Kobe beef is just a brand for a particular strain of Japanese cattle that has met a strict set of standards
I shall first explain what ‘Kobe beef’ is, by explaining what Scotch, Cognac and Champagne are. Scotch is a whiskey made in Scotland. So every Scotch is a whiskey, but not every whiskey is a Scotch. Cognac is brandy made in Cognac, France. The same applies to Champagne, a sparkling wine made in—you guessed it—Champagne, France. Scotch, Cognac and Champagne are just brands or labels of whiskey, brandy and sparkling wine, respectively. Kobe beef is just a brand for a particular strain of Japanese cattle that has met a strict set of standards. Now that we know Kobe beef is just a brand, let’s get into it.
You’ve probably heard of the term Wagyu beef. ‘Wagyu’ basically means Japanese (or Japanese-style) cattle, meaning cattle bred in Japan or in the Japanese style of breeding cows. Wagyu is not the strain of the cattle. The actual strains of cattle in Japan are: Japanese Black, Japanese Brown, Japanese Shorthorn and Japanese Polled. So Wagyu beef is any one of those four breeds. There are more sub-classifications but all we need to know is that the Tajima cattle is a type of Japanese Black cattle.
The word ‘Kobe’ is used as the name of the brand, because one of the standards to be met is that the cattle must be from the prefecture of Hyogo. The capital city of Hyogo is… Kobe!
So what are all the standards? They are:
- The breed must be 100% Tajima Cattle
- The cow must have been born and bred in the Hyogo Prefecture (where the city of Kobe is)
- It must be a virgin cow or if a bull, it must be castrated
- It must have only been fed grass and/or grains from within the prefecture
- It must have been processed and approved for slaughter within the Hyogo Prefecture
- It must have a fat marbling ratio of 6 or above
- It must have a meat quality score of A-4 or A-5
- It must have a gross carcass weight of 470 kg or less
- It must have been assigned a 10-digit number so that its authenticity can be traced back to the cow (think of it like a Social Security number the cow gets at death)
Because of these standards, on average, there are only three thousand cattle per year that meet all of the above. Now you know why they’re so expensive.
any restaurant outside of Japan can claim their meat is Kobe beef without any issues
If anyone reading this thinks that they’ve eaten Kobe, chances are, no, no, you haven’t. Not unless you’ve been to Japan and eaten it there. Kobe is a trademark, but its legal reach is only within Japan. That means any restaurant outside of Japan can claim their meat is Kobe beef without any issues. And many do because people already understand that Kobe is expensive so it’s an easy way for restaurants to up-charge their steaks.
Now, as of August of 2012, the US has lift its ban from importing true Kobe. So if you’re from the states, there is absolutely no chance you had true Kobe beef when the ban was in effect. It was possible everywhere else all along but only recently in the US. So while it is possible to have it without visiting Japan, given its rarity, it’s very likely you just had regular Wagyu. Want to know where you can have true Kobe beef outside of Japan? Or know if you were ripped off when you paid over $100 USD for that tiny piece of ‘Kobe’? Check this website
I had Kobe beef prior to Japan… I didnt like it
After seeing that link, it turns out, I actually have had true Kobe beef before visiting Japan. It was around my birthday in Singapore and to be honest… I didn’t like it. It was too fatty! But now that I’m in Japan, I have to try it again! “When in Rome…”
I spent close to three hours reading articles, reviews, recommendations and videos about Japan and I have made reservations to two restaurants here in Tokyo to try Kobe beef again. You know, third time’s a charm? 🙂 One is New York Grill at the Park Hyatt hotel. You will recognize its interior if you’ve seen the movie Lost In Translation. The other is Kobe Beef Kaiseki 511. I’m giving Kobe beef two well-researched restaurant-picks to see what the fuss is about.