A quick guide to spotting the real Kobe beef

By on November 10, 2014

Being in Japan means having immediate access to the cream of the crop – the luxurious Kobe beef that attracts attention all over the world for its top grade taste (and a smooth melt-in-your-mouth texture), making all other beef quality pale in comparison. Kobe beef has been known to the western world since January 1, 1868 after the opening of Kobe port in the Meiji era.


Celebrity chefs remain intrigued at the enigmatic appeal of Japan’s highly prized delicacy, the kind not found elsewhere, making the art of transforming a classic steak into a captivating gastronomic creation seem effortless.

There is nothing quite comparable to the level of attention given by Japanese cattle breeders to produce the Kobe beef grade. Cows coming from Hyogo (of which Kobe is the capital city) are fed a unique cocktail of dried pasture forage and grass diet with nutrition-rich supplements added to the mix for flawless marbling (to which the tenderness of the meat is attributed).

Ordering an authentic premium Kobe steak at a restaurant ranges anywhere between 20,000 – 40,000 yen a slice by Tokyo standards. By premium, it means the top level in the hierarchy of Kobe beef.

Why is it so expensive? Luxury comes at a price and in Kobe beef’s case, the price is the result of high production and maintenance costs in preserving purebred Tajima cows’ lineage (since the Edo era) and its rare supply. According to the Kobe Beef Marketing and Distribution Promotion Association of Japan, only 0.06% meat produce is distributed for local consumption.

By Japanese law, only beef with Hyogo origin makes it to the Kobe beef group and is called Wagyu. But make no mistake – not all Wagyus are Kobe. The term Wagyu is also synonymous to Hyogo-patented marbling technique introduced by Japan. The market is now flooded with Wagyu labels from other countries and other regions in Japan seen in restaurant menus but, in reality, labeling these Wagyu  (as marbling technique for cows of non-Hyogo origin) is not at all wrong.

So how does one tell the difference between an authentic Hyogo-bred Kobe beef from the other when dining at a restaurant?

tumblr_ldernm4Ceq1qexylcWagyu beef has intense fat marbling (shimofuri) evenly distributed all around the parts that highly influences texture and gives a distinct refined taste. It also has a higher percentage of monounsaturated fats (sashi) and omega 3 and 6 fatty acids to which its superior taste is attributed. It is lower in cholesterol than ordinary beef. Japan has a unique grading system and its terminology is quite complex. Here are some quick facts.

Weight – Tajima cows are kept at a body weight ranging from 230 kg up to 470 kg, 70 kg in excess of the national standard average weight of 400 kg to meet the acceptable grade. Cows larger than the spec affect the overall quality of meat.

pp_aimg1Export – As of October 2014, Kobe beef has started exporting to Singapore, France, Switzerland, HongKong, USA, and Germany under S Foods, Inc.

Certification – The selection and certification process is rigid. Of 5,500 purebred certified cows a year, only 3,000 make it to Kobe Premium grade. All cows are evaluated on meat-fat proportion and tightness under five rigid marbling tests.

Cow pedigreeWhen dining at a restaurant, ask for a pedigree certification that is made available to customers as proof of authenticity. It indicates – .
Breed: Tajima Gyu is between 28 months and above at an average age of 32 months
Yield score certification- “A” or “B” (Three grades A to C)
BMS score of 6 or higher on the Tajima Gyu Marble Grading Scale of 1-12.
Japanese Meat Grading Association quality grade – 4 or 5 of Scale 1-5
Japanese Chrysanthemum seal
Fine meat texture and excellent firmness

Menu terminology – ‘Wagyu style’ or ‘Kobe style’ is not meat from Hyogo-bred Kobe cows.

kobe steak


Rib eye – similar to Sirloin, deep marbling, high-grade cut
Chuck roll – moderate fat, rich flavour
Tenderloin – tender, fine, rare cut
Shank – almost no fat, deep red colour, rich flavour, makes a better cut for stew or best eaten minced
Striploin – best for steaks, tender and rich taste (Sirloin is a term that originated from an English King knighting a piece of meat)
Rump – soft lean meat, little fat and excellent taste

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