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).

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?

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.

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