Wagyu & Kobe Beef: The Difference

Every ribeye is a steak, but not all steaks are ribeyes. A similar rule applies to Kobe and Wagyu beef: Every Kobe steak is Wagyu, but not all Wagyu beef is Kobe.

What You Need to Know About Kobe Beef

Kobe, in short, is a variety of Wagyu. Wagyu, loosely translated, means “Japanese cattle” (“Wa-” meaning Japanese or Japanese-style, and “-gyu” meaning cow or cattle). So “Wagyu” refers to any cattle that is bred in Japan or the Japanese-style. Kobe beef is comprised of a very particular strain of Wagyu called Tajima-Gyu that is raised to strict standards in the prefecture of Hyogo. (Hyogo’s capital city is Kobe, thus the name).

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So what sets Wagyu apart from other kinds of cattle? And what makes Kobe beef so special that it regularly commands the highest per-pound prices on the market?

The difference comes down to selection, care, feeding, and the obsessive, extraordinary efforts of Wagyu breeders.

The difference comes down to selection, care, feeding, and the obsessive, extraordinary efforts of Wagyu breeders.

What is Wagyu Beef?

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The roots of Wagyu’s superiority can be traced to the late 1800s. During the 1880s, several breeds of European cattle were introduced to Japan and crossbred with native Japanese breeds. The four strains of cattle that resulted dominate the Japanese beef trade to this day.

These four varieties are the only true strains of Wagyu cattle:

  • Japanese Black: Originally raised as work cattle, Japanese Black beef is prized for its intensive marbling.
  • Japanese Brown: A leaner, healthier breed of cattle, known for its light, mild taste.
  • Japanese Shorthorn: While also lean, Japanese Shorthorn is rich in inosinic and glutamic acid, highly prized for the savory flavor they give beef.
  • Japanese Polled: Similar to Brown and Shorthorn in leanness, Japanese Polled is known for a gamier texture and rich, meaty taste.

Over 90% of all Wagyu are Japanese Black strains, so when someone says “Wagyu,” they are usually referring to Japanese Black cattle.

In developing Wagyu cattle, breeders took extraordinary care. Special feeds were created out of forage, grasses, and rice straw, then supplemented with corn, barley, soybean, wheat bran, and in some cases, even beer or sake. It is sometimes said that herders would massage their cattle to alleviate muscle tension caused by cramped spaces (though many people consider this only a myth).

Marbling: The Wagyu Difference

As a result of these breeding methods combined with longer periods for fattening, Wagyu cattle have an unparalleled level of marbling.

Wagyu marbling is also better tasting. Wagyu fat melts at a lower temperature than any other cattle’s, resulting in a rich, buttery flavor unseen in other strains of beef. This fat is also unsaturated and high in Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids, meaning not only is Wagyu marbling more delicious, it’s also more healthy. Genuine Wagyu beef can be difficult to find in the U.S. Check out these beautifully marbled Kobe-style Wagyu steaks you can get shipped to your door.

There are several strains of Japanese Black cattle, including the highly prized Tajima-Gyu strain. The most sought after regional varieties of Wagyu all come from Tajima-Gyu cattle, including Matsusaka, Omi, and – you guessed it – Kobe beef.

Kobe beef is the crème de la crème – it is the most sought after and most expensive beef in the world, with single portions often selling for more than $200.

Why are Kobe beef prices so high?

Because Kobe beef exemplifies everything that makes Wagyu better. Kobe beef is considered the most abundantly marbled in the world, brimming with the creamiest, most decadent, most flavorful streaks of fat a steak can have.

A major factor in the quality of Kobe steaks is the uncompromising regulations the region uses for its cattle. To be labelled Kobe, cattle must meet the following seven standards upon slaughter:

  • Bullock (steer) or virgin cow.
  • Tajima-Gyu born within Hyogo Prefecture.
  • Fed on a farm within Hyogo Prefecture.
  • Meat processed within Hyogo Prefecture.
  • Marbling rating (BMS) of 6 or higher on a 12 point scale.
  • Meat quality rating of 4 or higher on a 5 point scale.
  • An overall weight not exceeding 470 kg.

Because of these stringent standards, only between 3,000 and 4,000 head of cattle qualify as authentic Kobe cattle each year.

There’s also a limited number of farms that raise these Japanese cattle – somewhere between 200 and 300 of them – compared to the thousands that raise regular, non-Japanese Wagyu cattle. The meticulous care of these cattle easily bump up the price. Not only are they fed a strict, top-of-the-line diet, these cattle are bred for greatness and taken excellent care of. 

