s the difference between Kobe and Wagyu beef?

Wagyu refers to any kind of beef that is from Japan, while Kobe beef (pronounced ‘ko-bay’), claimed to be the best steak in the world, is from a certain breed of cow that has been fed, raised, slaughtered and certified in a specific area in Japan.

Japanese Cow Breeds. Image from http://recetasfelicidad.blogspot.co.uk/

There are four breeds of Japanese cow: the Japanese Black, Japanese Brown, Japanese Poll, and Japanese Shorthorn breeds. Wagyu can come from any one of these cows, but Kobe beef can only come from pure Japanese blacks that have:

  1. Been born and raised near the city of Kobe (in the Hyōgo prefecture of Japan)
  2. Fed a specific diet (consisting of dried grasses and special mixes of soybean, corn and barley)
  3. Slaughtered between the age of 2 1/2 and 5 years  
  4. Produce beef that has high marbling that meets tough grading criteria .

Are Japanese cows massaged and fed beer?

The idea that Japanese cows are hand massaged and fed beer has made a lot of mileage, unfortunately it’s not common practice (although there may be some individual farmers who treat their cows to a beer).

Why pay so much for Kobe and Wagyu beef?

While Wagyu beef can be found relatively easily outside of Japan, genuine Kobe is significantly harder to find. Sushisamba, a fusion Japanese-Brazilian bar with joints around the world sell the stuff for as much as a pound a gram which would make a small size steak at least £100.

So why pay so much? There are two key factors here: The scarcity of the beef and the taste. The stringent criteria, as outlined above, for Kobe beef make it harder to get from pasture to plate (each cow must also be marked with an identification number which tracks it back to its origin). The cost of importing that genuine Kobe from the field (or slaughterhouse) in Hyōgo Prefecture also adds to the cost.

The taste or experience of eating Kobe Beef is the second factor. The breed, and production method, of Kobe beef results in a steak with a high percentage of fat that is weaved throughout the steak. This gives it the beef an extremely delicate texture that melts in the mouth.

Kobe Beef in full marbled glory

What about non-Japanese Kobe?

Genuine Kobe beef is only from Japan. However, given that only 180kg is shipped to the United States each month, farmers in the United States and Australia also produce Kobe style beef. This beef comes from Wagyu or Japanese cows and has excellent marbling and taste. However, always double check when ordering Kobe beef from outside Japan, because unless you’re paying a significant premium it’s unlikely to be genuine Kobe or even Kobe style.

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