Kobe beef and Wagyu beef are two of the most popular types of prime grade beef, not only in Japan but also in the world. So what makes Wagyu beef and Kobe beef so special? How can you tell these two prime beef apart?
An Introduction to Wagyu and Kobe Beef
About Wagyu Beef
Loosely translated, Wa in Japanese means "Japanese or Japanese style." Gyu in Japanese means cows or cattle in general. So, the term "Wagyu" means "Japanese style cow", and Wagyu refers to Japanese cow or Japanese beef. As long as cows are raised in the Japanese style, they are all called Wagyu cattle, or Japanese cattle.
About Kobe Beef
Real Kobe beef is a breed of beef from the black Tajima gyu cow, a domestic Wagyu cattle. They are raised according to the standard procedures of the Kobe Beef Marketing and Distribution Promotion Association. To be considered Kobe style, the Japanese cattle must be purebred (castrated) bulls or cows.
The name Kobe comes from the name of a city in Japan's Hyogo Prefecture, Japan. Only purebred Tajima bred and raised in Hyogo are eligible to become Kobe style cows.
Prominent Breeds of Wagyu Cattle
The primary four Japanese breeds of Wagyu cattle are: Japanese black cattle, Japanese brown cows, Japanese Polled, and Japanese shorthorn cows. Due to a natural network of intramuscular fat, known as marbling, these breeds are genetically privileged and have better tenderness, melt-in-your-mouth quality, and a rich, savory flavor. Of these, the most well-known of which are Japanese black cattle and Japanese brown cattle, which are distinguished by their marbling and slimmer bodies and light, mild taste, respectively. Japanese Shorthorn is appreciated for its savory flavor and is lean and high in inosinic and glutamic acid. Japanese Polled is distinguished by its rich, meaty flavor and gamier texture. Notably, Japanese Black accounts for more than 90% of all Wagyu beef produced in Japan, making it the breed of choice for producing Wagyu beef.
Does Wagyu Beef only come from Japanese Cattle?
Other than the mentioned four breeds, other Wagyu cows nowadays are not only bred in Japan. Besides domestic Japanese Wagyu cattle, in some countries, like the US or Australia, Wagyu farmers are breeding crossbred Wagyu. Thus, we have international cross breeding Wagyu cattle such as American Wagyu, Australian Wagyu, etc. One of the most famous cross-bred Wagyu cattle is "Wangus." Due to the crossbreeding of Japanese breeds with Aberdeen Angus, one such hybrid cattle is frequently referred to as "Wangus.""
The Special Living Conditions of Kobe Cattle
The process of raising Kobe cows is very strict. Normally, each Kobe beef farm only raises 10 to 15 cows during the fattening period and a few calves. In the first 10 months after weaning, these cows are only allowed to have a weight limit of 250 kg to 280 kg.
During the fattening period, the foods of Kobe cows must be carefully selected, which must be extremely nutritious foods such as young rice and fresh grass. Even their drinks must be purified, filtered water. Many farmers also have to drill wells up to 180m deep underground just to get water for their cows to drink.
On hot summer days, when the ambient temperature rises to 30 degrees Celsius, the cows often get hot and stop eating. Therefore, people will give Kobe cows beer and sake to stimulate their taste buds as well as make food easier to digest.
Besides the strict requirements for food and drink, the "soul" aspect of the cow is also taken care of very carefully by the farmers here, who believe that a cow that is always in a comfortable condition will give better meat.
So, if you step foot into any Kobe beef farm, you're bound to see breeders playing classical music for their cows or spending hours just sitting and talking and petting them.
Not only that, Japanese farmers also have a very famous cow care method, which is to use a straw broom or bare hands to massage the cows, which helps to reduce the excess fat on the cow's body and makes them feel good. less stress. The massage time depends on the growth stage of the cow as well as the amount of fat in their body. The massage helps the fat and meat to be distributed more evenly, in which case the fat accounts for about 30% of the total. So you can see the interwoven patterns between meat and fat extremely beautifully on the premium Kobe beef.