Out of all the cattle raised on Wagyu farms, the ones that can pass as certified Kobe beef are fewer. And, since the majority of these cattle are only shipped within the country after slaughter, the prices can soar for those exclusive cuts that export to other countries.

Is True Kobe Beef Only Found in Japan?

Japan is the creator of Kobe beef. That goes without argument. In fact, a foodie names Larry Olmsted wrote about the fake Kobe steak scam in an in-depth Forbes article that shines a light on the Japanese Wagyu industry in other countries outside of Japan. Olmsted noted that Japanese beef, at the time, was not allowed by the United States as an import, which debunks the so-called ability of many restaurants to sell what they labeled as genuine Kobe beef.

However, a couple of years later, Olmsted wrote an update to his article to say that some small amounts of Kobe beef now being available in the United States. In 2012, the USDA began allowing Japanese beef to enter the country, meaning the genuine Kobe beef was no longer off the table for Americans. 

There has also been production of Wagyu beef in the United States since the 1970s, when the first Japanese Wagyu cattle were imported into the country. Since then, the U.S. has had its own version of Wagyu beef within its own borders. Now, the raising and registration of Wagyu in the U.S. is managed by the American Wagyu Association, which also registers Wagyu cattle in Canada and other countries.

Domestic Wagyu and Kobe-Style Beef

In recent years, Wagyu cattle have been exported from Japan to countries like Australia and America. In these countries, such cattle are referred to as “Domestic Wagyu,” and are raised under controlled breeding programs, ensuring true Wagyu quality. In America, 90% of authentic Domestic Wagyu rate as USDA Prime, the highest possible rating afforded to beef. Cuts from these cattle typically exceed the quality of other Prime steaks. American Wagyu beef cuts include boneless strips, filet mignon, flat iron, and even burgers. These luxurious steaks will definitely impress your friends and family at your next barbecue!

Unfortunately, while “Kobe” beef is trademarked in Japan, that trademark does not extend outside the country’s borders. Many shady restaurants, grocery stores, and wholesalers will attempt to sell non-authentic Wagyu beef and steaks as “Kobe,” “Kobe-Style,” or “Wagyu” in order to charge higher prices. If you’re thinking buying Wagyu, Kobe, or Kobe-style steaks, check out our Wagyu and Kobe Beef Buyer’s Guide to learn how to ensure your steaks are derived from authentic Wagyu breeds.

Buying Authentic Japanese Beef and American Wagyu

How, exactly, do you know if the Japanese Wagyu beef or Kobe steak you’re buying is authentic? Just like USDA Prime steak, genuine Kobe beef – whether it’s from Japan or raised domestically – has a few indicators that can help you decide if you’re paying for the real thing.

Check the Price

Checking the price isn’t the best way to tell if you have genuine Kobe or Wagyu on your hands, but it’s one feature to consider. Real Wagyu is definitely more expensive than other cuts, and the real stuff deserves the price tag. However, be aware that sellers of imposter Wagyu will mark it up in price just because they can, so don’t rely on price too much.

Eat at an Official Restaurant

Instead, you can check this site to find restaurants in the United States that sell real Kobe beef from Japan. Many of the restaurants are located in large cities, like Chicago, Las Vegas, and New York City, so they can be good places to add to your list if you plan to travel.

Buying from Trusted Steak Companies

You can also buy authentic Kobe and Wagyu from trusted meat distributors, which are also listed on the Kobe beef website. Chicago Steak Company is also a seller of American Wagyu beef. We sell some of the best domestic Wagyu in your favorite cuts, like the rib eye, filet mignon, and boneless strip.

Kobe Beef FAQ

Certified Kobe beef is highly prized in the steak world. But there’s a lot to learn about Japanese beef, domestic Wagyu, and everything else you need to know about real Kobe beef. We’ve answered some frequently asked questions about Japanese Wagyu and Kobe steak below to help you sort it all out:

What is the nutritional value of Wagyu and Kobe beef?

Wagyu and Kobe meat have similar health benefits of other steaks, including being rich in iron and protein. And while these steaks are high in fat, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, contrary to popular belief. Much of the fat content in Wagyu and Kobe come from their excellent marbling that runs through the meat. Not only does that fat produce the rich flavor of these steaks, but it also consists of mostly monounsaturated fat, which is actually heart-healthy! The fat in these meats are also high in Omega 3 and Omega 6, which are good fatty acids that your body needs for energy and bodily processes. 

What are the requirements for Japanese beef to be Wagyu of Kobe?

