What is Kobe beef?

Is this just another type of grain-fed beef? Is it just another way of charging more for a “name brand” steak? I’m sure it’s good, but is it better than an Omaha steak?

I remember reading a detailed description in a Japanese restaraunt. Basically the cows are fed a certain way and, IIRC, have beer mixed in with their grain to tenderize the meat. I’m sure Google or Wikipedia would provide a more insightful answer though.

Cows raised in the Japanese style: massaged with sake, fed with beer, etc etc.


Kobe beef is wagyuu (Japanese cattle breed) “finished” in Kobe (a city in the Kansai area of Japan). Due to the lack of open space, the cattle are raised elsewhere, then shipped to Kobe, where they are fed and cared for, then slaughtered.

Jeffery Steingarten explains a bit more about the process of raising Kobe beef in The Man Who Ate Everything.

It’s different from any kind of American beef I’ve ever seen. It’s very well-marbled, and the marbling is so fine that it appears pink at times. I’ve had small portions of it cooked as part of a multi-course meal. It was fantastic - buttery, rich, juicy. It was served rare but with a wonderful seared crust all around it.

Yes, at long last, my favourite topic came up.

First, we need to jump back to the mid-19th century. Japan has just opened its ports to the rest of the world and Westerner start coming into the country. At the time, for various reasons, cows were strictly used in rice paddies and such.

With the wave of Europeanisation that came with the Meiji restoration, people started eating beef. Various western cow breeds were imported and bred with the native Japanese cows. Nowadays most of the “Japanese beef” sold here is of such mixted pedigree.

The Tajima area, now in Hyogo prefecture, had always been known for the high quality of its cows. The earliest mention of Tajima beef is in the Shoku-Nihongi, a book compiled in 797 CE. They were popular because they were small and very robust, which made them well-suited for farm work.Europeans who arived in Kobe (now in southern Hyogo) noticed that Tajima beef also tasted pretty damn good.

While most other regions sought to improve the taste of their beef by breeding them with imported beef, Tajima breeders did so by selecting individuals only from within the existing Tajima herds. Tajima beef has thus, unlike most other Japanese beef, a “pure” Japanese pedigree.

People in Japan didn’t take to eating beef very quickly. One of the strategies that producers came up with, to try and boost their sales, was the introduction of brands. A group of producers would team up and set a number of guidelines that are to be followed for an animal to be approved for the brand.

The three most prestigious brands are: Kobe, Matsuzaka and Omi, with Matsuzaka sometimes considered the absolute best. There are in addition dozens of other brands. (Hida beef is produced around where I live.) Each of these brands have different rules. Those for Kobe beef are as follows:
-Must be a Tajima cow born in Hyogo prefecture.
[li]Must be raised in Hyogo by a member of the Kobe Beef Association.[/li][li]Must be a castrated male or a female that has never given birth.[/li][li]Must weight less than 450 kg.[/li][li]Must have a BMS rank of 6 or more.[/ul][/li]
The BMS rank is a qualitative measure of the meat marbling. By comparison, rules for Matsuzaka beef are a bit more strict, requiring virgin females of three years or less. Matsuzaka, Kobe and Omi beef are all, however, Tajima cows born in Hyogo.

So now you wonder, where does beer fit into all this? As it turns out, meeting the meat quality requirements for the top brands is very difficult. As a result, there are a number of practices that aren’t rules but are nevertheless followed by many producers.

The two main factors that affect meat quality negatively are stress and irregular feeding patterns. Producers thus try to keep the cows’ apetites constant while raising them in a stress-free environment. Giving the animals beer stimulates their digestive system and is used to control their apetite.

The so-called massages are really vigorous scrubbings that help keep the cows clean, healthy and relaxed.

In short, “Kobe beef” is simply beef that has met the requirements listed above.

But according to a friend who spent a month in Japan for work, the locals in Kobe do NOT eat Kobe beef as a delicacy. Instead, they swear by another region’s beef (which it is, I don’t remember right now). According to my friend, they are right to do so.

think your friend was a bit confused. Kobe brand is the standard delicacy beef in and around Kobe. That’s not to say some people don’t buy Matsuzaka beef, which some people hold as the absolute best.

Japanese? I thought Kobe beef was a hotel delecacy that certain basketball players help themselves to in Utah :dubious: j/k

Dammit, Starguard! I was all over that one! Well DONE! :stuck_out_tongue:

How does stress change the beef? And what are the imlications for stress in my life? :slight_smile: Not that I plan to be served to cannibals, but what’s the stress doing to these physical development of these cows, and me? :cool:

Stress affects the amount of glycogen in the meat, which affects its post-mortem pH levels, which affects its quality.

From here:

Thank you for the great answers guys! Now the practical question for those that have eaten it, is it worth paying an arm and a leg? I’ve seen it for up to $50 a pound. :eek: BTW, anyone looking for some online can find a decent selection here.

Beware, none of the meat that is sold there appears to be the real deal. Notice how they say “Kobe-style” and “American-raised”. Kobe beef cannot be American-raised, by definition. Also compare the marbling of that meat with the real stuff.

See, they’re just selling regular Japanese beef and calling it “Kobe”. Don’t waste your money. Here, that’s just everyday stuff, nothing high-class.