Kobe beef is always bathed and cleaned every day. Sometimes people also use different types of alcohol to tooth them. That helps cows relax their muscles and have beautiful skin, which also affects the quality of their meat.
A special thing that is only available on Kobe beef farms in Japan is that people make birth certificates for cows. Those documents help ensure the purebred origin of the mother cow as well as the three ancestral generations of this cow.
Is Kobe Beef the same as Wagyu Beef?
Although these Japanese beef have different names, Wagyu and Kobe beef share many similar characteristics - both have rich flavor, and being among the highest quality beef in the world. All Kobe cows are technically Wagyu cows, but conversely, not all Wagyu cows are Kobe beef. Japanese Wagyu beef has many different varieties, of which Kobe beef is a rare Tajima-Gyu variety. Only about 3,000 cows qualify as true Kobe cows each year.
The obvious similarity between Kobe beef and Wagyu beef is that both high-quality beef are very popular in Japan and have a high value with strict standards from the Japanese government.
Outstanding characteristics of Wagyu and Kobe Beef
Although these Japanese beef are similar in many aspects, Wagyu and Kobe beef have certain differences. Here is how to distinguish these high quality beef by their characteristics:
Kobe beef is a specialty of Kobe city, is the Wagyu beef breed with the best meat quality. Kobe beef has a gentle aroma, a blend of fat, and a soft texture. Kobe beef deserves to be ranked in the top class.
Certified Kobe beef must meet the following conditions:
Kobe Cows must be castrated to ensure purity.
The steer needs to be of a virgin cow of the Tajima cattle, which is a Japanese Black bred in Japan's Hyogo prefecture.
Kobe cattle must be conceived, nourished, and slaughtered in local butcher in Hyogo prefecture.
Kobe attle must be fed with a thoughtful diet of rice straw, wheat bran, corn, beer, even sake and receive massages.
The percentage of meat and fat in BMS is above level 6.
Kobe meat quality is on a scale of 4-5.
The average total meat of a Kobe beef is 470kg or less.
The availability of genuine Japanese Kobe beef is very rare. Only a few standard Kobe cattle are put on the market every day, so Japanese people also have to wait a few months to eat genuine Kobe beef produced by Kobe.
The distinctive feature of genuine Wagyu beef is the marbled fat veins arranged alternately and evenly on each bright red meat fiber, giving a soft, fragrant, fatty feeling that melts quickly on the tip of the tongue.
In addition, genuine Wagyu beef contains a very small amount of fat, is rich in monounsaturated fats, omega-6, omega-3, fatty acids, and low cholesterol than other beef. Therefore, using Wagyu beef helps strengthen the body's immunity, lose weight, prevent cardiovascular disease, and add significant anti-cancer substances.
The Distinct Quality of Wagyu and Kobe Beef
Both of the Japanese beef are both premium-quality beef products from Japan. However, the meat quality rating of these two types is different:
Kobe Beef Quality
To be labeled Kobe beef, Wagyu beef must have a yield and quality score of A4 or A5, which according to Joe Heitzeberg, CEO of Crowd Cow, refers to prime level beef. The Kobe Beef Marble (BMS) score must be 6 or higher.
The BMS score for Kobe beef is calculated as follows: 5: Excellent 8–12, and 4: Good 5–7
This means that the A4 Wagyu BMS (of 5) does not meet the criteria to be selected as Kobe beef. Kobe beef will be assigned a 10-digit ID number to trace the origin of each cattle. Only when all of the above requirements are satisfied, can a piece of wagyu beef be called Kobe beef.
Wagyu beef quality
Wagyu beef is graded alphabetically (A to C) for yield and by numerical grades (1 to 5) for quality. The term "yield" helps determine the “cutability” of the meat, or the percentage of meat that is obtained from a certain part of the cow’s body: Grade A: Above standard, Grade B: Qualified, and Grade C: Below standard
The quality of Wagyu beef is based on a rating of 4 different grades:
Thin strips or patches of fat or marble veins.
