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Guide to Kobe Beef: Why Japanese Kobe Is Unique

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Aug 26, 2020 • 1 min read

Learn about the Japanese beef coveted all over the world.



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What Is Kobe Beef?

Kobe beef is a highly marbled type of Wagyu beef that comes from the Tajima cattle strain of the Japanese Black breed. In addition to the breed of cattle, meat labeled “Kobe” must be born and raised in Hyogo Prefecture and killed in local slaughterhouses. Kobe beef has a Meat Quality Score of 4–5. The Kobe cattle themselves must be heifers or bullocks (aka virgin cows). Only 3,000–5,000 head of cattle meet these restrictions each year.

Where Does Kobe Beef Come From?

Kobe beef must be born, raised, and slaughtered in Japan's Hyogo Prefecture, of which Kobe is the capital city. It's a common misconception that Kobe is a breed of cattle when it's actually a city. For example, when the same breed—Japanese Black cattle—is raised in the Mie Prefecture, it is known as Matsusaka, another highly prized beef.

What Does Kobe Beef Taste Like?

Kobe beef is highly marbled, with a Beef Marbling Score (BMS) of 6 or more. This high marbling ratio means that Kobe is very uniformly fatty. Other beef cattle known for fat marbling include purebred Angus. The melt-in-your-mouth texture of Kobe beef is often emphasized by slicing the beef thinly, as in shabu shabu.

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Kobe vs. Wagyu: What’s the Difference?

All Kobe beef comes from Wagyu cattle, but not all Wagyu beef is Kobe beef. Wagyu is a designation for several Japanese cattle breeds (wa means Japanese and gyu means cattle) known for producing meat with a high level of marbling, including Japanese Black, Japanese Brown, and Japanese Shorthorn. Kobe beef comes from a strain of Japanese Black cattle called Tajima. These Japanese cows (and other Wagyu breeds) are also raised in Australia and the United States, but real Kobe beef, like Champagne, comes from a specific area. Terms like "American Kobe," "domestic Wagyu," and "Kobe-style beef" aren't regulated the way Japanese Wagyu is, so it's nearly impossible to find authentic Kobe beef at steakhouses outside of Japan.

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