What’s All the Rage With Kobe Beef?

The perfectly tinged slabs of Kobe beef demonstrate the exquisite taste and luxurious quality that goes into making this Japanese delicacy.

In Japan, Kobe beef is recognized as a legendary delicacy, renowned for its exquisite taste and luxurious quality. However, prior to 1868 the consumption of beef, moreover any meat derived from a four legged animal, was strictly prohibited for the Japanese population (Longworth). Because of the Buddhist traditions popularly practiced during this period, ingestion of meat was considered a form of taboo, and thus restriction of meat from the everyday diet became an accepted norm. Following the Meiji Restoration in 1868, dietary restrictions began to transform. The new leaders of Japan wanted to reduce the powers of the Buddhist traditions by lifting their long held ban on the consumption of beef, and encourage the adoption of modern Western beliefs (Frazier).

Western cuisine provided many of the essential nutrients for the human body that traditional Japanese diet lacked and allowed the growth of a sophisticated style of dining. The typical diet of a majority of Japan consisted of rice, vegetables and seafood, traditionally eaten by way of hashi, the Japanese term for chopsticks (Longworth). Westernization influenced the transition of incorporating the fork and knife at the dining table. In addition, a wide variety of beef became available and integrated into the everyday Japanese diet. “From the Meiji period onwards, familiarity with things Western and, by extension, dining in Western style came to be regarded as a sign of sophistication and signified social prestige” (Cwiertka 23). Beef was heavily correlated with wealth and health because it provided a complete protein rich source for energy of the body, as well as many supplemental nutrients.

Kobe beef is derived from specific parts of the Tajima cattle.

Kobe beef is derived from specific parts of the Tajima cattle.

The exceptional taste of Kobe beef stems from a long history of breeding and mastering techniques to perfection. Traditionally, beef comes from a type of cattle called Wagyu, meaning “very old beef” in Japanese (Longworth). Through decades of selective breeding four types of Waygu cattle exist, including Japanese Brown, Japanese Black, Japanese Poll and Japanese Shorthorn. Kobe beef, on the other hand, refers to beef specifically cut from exact proportions of the Tajima breed of cow and “to gain Kobe certification the cows must be born, raised and slaughtered in Hyogo Prefecture, and the meat is never exported” (Joe). Such high standards for quality control of Kobe beef allows only about 1.2 million kilos of Kobe beef to be produced a year. Thus, its limited availability accounts for its expensive price. Techniques such as marbling are also employed, which can be defined as the cuts of the slices of meat that expose the fine running lines of white fat through the beef, allowing the flavorful and tenderness qualities of each bite. Furthermore, the technique of “massaging the cattle with sake and feeding them beer” was developed to ensure the “superior flavor, fat, and tenderness of Japanese Kobe beef” (Frazier).

A specific technique knows as "marbling" ranked the slices of Kobe beef at different standards.

A specific technique knows as “marbling” ranked the slices of Kobe beef at different standards.

For decades, sales and consumption of Kobe beef was strictly enclosed within Japan. With such a high demand for Kobe beef in countries outside of Japan, the introduction of Kobe Beef America, Inc. was founded, permitting quantities of high quality Kobe beef to be available in other countries at affordable prices (Kobe Beef). This cooperation produces prime quality Kobe beef in limited amounts that is distributed to select restaurants and retail outlets, guaranteeing the meat is handled and prepared to the ultimate dining satisfaction (Kobe Beef). Additionally, the importation of Kobe specific breeds of cattle to other countries has allowed the spread and popularization of Kobe beef in other countries. The growing availability have Kobe beef around the world allows everyone the opportunity to experience the hype of the “melt in your mouth” taste of Kobe beef.

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