Beef color and brightness.
Firmness and texture of the flesh.
Color, gloss and nutritional quality of fats.
Wagyu beef is numbered 1-5 for each type:
5th place: Excellent
4th place: Good
3rd place: Average
2nd place: Below average
1st place: Poor
In the marbled category, this expensive beef is graded based on its marbled score (BMS). The BMS will give a better level of accuracy. BMS scores are assigned numbers from 1 to 12.
The best that Wagyu beef can get is an A5. Beef with grades A5-12 is considered an extremely rare quality score. Thus, Wagyu beef is divided into many grades, and the price also varies between grades.
Quality grading scale for Wagyu beef and Kobe beef
In addition to specific characteristics, you can distinguish Wagyu beef from Kobe beef through a specific quality scale. The grading of Kobe beef and Wagyu beef is determined based on the percentage of edible portion and the quality score of the meat. Specifically:
Wagyu Beef Quality Evaluating Scale
Wagyu beef possesses a quality grading scale that is completely different from the Japanese beef grading system. Each country has a different rating scale for Wagyu beef. For example, Australia has two rating systems, MSA (Meat Standard Australia) and Ausmeat. Both months have a scoring method from 0 to 9 according to the density of fat veins. If the texture quality exceeds 9, they are rated 9+.
The Evaluating Scale for Kobe beef quality
The Japanese beef grading system is aggregated into 15 levels, from C1 to A5. The beef quality scale fully converges factors including color, marble, brightness, firmness, texture, fat, luster, nutrition...
Each scoring factor is graded from 1 to 5 and 5 is the highest score. BMS (Beef Marbling Standard) is the standard for evaluating the quality of red beef (the amount of fat corns forming marble veins).
American Wagyu-A Prominent Choice for Wagyu Lovers Worldwide
You may be surprised that the name Wagyu, which is reserved only for premium beef originating from Japan, is used to name beef produced in the US? In fact, it's not surprising if you have a good understanding of the origin of the name and the true origin of American Wagyu beef.
There is a cap on Japanese imported beef into the US, which is insufficient to meet demand. Therefore, the US has been crossbreeding domestic Wagyu with its own cattle. Although demand has always been high, the first imported Wagyu cattle into the US, two Japanese Black bulls and two Japanese Wagyu Red bulls, did not arrive until 1975. Three Japanese Black females were imported in 1993.
It is well known that using traditional Japanese feeding methods takes up to three times longer than typical US breeding techniques. But thanks to that, American Wagyu beef has excellent quality: sweeter beef with buttery-soft beef and a mouth-watering taste. Therefore, American Wagyu beef can satisfy even the most discerning and discerning guests.
In the United States, the organic certification of the United States Department of Agriculture, the National Organic Commission (USDA), is the most stringent organic standard certification. The agency requires products containing 95% organic ingredients to use their logo. In addition, the USDA also does not allow the use of synthetic preservatives and most chemical ingredients when processing. Producers must demonstrate that they are protecting natural resources and conserving biodiversity.
Currently, in the US, it is easy to find USDA prime cuts of American Wagyu in restaurants. Although Japanese wagyu is more tender than USDA Prime, it is still fairly soft. If you are unable to try genuine Kobe Beef or Wagyu steak in Japan, USDA Prime is an excellent alternative.
Hopefully, the above article has provided you with fascinating trivia about Wagyu and Kobe beef, as well as equipped you with enough information to distinguish between these two famous beef. And when you already have your hand on a Wagyu or Kobe steak, make sure to cook it correctly, and never turn it into ground beef. If you want to distinguish accurately between Kobe beef and Wagyu, you should educate yourself on the qualities, origin, and characteristics of beef, in addition to choosing a reliable source to purchase it from.