If you have ever eaten steak, you must have heard about Wagyu beef. Things like: It is the most amazing steak I have ever had but it is a bit expensive are the most common ones. If you have decided to pick a Wagyu steak and finally try to cook it, then I am going to show you what you need to know.
You are dropping more than $100 for a steak, so you should know what you are getting. What is Wagyu, what are the differences between Wagyu and Kobe Beef, why is the Kobe beef price so high and a lot of other questions, all answered into one article.
Table of Contents
- 1 What is Wagyu Beef?
- 2 Kobe Beef vs Wagyu - Are They the Same Thing?
- 3 What you need to know about Kobe Beef
- 4 What are the Differences Between Other Wagyu and Kobe Beef?
- 5 Why Wagyu Beef is so Expensive?
- 6 Why Kobe Beef is so expensive?
- 7 Can you Find Kobe beef in the US? Domestic Wagyu and Kobe Beef
- 8 Wagyu Meat Grading System
- 9 Is Japanese Wagyu better than American Wagyu?
- 10 FAQs
What is Wagyu Beef?
So, before jumping into the similarities and differences, you should know what is Wagyu Beef and where does it come from.
Wagyu name actually means ‘beef’ in Japanese. Wa (Japanese Style) and Gyu (Japanese for beef) (Source)
The first traces of Wagyu breed can be traced as late as 1800. During these years, several breeds of European cattle were first introduced to Japan and were crossbred with native Japanese breeds.
Until this day, there are four major strains of cattle that dominate the Japanese beef trade. These four strains of Japanese cattle are:
From the four strains mentioned in the upper paragraph, the Japanese Black is the most used and the most popular. Actually, more than 90% of all Wagyu is from this Japanese beef strain.
In order for Wagyu cattle to reach the point it is today, the breeders took extraordinary care. They created special feeds with forage, grasses and rice straw or supplemented them with corn, barley, soybean, wheat bran and sometimes, even beer. There are also some myths which tell that the herders would even massage the cattle to alleviate muscle tension caused by cramped spaces but this is not proven, so most consider it only a myth.
If you want, you can read the Wikipedia Wagyu Article to learn more about this beef type.
Kobe Beef vs Wagyu - Are They the Same Thing?
So, what is the difference between Wagyu and Kobe Beef? Are they the same or they are totally different from each other?
Actually, similar to ribeye vs prime-rib, Kobe is a variety of Wagyu. So, every Kobe steak is a Wagyu but not all Wagyu is Kobe. It may sound a bit confusing, but we will get into details in the coming sections below.
Every Kobe steak is a Wagyu, but not all Wagyu Beef is Kobe.
Wagyu comes in different varieties/types and Kobe is only one of them. Kobe is actually the highest grading and the most expensive variety of Wagyu on the market today.
So, in a few words, Kobe is a type of Wagyu beef. All Kobe Beef is Wagyu but not all Wagyu Beef is ‘Kobe’.
What you need to know about Kobe Beef
Wagyu comes from different breeds in Japan, such as the Tajima, the Shimane or the Kedaka.
The Tajima breed is more concentrated in the Wagyu raised within the Hyogo Prefecture, where the city of Kobe lies.
So, as known as Kobe beef is just a Wagyu born and raised in the Hyogo Prefecture, whose carcass must have certain grading and factors, such as marbling levels, fat color, meat, etc. to be considered as 'Kobe'.
What are the Differences Between Other Wagyu and Kobe Beef?
What makes Kobe beef stands apart from other Wagyu are the high restrictions placed to this type.
The cattle must be purebred and they need certification to prove it. It must be fed and slaughtered following very strict guidelines.
They should only be fed food from the region and have to have specific weight and marbling levels in order to be considered and be accepted as such type. There are also myths that in several cases, the cattle are played classical music, get massages with sake and fed alcohol during summer to get a bigger appetite.
With all these restrictions and requirements needed, less than 3,000 cattle per year complete the full requirements to be considered Kobe beef.
While Wagyu beef, on the other hand, is harvested and raised in several countries around the world. There are strains of Wagyu born and bred in the USA, Australia, Europe, etc. This means that you can find Wagyu worldwide and only the cattle itself is a Japanese cattle.
Kobe beef, on the other hand, cannot be harvested, raised or slaughtered anywhere else except for the prefecture of Hyogo. To protect the authenticity, each cattle that are born inside the prefecture has its unique serial number to keep track and validate the animal’s lineage and life cycle.
But, even though there are strict restrictions, you can find fake Kobe beef in some areas around the world. This is hugely boosted by the much higher prices of Kobe when compared to the standard Wagyu.
