Kobe beef is a very popular term in the culinary world, especially among steak lovers. Unfortunately, the term is misunderstood and misused by many people. This post will provide everything you need to know about Kobe beef.
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What is Kobe Beef?
Kobe Beef is high-quality wagyu beef from the Tajima strain of Japanese black cattle. To be labeled authentic Kobe, cattle must be born and raised in Hyogo Prefecture and then slaughtered at local butchers. In addition, it must meet strict grading requirements set by the Kobe Beef Marketing & Distribution Promotion Association.
Important note, many people think that Kobe beef is a breed of cattle, which is not true. It’s actually a brand managed by the association, as mentioned above. This organization makes sure that cattle are raised following established standards. All of this makes Kobe Beef highly prized for its flavor, tenderness, and impressive marbling.
Interestingly, the term “Kobe Beef” is mainly known outside Japan. The name Kobe Beef came from the fact that this beef was exported through a port city called Kobe (located on the southern coast of Hyogo Prefecture). In Japan, the meat is called Tajima beef. Tajima is the old name for the northern part of Hyogo Prefecture (source).
Where is Kobe Beef From?
Authentic Kobe beef comes from Tajima-Gyu, an area located in Hyogo Prefecture (Japan). Cattle must be raised and slaughtered in this exact area to qualify as Kobe.
What Does Kobe Beef Taste Like?
The Tajima cattle’s unique genetic characteristics and careful handling and feeding resulted in some of the world’s most marbled, tender, and flavorful beef. Kobe beef has a firm texture and buttery flavor. Unbelievable amounts of marbling make the meat melt in your mouth.
To Be Authentic, Kobe Beef Must Meet Specific Quality Criteria:
- The cattle (Tajima breed) must be born, bred, and slaughtered in Hyogo Prefecture.
- Cattle must be properly fed with the best feed.
- The steer must be processed only at local slaughterhouses selected for this purpose.
- Gross carcass weight must not exceed 499.9 kg.
- All must be done in cooperation with designated producers (These are members of the Kobe Beef Marketing & Distribution Promotion Association).
- As for wagyu grading, the BMS (marbling index) must be at least 6 or higher (on a 12-point scale). The meat quality score must be at least A4 (on a 5-point scale).
- The proportion of edible parts must be A or B.
- The meat must have a sufficiently firm and tender texture and appropriate color.
Beef officially certified as Kobe Beef also receives a unique stamp of the “Japanese chrysanthemum.” Please read this article for a more detailed explanation of all the criteria for classifying Kobe beef.
This rigorous quality control process is why authentic Kobe beef is so hard to find and costs a pretty penny.
Beware of Fake Kobe Beef
Let’s start with the fact that real Kobe beef is rare in the United States. In 2012, its export resumed, but it is so small that it goes to a very narrow group of people.
In recent years, the popularity of Kobe beef has skyrocketed. Demand combined with a very tight supply has also caused the price to skyrocket.
The high price and demand create an excellent opportunity for many dishonest vendors and restaurateurs. For example, many restaurants and stores use the terms “Kobe” or “American Kobe” to attract customer attention. Related to this topic, we recommend an article titled “Food’s Biggest Scam: The Great Kobe Beef Lie” – written by Larry Olmstead.
If you doubt the steak you ordered is real Kobe, ask your waiter or chef to see a copy of its certification and grading report. The situation gets a bit more complicated when you buy beef online. In that case, try to buy only from reliable butcher stores. It’s best to check reviews about a particular store in several reliable places.
It’s not always easy to tell the difference between Kobe beef and knock-off products. Armed with a little bit of knowledge, however, you can be sure that you purchase the real thing.
Wrapping Things Up
Is Kobe beef good? Without a doubt. Kobe beef is known for its intense marbling, tenderness, and flavor. The high amount of marbling makes a well-cooked Kobe steak melt in your mouth. But is Kobe beef really worth the price?
It depends on what you expect. Yes, it tastes better than most steaks, but the difference is not huge. It’s not like if the steak is 5x more expensive, the taste experience will also be 5x better. The most significant difference is simply the tenderness of the meat.
Important, beware of the fake Kobe. If the Japanese wagyu cost exceeds your budget, we advise you to look for American wagyu, which is a great alternative.