As we mentioned, Wagyu beef is just another term for Japanese beef from Japanese-raised cattle. Kobe beef is a special type of Wagyu beef that’s famous for its marbling. In fact, some say that it has the most intricate marbling of any beef in the world. Kobe cattle must only be born in Tajima-Gyu, an area within Japan’s Hyogo prefecture. Kobe cattle must also be fed, slaughtered, and processed within the Hyogo prefecture. 

This is why any meat that’s marketed as Kobe beef anywhere outside of Japan isn’t traditional, authentic Kobe beef. Only Kobe steak that’s been imported into a country from Japan can be authentic Kobe meat.

What’s the difference between American Wagyu/American Kobe and Japanese Wagyu/Japanese Kobe Beef?

Technically, there is no real American Kobe beef because Kobe meat comes only from Japan’s Hyogo prefecture. Some farms may mimic Japanese cattle raising, feeding, and processing to come up with their own version of Kobe steak, but it’s not authentic Kobe unless it’s Japanese Kobe. Wagyu, on the other hand, can be either Japanese or American.

That’s because American Wagyu comes from cattle with Japanese Wagyu bloodlines. Each cow that produces Wagyu beef in the United States is part of the bloodline that was originally imported into the United States from Japan. Many of the same processes for raising and feeding each cow in Japan are used in the Americas, too, so you won’t find much of a difference in texture or flavor between Japanese and American Wagyu.

What kind of feed is given to Kobe beef?

Kobe cattle are generally fed the same diet as any Wagyu cattle. Each farm may have slightly different feeds for their cattle, but you can expect them to be fed with mostly a grain-based diet, including corn or corn meal, fermented sugar cane stalks, wheat, barley, soy beans, and other grains. Most animals may also consume some grasses, like straw and hay, like they would in their natural habitats, but their diets are usually fortified with grains.

Grain-fed cattle usually put on weight faster and develop more fat. This process is what leads to the marbling you expect to find in Wagyu and Kobe beef.

How do farmers raise genuine Kobe beef cattle?

People tend to think that cattle used for Kobe beef are pampered more than others. While there may be some truth to this, it’s generally not the case. Japanese cattle raising is a prized tradition within the country, and many cattle ranchers are known for taking excellent care of their animals. The same is true for Kobe cattle.

Although rumors have spread about Kobe cattle receiving daily massages, this is actually a tradition on many Japanese cattle farms. Ranchers massage the animals because they’re hard workers day in and day out, and regular massages help to loosen their joints after a hard day of work. While Kobe cows are given a high level of care, it’s safe to say that most cattle in Japan receive similar treatment.

How do Wagyu beef and Kobe steak taste?

Wagyu and Kobe beef are known as having a very rich, beefy flavor, similar to what you’d expect from full-flavored cuts that are popular in the United States, like the New York strip or ribeye. However, what makes Wagyu beef different than those popular cuts is its texture, which is more similar to the melt-in-your-mouth filet mignon than common steak restaurant specialties.

What’s interesting about Wagyu, though, is that the more you eat, the less you might notice the flavor. This is because the fat content can take over your palette, making it less likely for you to be able to savor every bite. Traditionally, Wagyu and Kobe are served in small portions, often sliced thinly, to curb the loss of flavor.

How does Japanese beef compare with USDA Prime beef?

Japan uses a completely different rating system for its beef than the USDA does. The USDA Prime rating for marbling lands around 5 on the Japanese scale of 1-12, with the highest numbers reserved for steaks that display exceptional marbling. USDA Prime ratings go to steaks with incredible marbling that come from U.S. farms, but the Kobe grading scale reaches far beyond the grades given to USDA Prime steaks.

How is Wagyu and Kobe steak consumed in Japan?

Wagyu and Kobe steak are often consumed in very traditional ways in Japan. Commonly, these steaks are sliced super thin and topped on dishes of rice or noodles. Or, they may be thinly sliced and served with sides of veggies, rice, and noodles. The Japanese usually broil or boil the thin strips rather than fry or grill them, as we’ve grown accustomed to in the Americas.

Many American restaurants that serve real Kobe do offer some traditional Japanese-style dishes, but many also put Americanized versions of chunky Kobe steaks and grilled beef on their menus. Either way, the outcome is tasty!

Why did the United States ban Kobe beef and Japanese Wagyu?

At the turn of the century, the United States banned Kobe and other Japanese meat imports into the country as a result of the mad cow disease outbreak. The disease caused neurodegeneration of cows, which ultimately caused several loss of functions for the animal. The disease could also spread to humans, which is why the U.S. took such drastic precautions against imported beef. The ban has since been lifted, and Kobe is allowed back into the country.

Does authentic Kobe beef get made into burgers?

