What is Kobe beef? You may have seen it on the menu of your favorite restaurant, or perhaps even tried it. If you’re planning your next adventure, you may have the opportunity to try Kobe’s finest on our Majestic Japan journey. Let’s take a look at the mystery and myths behind this luxury meat and how it has become a sought-after feature of fine dining.
Related content: A journey of a lifetime: unearthing Majestic Japan, with Luxury Gold
Kobe Beef, defined
Kobe beef is an exceptionally marbled, rich type of Wagyu beef from a particular type of cattle breed born and raised in the Hyogo Prefecture of Japan. Cows that produce Kobe beef are from the Tajima cattle strain of the Japanese Black breed. How is Kobe beef raised? To qualify, the cattle must be between the ages of 28 to 60 months, as well as born, raised and slaughtered in Hyogo Prefecture.
Kobe beef must also have a Meat Quality Score between four and five. Other specific requirements include the pure lineage of the Tajima cow, weight requirements and the “Japanese Chrysanthemum” seal officially certifying it. Because of these guidelines, only 3,000–5,000 head of cattle meet these restrictions each year.
Look, taste and texture
Now that we know just how unique this beef is, let’s get to the good stuff: the taste. Kobe beef’s distinctive marbling is what makes it so desirable. In fact, it always has a Beef Marbling Score (BMS) of 6 or more. The high marbling also means that Kobe beef is fatty, similar to purebred Angus. This fatty marbling creates a melt-in-your-mouth texture that is enhanced when you thinly slice it to prepare Japanese dishes such as shabu shabu.
You may have heard the term “Wagyu” associated with Kobe. Wagyu means “Japanese beef.” (“Wa” refers to something Japanese while “gyu” means beef). The classification of Wagyu beef includes only four breeds of purebred cattle including Kuroge (Japanese Black), Akage (Japanese Brown), Nihon Tankaku (Japanese Shorthorn), and Mukaku (Japanese Polled). This classification was established in 1944. Wagyu, like Kobe, is also a highly marbled and tender beef.
Kobe beef vs Wagyu beef
“What is the difference between Kobe and Wagyu?” you might be wondering. Among the four cattle breeds of Wagyu beef, Taijima cows — that we learned earlier produce Kobe beef — are a type of Japanese Black cattle. So, all Kobe beef comes from Wagyu cattle, but not all Wagyu beef is Kobe. As a comparison, the Kobe beef classification is a little like the classification for Champagne among sparkling wine. Champagne is a type of sparkling wine. But only sparkling wine produced in the Champagne region of France can be classified as Champagne.
Wagyu beef look, taste and texture
Similar to the specific type of beef from Kobe, Wagyu is also rich, tender and fatty. People often describe it as having a smooth or buttery flavor. Because the fat coats your tongue on the first bite or two, the flavor diminishes as you eat more. That’s why Wagyu beef usually comes in small portions, often of three to four ounces.
American Kobe beef
Now that we looked at the difference between Kobe and Wagyu, you maybe be wondering what that fatty, succulent cut was that you had in the United States labeled “American Kobe,” “domestic Wagyu,” or “Kobe-style.” If you guessed that these aren’t pure Kobe, you’re probably correct. Cows outside of Japan aren’t regulated the way Japanese Wagyu is, so it’s rare to find authentic Kobe products outside of Japan. Even though some Wagyu cattle breeds have been brought to the United States and produce the same rich flavor, it is rare that it is pure Kobe or sometimes even Wagyu. Several restaurants have been called out for labeling beef from Kobe on their menus when it was in fact simply Wagyu.
Myths about Kobe
When speaking of the highly prized beef, some say that the cows are massaged to help redistribute the fat. Some farmers do massage their cows, but it is usually to warm their muscles during a cold winter. Some use massage to relieve stress for cows who do not roam free. But because the Wagyu — and thus Kobe breed – of cows are a working breed, they typically roam freely.
Should you find your mouth watering for this rich, marbled meat, or simply want to explore the country that produces it, we invite you to join us on our Majestic Japan journey. Not only will you enjoy a range of fine Japanese cuisine, but sample some of the nation’s other famed specialty, sake.
What authentic cuisine do you want to try in Japan?