Now, if you happen to come pay us a visit, I do think it might be a good idea to try it. Like RindaRinda wrote, it’s completely different from “regular” beef, both in taste and in consistency. It’s not the kind of stuff you eat huge quantities of. You also don’t prepare it the same way you would with North American beef.

BTW Matsuzaka beef sirloin goes for about 10,000 yen a pound - about 90$. That’s uncooked, at the butcher’s.

Jovan thanks for the comparative pictures, I had been considering tryin the USA made Kobe style beef, now it is clear that it is in the fine tradition of US Cheddar Cheese and US Budweiser beer (ie a poor immitation of the real thing).

Even in Japan there appears to be different levels of quality within the brands. I have had the pleasure of enjoying Kobe, Matsuzaka and Omi at different restaurants mostly in Tokyo and Osaka. Although I do enjoy teppanyaki, I must say I have a particular weakness for shabu-shabu. Anyway, it has always been excellent and the way it just seems to melt in your mouth is just heavenly. Yet back in 1999, we had just closed a huge contract. To celebrate, we went to a shabu-shabu restaurant in the Akasaka-Mitsuke area in Tokyo.
First the meat was presented uncut for selection. There was quite a selection of all three brands, but the price range seemed exponential. Anyway, the priciest was selected and I must say, this was the absolute tastiest beef I have ever had in my mouth and I have tried Kobe before and since. Five years on and I can still remember that incredible beef. For those not familiar with Shabu-shabu, the beef is cut into paper-thin slices. You dip this ever so lightly in boiling water set on the table, two quick dips, in no way do you want the meat well done. Shabu-shabu is actually an Onomatopoeia for the sound of dipping said meat quickly into the boiling water. (By the way, the water has some seaweed in it as a soup base of sorts although I think all it does is add some natural sea salts and minerals, it hardly seems to flavor the water much at all). After the dip in the water, you can then dip in a choice of sesame sauce or soy based “ponsu” sauce. Then place in mouth and just let it melt. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.
The price tag for this evening of heavenly beef? About JPY500,000 for five people or close to US$1000 per head. Mind you, that included a lot of sake and additional dishes. Did I mention we closed a huge deal?
You don’t need to spend that much on Kobe beef, this just happened to be a cut above the rest.

Excuse me, need to go check when my next trip to Japan will be.

[hijack]Shabu-shabu can also be ¥1500 a person, all-you-can-eat for 90 minutes. :slight_smile: The Mo-Mo Paradise chain of restaurants comes to mind, for instance.[/hijack]

Another vote for Kobe/Matsuzaka/Omi beef tasting utterly unlike anything I’ve ever had in North America. I can’t say that I’ve ever had a big, American-sized Kobe steak, but I’ve had it at izakayas and nice restaurants on several occasions.


We’re headed to Kyoto in July! The wife and I are renewing our vows in a traditional Japanese ceremony - all her family will be there.
Just the pictures of the spread we arranged for the reception have me drooling!
Of course, this will include a serving of Kobe beef (not the truly outrageous stuff, but very good none the less).

I can’t wait!

I think it’s worth saving up for as a special treat. Luckily, I live near Kobe, so I can find restaurants that serve it at reasonable prices.

From what I’ve read, it’s not a good idea to buy some and cook it yourself. If you screw up, it won’t taste good and you’ll have wasted a lot of money. Its fat content is something like 20% - its structure is completely different than regular beef. If you do cook it at home, you’ll need to sear it quickly using a hot cast-iron pan. You can’t allow all the fat to melt and run off. The meat shouldn’t be cooked hotter than medium rare.

I don’t think you’ll be able to cook it shabu-shabu style at home, unless you know a butcher that will cut the meat into paper-thin slices.

Seriously, if you can find genuine Kobe beef and cook it at home, you’ll need to do some research on the cooking method.

I hate to disapoint you but most Kobe beef is raised in that most Japanese of all places California!

Now because the cows have not spent any time in the Prefecture of Kobe any of this meat sold here cannot be called Kobe Beef. It can be called Kobe Style Beef.
same cows, no beer.

That site makes a number of embarassing mistakes. First, there’s no such thing as “Kobe prefecture”. Kobe is a city in Hyogo prefecture. Second, they claim “the word Wagyu refers to all Japanese beef cattle.” That’s confusing. Wagyu refers to all cattle that has genes of the ancestral Japanese breeds. Kokusangyu refers to all cattle produced in Japan, including non-wagyu breeds like Holstein.

Third, they state: "The Tattori Black Wagyu is the strain which is most closely identified with Kobe Beef. " It’s Tottori, not Tattori. Mostly, though, it’s wrong. Kobe beef and Tottori Kuroge Wagyu are two different, unrelated brands. The breed closely associated with Kobe beef is Tajima.

Mostly, though, the claim that most Kobe beef is raised in California is false. Again, by definition, to be called “Kobe beef” an animal must:
[ul][li]Be a Tajima cow born, raised and slaughtered in Hyogo prefecture…[/li][li]By a member of the Kobe Beef association. (Kobe niku ryutsu suishin kyogikai.)[/ul][/li]
The article is talking about standard wagyu being raised abroad. It can be made like Kobe beef (hence “Kobe-style”) but Kobe beef it ain’t. This article, from the same site is better. Notice:

This, in comparison to the California-raised “Kobe-style” beef.

That being said, with the recent mad-cow related import limitations, things are probably different.