Technically, Kobe beef could get processed into burgers, but no steak enthusiast would turn delicious Kobe beef into burgers. Kobe is some of the highest-quality beef you can buy, so making it into ground beef is something no true fan would do. Kobe meat would lose its famous texture if it were to get turned into a burger patty, too. If you see burgers marketed as Kobe at the supermarket or in a restaurant, there’s a good chance that it’s not real Kobe beef they’re selling.

Final Thoughts: Wagyu and Kobe Beef

Wagyu and Kobe are some of the most prized steaks in the industry, and with good reason. You’ll be hard-pressed to find many other steaks that are as richly marbled and as flavorful as Wagyu and Kobe. But you shouldn’t dismiss American Wagyu as an excellent substitute for Japanese Wagyu. American Wagyu exemplifies everything that you know and love about traditional Japanese Wagyu, as it comes from the same bloodlines as Japanese cattle and is raised using similar practices.

At Chicago Steak Company, we are proud to offer some of the best American Wagyu steaks that money can buy, like American Wagyu Ribeye and American Wagyu Flat Iron. Try it today to see the difference for yourself.

Sources/Further Reading
http://www.buedelmeatup.com/2012/12/04/the-difference-between-kobe-and-wagyu-beef/
http://wagyu.org/
http://notesofnomads.com/kobe-beef/
http://www.cnn.com/2014/10/07/travel/cnngo-japan-beef-wagyu/
http://www3.jmi.or.jp/en/about.html
http://www.ansi.okstate.edu/breeds/cattle/wagyu/
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/foodanddrink/11406635/Whats-all-the-fuss-about-Wagyu-beef.html
http://www.justonecookbook.com/wagyu-beef-vs-american-kobe-beef/

Wagyu & Kobe Beef: The Difference Every ribeye is a steak, but not all steaks are ribeyes. A similar rule applies to Kobe and Wagyu beef: Every Kobe steak is Wagyu, but not all Wagyu steaks are Kobe. What is Kobe beef? Kobe is a variety of Wagyu. Wagyu, loosely translated, means “Japanese cattle”. Kobe beef is comprised of a highly prized strain of Wagyu called Tajima-Gyu, which are raised to strict standards in the prefecture of Hyogo. (Hyogo’s capital city is Kobe, hence the name). So what sets Wagyu apart from other kinds of cattle? And what makes Kobe beef so special that it regularly commands the highest per-pound prices on the market? The difference comes down to selection, care, feeding, and the obsessive, extraordinary efforts of Wagyu breeders. In developing Wagyu cattle to what it is today, breeders took extraordinary care. Special feeds were created out of forage, grasses, and rice straw, then supplemented with corn, barley, soybean, wheat bran, and in some cases, even beer or sake. It is sometimes said that herders would massage their cattle to alleviate muscle tension caused by cramped spaces (though many people consider this only a myth). Four strains of cattle dominate the Japanese beef trade to this day and one of them is Japanese Black cattle.  Over 90% of all Wagyu are Japanese Black strains, so when someone says “Wagyu,” they are usually referring to Japanese Black cattle. Marbling: The Wagyu Difference Wagyu cattle have an unparalleled level of marbling due to the care they receive and the longer periods of time that are given for fattening. Wagyu marbling is also better tasting. Wagyu fat melts at a lower temperature than any other cattle’s, resulting in a rich, buttery flavor unseen in other strains of beef. The unsaturated fat is also high in Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids so not only is Wagyu delicious, it’s healthy! Why Are Kobe Beef Prices so high? Because Kobe beef exemplifies everything that makes Wagyu better! It is considered the most abundantly marbled beef in the world. To be labelled Kobe, cattle must meet stringent standards upon slaughter. Due to these stringent standards, only 3,000 head of cattle qualify as authentic Kobe cattle each year. Domestic Wagyu and Kobe-Style Beef In recent years, Wagyu cattle have been exported from Japan to countries such as Australia and the United States. In these countries, such cattle are referred to as “Domestic Wagyu,” and are raised under controlled breeding programs, ensuring true Wagyu quality. In the US, 90% of authentic Domestic Wagyu are rated as USDA Prime, though cuts from these cattle typically exceed the quality of other USDA Prime steaks. Unfortunately, “Kobe” beef is trademarked only in Japan and that trademark does not extend outside the country’s borders. Many shady restaurants, grocery stores, and wholesalers will attempt to sell non-authentic Wagyu beef and steaks as “Kobe,” “Kobe-Style,” or “Wagyu” in order to charge higher prices. If you’re thinking about buying Wagyu, Kobe, or Kobe-style steaks, check out our Wagyu and Kobe Beef Buyer’s Guide to learn how to ensure your steaks are derived from authentic Wagyu breeds.