Why Wagyu Beef is so Expensive?
If you have ever checked the prices online, you should notice that Wagyu cuts are very expensive, usually more than $100+ per cut.
One of the main reasons why the Wagyu Beef is so expensive is that there is put so much effort and work to grow and produce the final beef.
When compared with the other common beef cuts, there is a huge difference between the selection, care, and feeding of Wagyu breeders towards their cattle. As I said, they create special feeds out of grasses, forage, rice straw, etc. which makes a huge difference in the end.
All this effort and special breeding methods make the beef to be high in marbling and have a unique flavor.
The fat present in Wagyu cuts is more easily melted at lower cooking temperatures when compared to other cuts, giving it a more rich, buttery flavor. Also, the fat in Wagyu beef is also unsaturated and rich in Omega-3 & Omega-6 fatty acids, which makes it more healthy than other cuts.
- Also Read: How to Cook Wagyu Beef
Why Kobe Beef is so expensive?
Kobe beef is considered the most marbled, most decadent and the most flavorful a steak can be. A major factor that contributes to the quality of Kobe is the regulations used for its cattle. In order for beef to be considered as Kobe beef, the cattle must fulfill several requirements upon slaughter:
Because of such strict requirements and regulations, only about 3,000 cattles qualify as Kobe Beef each year.
Can you Find Kobe beef in the US? Domestic Wagyu and Kobe Beef
With this exclusive reputation and the high price, the Wagyu cattle have been exported from Japan to other countries such as America or Europe. The Wagyu which is raised in these countries is referred to as ‘Domestic Wagyu’. These cattles are raised under controlled breeding environments, to ensure the real Wagyu quality.
In the US, about 90% of Domestic Wagyu are rated from USDA as USDA Prime, which is the highest rating for a beef. The USDA Prime Wagyu exceed the quality of other more common Prime steaks cuts.
Also, American Wagyu or Domestic Wagyu is more found as filet mignon, flat iron or boneless strips for purchase across the country. These cuts will definitely have a higher level of marbling and flavor than common cuts and will easily impress your friends at your next BBQ party.
As for Kobe beef, it is actually banned from the US. That’s mainly because the ‘Kobe’ is trademarked in Japan and it cannot extend the country’s borders. There are several shops or restaurants that will try to sell you a Wagyu beef as ‘Kobe’ to charge you higher but the truth is that it is not widely available in the US even though some Kobe does make it to the American market (less than 10% is exported from Japan to other countries) since the ban was lifted in 2012.
- Also Read: Kobe Beef in Other Countries
Wagyu Meat Grading System
Wagyu and Kobe beef have their own unique grading system, measuring the meat’s fat or marbling. For those that don’t know, the marbling is the creamy white fat web found in each cut, that riddles through the beef. The level of marble gives the meat the tenderness, juiciness, and richness in flavor. The marbling score is also called BMS (Beef Marble Score).
In the Japanese market, the BMS goes from 3 to 12, with 3 being the lowest marbling level a steak can have and the 12 being the highest marbling level.
A bigger score means more tender, creamier texture, more flavor and definitely, more expensive.
Is Japanese Wagyu better than American Wagyu?
No one can actually give a clear answer to this question since the grading system of Japanese and USA is totally different.
The USDA Prime grade, the highest beef grade in the country, is at a BMS 5. The highest USDA Marbling score is equivalent to the Japanese BMS of 7. So, it is really hard to compare the American Wagyu to the original Japanese Wagyu since they don’t have the same rating system.
However, several butchers suggest that they cannot be the same levels since, in Japan, they get different treatment and the environment is much different. The water they drink, what they eat, how they are raised is more different than the US. There are cows who are fed vegetation grown in volcanic soil, which is super fertile or is raised close to the ocean, with much more fish bones and minerals in the soil, which enriches their diet, much different from the US cows.
Why is Kobe Beef banned in the US?
Kobe is trademarked in Japan and cannot be widely traded in the US. In 2012, the ban was lifted but still, considering the low amount of Kobe Beef being exported outside Japan, which is more than 10%, the Kobe beef is very hard to find in the US, with only a few top-notch restaurants having it available on different occasions.
Why is Wagyu beef so Special?
What makes Wagyu so special is the amount of dedication and regulations that are followed to raise and slaughter the cattle. The Wagyu is one of the most marbled, most tender and most flavorful steaks cuts, making it very expensive and exclusive.
What is the Best Cut of Wagyu Beef?
The best cut of Wagyu is the Kobe Beef. It is the most marbled, most tender and the most flavorful a steak can be. The cattle is raised under strict regulations and must fulfill several requirements before it is considered true Kobe beef.