Kobe beef just might be the world’s most famous beef. When the average diner reads stories like Eating the World’s Most Expensive Kobe Beef at Tokyo’s Wagyumafia from CNTraveler, by the way, the 12 oz Kobe chateaubriand steak at Wagyumafia sells for $2,500 (!!). It's no wonder people are curious about what makes Kobe beef so special. But, what’s really the difference between Kobe Beef and Wagyu Beef? Many people confuse the two terms, and it’s easy to do.
The short answer to this question is: Kobe beef is Wagyu beef, but not all Wagyu beef qualifies as Kobe beef. Confused yet? Don’t worry, we’re here to break down the details!
Kobe beef vs. Wagyu beef
Let’s start with what Wagyu beef is and what makes it so special. Wagyu is the term for ‘Japanese cow’. More broadly, ‘Wagyu’ is used to describe the four premium breeds of cattle that are used to make this world renowned high-end beef. Of the four breeds used, only the Japanese black can be classified as Kobe beef. But why?
Within the Japanese black breed, there are three bloodlines: Tajima, Kedaka and Shimane. The Tajima line in particular is known for an incredibly high amount of marbling (AKA the stuff that gives the most premium Wagyu beef its soft buttery flavor). Of course, all Wagyu beef is considerably more marbled than other beef, but when you take that level of delicious fatty marbling, and add even more marbling, that’s when you get Tajima Kobe.
Where is Kobe beef from?
Kobe beef is a type of site specific Wagyu beef, meaning it comes from one geographical location. Think of Kobe beef the way you would think of wine: Champagne can only be called Champagne if it’s from that region of France. Burgundy wine, while made from Pinot Noir or Chardonnay grapes, can only come from the Burgundy region of France. Kobe beef is classified the same way.
Authentic Kobe beef must be bred, raised, and harvested in the Hyogo Prefecture. Only 12 bulls in the entire region are part of this highly selective breeding program that’s managed by the government of Hyogo. Because there are so few bulls, that means just 3,000-4,000 cows have the honor of qualifying as Kobe certified beef each year.
And, according to the Michelin Guide, only 10% of this already small number is exported outside of Japan every year.
Kobe Beef is serious business
Connoisseurs of real Kobe beef take their love of this luxury food very seriously. So seriously that when Kobe beef began popping up at restaurants in the US, an undercover investigation was used to determine whether or not the beef these restaurants were serving was actual Kobe beef. The investigation revealed that the restaurants, including the popular McCormick & Schmick’s were not using authentic Kobe beef and a class action lawsuit was filed and subsequently settled.
Is Kobe beef the best Wagyu beef?
For those that love Wagyu beef, it’s all a matter of personal preference. Japan has several noteworthy regions known for producing stellar Wagyu beef: Matsusaka, Kobe, Omi, just to name a few.
No matter which region you buy authentic Wagyu beef from, it’s going to be an unforgettable dining experience.