Kobe vs. Wagyu Beef: What's the Difference?

When it comes to Kobe beef, what you're getting may not be the real deal.

Kobe or not Kobe, that is the question. The world of Kobe beef can be confusing for the general consumer. Often used as overarching terms for high-quality beef, Wagyu and Kobe actually have very specific origins and certifications attached to their names.

What Is Wagyu Beef?

According to the Kobe Beef Marketing and Distribution Promotion Association, the term "Wagyu" refers to four Japanese breeds of beef cattle: Japanese Black, Japanese Brown, Japanese Poll, and Japanese Shorthorn. Wagyu, loosely translated, means "Japanese cattle." It is known for its unique taste, quality, and tenderness from the great intramuscular fat cells, or marbling.

What Is Kobe Beef?

Kobe, specifically, is a type of Wagyu beef from the Tajima strain of the Japanese Black breed ("Tajima-gyu"). Cattle that produce Kobe beef are raised in Japan's Hyogo Prefecture, which has the city of Kobe as its capital, hence the name. So while you can say that all Kobe is technically Wagyu, all Waygu is not Kobe.

The popularity of Kobe beef grew significantly in the 1980s and 90s, developing a global reputation as the highest quality beef available. The Kobe Beef Marketing and Distribution Promotion Association was formed in 1983 to help define and promote the Kobe trademark, as well as to demystify some of the rumors and questions around Kobe beef.

Where To Find Kobe Beef

There is a designated registration of restaurants that sell certified Kobe beef in the United States, according to the Kobe Beef Association's list. While the number of purveyors offering certified Kobe is limited, many restaurants are incorrectly using the term Kobe to also describe high-quality beef or different breeds of Wagyu. Always check the official list before spending a large amount on anything labeled "Kobe beef."

What About American Wagyu?

One style of beef that many are referring to as Kobe is "wangus", a cross between domestically raised Wagyu breed and Angus in the U.S. While there are certainly issues with calling it Kobe, wangus has proven to be a delicious and more affordable way for consumers to try Japanese-style beef. "I think American Wagyu is a very enticing and exciting product to offer," says Don Roden, Owner of The Organic Butcher. "I think many ranchers have figured out how to raise an excellent product that provides a completely different eating experience than your typical domestic breeds. However, most ranchers are mixing Wagyu bloodlines with Angus to [offer] better sizing on premium cuts as well as the ability to finish faster."

For consumers looking for a Kobe-like experience, Roden says they recommend A5 Miyazaki Japanese Beef. The 'A5' categorization refers to the grade of the beef, and in this case, indicates a very highly marbled fat content. For consumers and home chefs alike, Roden says you'll get the best results by cooking marbled beef all the way through on a cast iron pan rather than on the grill. "When it comes to cooking steak and burgers I like to cook my meat very rare. However, to my surprise, I learned that [in] cooking heavily marbled [beef], like A5 for example, it was more tender and tasted better when cooked through because of the amount of intramuscular marbling."

If you're looking for an extra tender and fatty cut of beef, both Kobe and Wagyu are excellent choices. Just make sure you know the origins and exactly what you're paying for from the local butcher or restaurants.

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