Kobe beef is Wagyu beef from the Tajima strain of Japanese Black cattle that fulfil the strict requirements of the association Kōbeniku Ryūtsū Suishin Kyōgikai.
It is an expensive type of beef famous for its mild flavour, exquisite tenderness and exceptional
marbelling. It is a high-fat type of beef and the melting point of the fat is lower than that of average beef fat.
Kobe beef was not exported from Japan until January 2012, when shipping of small quantities
started to Macau, followed by Hong Kong in July that same year. Today, it is exported to many
different parts of the world.
How is kobe beef served?
Kobe beef is served in several different ways, including steak, sashimi, teppanyaki, and sukiyaki.
Sashimi kobi beef is fresh raw meat sliced into thin pieces and served raw.
Teppanyaki kobi beef is fried on a flat-surface iron griddle.
Sukiayki is a Japanese dish prepared in the nabemono (Japanese hot pot) style. The meat is thinly
sliced and slowly cooked or simmered alongside other ingredients in a shallow iron pot.
Authentic Japanese Kobe beef vs. foreign Kobe beef, Kobe-style beef, etc
In the United States, it is not illegal to label and market beef as Kobe Beef even if it doesn´t live up to the requirements of the Kōbeniku Ryūtsū Suishin Kyōgikai. Any beef can therefore be called Kobe Beef, regardless of origin and quality, and consumers end up with inferior products.
Non-Japanese “Kobe Beef” or “Kobe-Style Beef” sold in the United States is usually darker and stronger-tasting than genuine Kobe Beef, a deliberate choice by the producers to appeal to the palate of the average U.S. consumer who tend to dislike the mild taste and high fat content of true Kobe Beef.
In some countries, including the United States, Canda, the United Kingdom, and Australia it has become quite popular to market “Kobe Beef” or “Kobe-style Beef” (depending on local legislation) made from Wagyu cattle imported from Japan. In some cases, pure-bred Wagyu cattle is used. In others, the Wagyu is cross-bred with non-Japanese beef breeds, such as Aberdeen Angus. Of course, none of these “Kobe-style Beef” products fulfil the requirements of the Kōbeniku Ryūtsū Suishin Kyōgikai.
Kōbeniku Ryūtsū Suishin Kyōgikai requirements
Examples of requirements that must be fulfilled for a beef to be a true Kobe beef and approved by
the Kōbeniku Ryūtsū Suishin Kyōgikai:
- The meat must come from Tajima cattle born and farm raised in the Hyōgo Prefecture. Thecattle must be fed grains and be brushed correctly.
- The meat must be from a bullock (steer or castrated bull) and the carcass must weigh 499.9 kg or less.
- It must be processed at an approved Hyōgo Prefecture slaughterhouse in Kobe, Nishinomiya, Sanda, Kakogawa, or Himeji.
- The marbling ratio (BMS) of the meat must be level 6 or better.
- The overall meat quality score must be 4 or 5, yield grade A or B.
History of the Kobe beef
Cattle was introduced to Japan from China during the Yayoi period, around the second century AD, but back then, they were only used as draught animals in Japan and were not eaten, nor were they milked. Eating beef and drinking cow milk didn´t start in Japan until the time of the Meiji Restoration in 1868. Even then, it remained low, until after World War II when eating beef started to become a bit more popular and widespread in the country.
The history of the Japanese cattle breeds is also an interesting one, marked by contrasts and impacted by wider political policies. Japan was largely isolated from the rest of the world from 1635 to 1854, which meant that no foreign cattle DNA was introduced to Japan during this epoch. This changed during the later half of the 19th century, and during the period 1868-1887 roughly 2600 cattle were imported, including Devon, Shorthorn and Braunvieh cattle. Extensive cross-breeding between the old Japanese stock and the descendants of cattle imported in the 19th century took place in 1900-1910.
The wagyū breeds, Tajima cattle and Kobe Beef
The extensive cross-breeding that took place during the first decade of the 20th century resulted in various regional cattle populations throughout Japan. In 1919, they were registered as Improved Japanese Cattle. Four separate strains were recognized, chiefly based on which type of imported cattle that dominated. In 1994, the four strains were recognized as breeds – the wagyū breeds.
The wagyū breeds are Japanese Shorthorn, Japanese Polled, Japanese Brown (or Red), and Japanese Black. Roughly 90% of all fattened cattle in Japan is Japanese Black, and the Tajima (from which Kobe beef is made) is one of several strains of Japanese Black.
Kobe beef grew in poularity in the 1980s, especially after the 1983 formation of the Kōbeniku Ryūtsū Suishin Kyōgikai (The Kobe Beef Marketing and Distribution Promotion Association).