Kobe beef or Wagyu beef
These are both beef styles originating in Japan that have extensive marbling throughout the meat and can be the most expensive steak you will ever buy. Both are styles of Wagyu beef but Kobe beef is a single variety of cattle.
All Kobe is Wagyu, but not all Wagyu is Kobe
In the late 1880s several European cattle breeds were introduced to Japan and were then bred with the Japanese cattle. This resulted in four strains of cattle:
- Japanese Black Cattle were initially bred as work animals. Meat has intensive marbling
- Japanese Brown Cattle are a leaner breed with a lighter and milder flavour
- Japanese Shorthorn Cattle are also lean but high in inosinic and glutamic acids that add a savoury flavour
- Japanese Polled Cattle another lean breed but with a gamier and richer taste
The Japanese Black Cattle make up more than 90% of all Wagyu varieties. Breeders developed special feeds including forage, different grasses, barley, corn soybean and bran from wheat. This feed and a longer period of fattening has led to a more marbled variety of steak.
Why Wagyu tastes better
The marbling throughout the meat is what gives this beef its superior flavour. The fat melts at a lower heat giving a rich buttery style flavour, it is unsaturated and high in omega 3 and 6 fatty acids. The fat needs to be rendered down to produce the distinctive flavour.
This is the prized style of Wagyu beef and trademarked in Japan. All Kobe beef comes from a strain called Tajima-Gyu that produces the most marbled style of beef available. Only cattle bred in the Hyogo Prefecture with Kobe as the capital can be called Kobe beef. For the beef to be labelled and sold as Kobe Beef it must meet seven strict criteria:
- Tajima-Gyu lineage bullock or cow that has not mated
- Born, raised and slaughtered in the Hyogo Prefecture
- Marbling rating between 6 and 12
- Meat quality 4 or 5
- Weight less than 470kg
- Japanese Chrysanthemum seal on all packaging
- All meat sold must have a 10 number authentication that identifies the Tajima-Gyu cattle
Only a limited number of cattle, around 3,000, are raised each year which also adds to the high price.
In recent years Wagyu cattle breeds have been exported to America and Australia, allowing for a domestic Wagyu market. None of this can be called Kobe beef but the trademark does only exist in Japan. In America the term Kobe can be used by unscrupulous traders as no trademark exists but you are not getting authentic Kobe beef which can only be bought in Japan. Kobe beef is currently being exported to the US as frozen meat product.