Prized for its intense flavor, tenderness, and fatty marbling, this world-famous steak can command top dollar in restaurants around the globe.
In this post, our experts at Steak Revolution will provide everything you need to know about Kobe beef, from its rich history to a breakdown of its nutritional contents.
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So what is Kobe beef, and how did it acquire its famous namesake? “Kobe” is actually a protected designation of origin, meaning that beef can only have this moniker if it comes from cattle raised in the Kobe region in Japan.
Wagyu—or Japanese cattle—have been bred in the Kobe region for hundreds of years. The history of Wagyu cattle dates back to the 18th century when they were first imported to Japan from China and Korea. They started as working animals, pulling heavy loads in the fields or transporting goods along mountainous roads.
Over time, farmers began to breed Wagyu cattle for their meat, and the Kobe region emerged as a center of excellence for Wagyu beef production. The unique genetic characteristics of the Kobe cattle and their careful handling and feeding resulted in some of the most marbled, tender, and flavorful beef in the world.
Many ranchers in the area still adhere to traditional production methods, which is one reason why Kobe beef is so expensive.
The quality and uniqueness of Kobe beef stem from the rigorous standards it should meet to receive the prestigious Kobe label. Place of origin aside, Wagyu cattle should also follow these requirements:
- Cattle breed: Only Tajima cattle, a type of Japanese black cattle, can have the Kobe label. This breed became famous for its intense marbling and flavor.
- Feeding regimen: Ranchers feed the cattle with a diet of rice straw, corn, barley grasses, haylage (a fermented grass), wheat bran with soybean meal, or cottonseed meal. The quality of the drinking water is also highly regulated, with a specific pH level.
- Cattle type: Only heifers (female cattle that have not given birth) and steers (castrated male cattle) are allowed to be called Kobe beef. This practice helps ensure that the beef meets the highest quality standard and remains free from any hormonal influences.
- Handling and care: Stressed animals produce a stress hormone called cortisol, and studies show that it reduces the quality of the meat. As such, Kobe ranchers pamper their cattle and give them the best possible living conditions.
The Kobe Beef Marketing & Distribution Promotion Association inspects and certifies potential Kobe beef. Let’s review just some of their stringent requirements:
- Slaughtering location: Only certified slaughterhouses from the Kobe, Nishinomiya, Sanda, Kakogawa, or Himeji areas can process Kobe beef.
- Marbling ratio: Testers check the ratio of intramuscular fat to muscle. The meat must score at least a six on the Japan Meat Grading Association’s Beef Marbling Standard (BMS) scale, which goes from one to 12.
- Meat quality: Meat quality represents how soft and tender the meat is, assessing its color, luster, firmness, and texture. Kobe beef must score at least four on the Japan Meat Grading Association’s Beef Color Standard (BCS) scale out of five.
- Carcass weight: The carcass must weigh less than 499.99 kg. Anything weighing more than that indicates a lack of marbling and an inferior cut.
This exhaustive quality control process represents the main reason why authentic Kobe beef is so hard to find—and why it costs a pretty penny.
In fact, only about 3,000 head of cattle a year meet the Kobe beef criteria, and they’re all exported to destinations like Hong Kong, Singapore, Macau, Taiwan, and, of course, the United States.
What is Kobe beef like when it hits your taste buds? While the flavor and texture of Kobe beef vary depending on the grade, experts agree that each one has some of the most delicious, tender, and flavorful meat in the world.
The meat appears reddish pink in color with an intense marbling of fat, giving it a buttery texture and rich flavor. Some people say that Kobe beef tastes a little bit like foie gras, the luxurious French duck liver pate.
In recent years, the popularity of Kobe beef has skyrocketed. Unfortunately, this has led to an increase in the number of unscrupulous producers and distributors claiming to sell “Kobe” or “Kobe-style” beef.
While some may be honestly mistaken about the origin of their beef, others deliberately try to take advantage of consumers.
The Kobe Beef Marketing & Distribution Promotion Association continues to fight a battle against fake Kobe beef. They have sued over 100 restaurants that claimed that their meat was certified Kobe beef without proper documentation.
If you’re in doubt about whether the steak you ordered is genuine Kobe beef, ask your waiter or chef to see a copy of its certification and grading report.
Consider some other ways to tell if the beef you buy is genuine Kobe beef:
- Kobe beef logo: The Kobe Beef Marketing and Distribution Promotion Association has a logo often used by certified producers and distributors. If the beef you buy doesn’t have this logo, it’s not Kobe beef.
- Price: Kobe beef is definitely one of the most expensive types of meat in the world, so if the price seems too good to be true, it probably is.
- Country of origin: Kobe beef can only come from Japan, so if the cut you buy is from another country, it’s not the real deal.
- Appearance: Kobe beef has intense “veins” of marbling running throughout the meat. If the cut you’re eyeing has solid strips of fat with little marbling, it’s not Kobe beef.
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.
You don’t have to visit Japan to enjoy the delicacy of Kobe beef. Some American restaurants serve certified cuts, including:
- Teppanyaki Ginza Onodera, Honolulu, HI
- 212 Steakhouse Restaurant, New York, NY
- Bazaar Meat by José Andrés Restaurant, SLS Las Vegas, Las Vegas, NV
- SW Steakhouse Restaurant, Wynn Las Vegas, Las Vegas, NV
- Alexander’s Steakhouse, Cupertino, CA
- Jean Georges Steakhouse, Aria Resort and Casino, Las Vegas, NV
- Alexander’s Steakhouse, San Francisco, CA
- Nick & Sam’s Restaurant, Dallas, TX
If you want raw Kobe beef, you can try ordering online or checking with your high-end butcher.
Kobe Beef Nutrition & Calories
Kobe beef is a high-fat, calorie-dense food, and we recommend eating it in moderation.
One serving of Kobe beef (85 grams) contains about:
- 190 calories
- 15 grams protein
- 11 grams fat
- 0 carbohydrates
If you want to learn more about steak and its many delicious varieties, we encourage you to explore our website or follow us on social media. Our team always strives to provide the most up-to-date information for meat lovers.