Tag Archives: Kobe Beef

The significance of Kobe Beef

YoungEun Kim

Mcknight, A.

Japanese 70 – Dis 1C

18 December 2013

Extra Credit

The Kobe Beef is an extremely tender and full-flavored, it is a high quality of beef from cattle raised in Kobe in Japan. The history of Kobe beef begins with the importation of wagyu cattle into the isolated Kobe region before 1868. It is also called as Wagyu beef which means Japanese, orJapanese-style cattle. In the United States, there is Choice or Prime for beef, Kobe beef is usually two grades higher than them. The Japanese feed grains, beer and the cow gets a massage regularly to make cow’s meat become tenderer. untitled                                                        “Japanese feed a beer to cow for Kobe beef”

Even though it has more fat than other meats, the content of cholesterol is lesser than others. In Japan, the highest grade one is around 300hundreds dollars in 200g. Some people is going to say it is too expensive to eat, but the gourmet people will love to eat. In the U.S., Kobe beef producing cattle ave been crossbred with American cattle, and Kobe beef produced in the U.S. is generally less expensive than in Japan. Kobe beef sells for over $100 a pound in Japan. Most believe that although the Kobe beef in America is good, genuine Kobe beef can still only be found in Japan. The reason why Kobe beef is expensive and popular is that it is rare, and producing it is an expensive, time consuming process.

There are three main factors that make Kobe beef so tender and succulent. The Wagyu breed of cattle, the regular massaging of the cow to blend the fat into the muscle, and the diet of beer given to the cow to stimulate appetite. If you ever get a chance to look at a cut of Kobe beef before it is cooked, you will notice that fat is interspersed in the meat in tiny pockets. How they are able to do this is still very weird to me, but it makes the steak taste so good and better. The most important thing in Kobe beef is providing health benefits to people. It has not only low calories, but also good protein, value of iron, low fat and low sodium. Since the fat has a bad reputation, consumers prefer to find a Kobe beef than other meets. According to research results from Pennsylvania State University, “the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Researchers concluded that eating monounsaturated fatty acids are better for your heart than eating special diets with lean products. The research also shows that Wagyu meat can actually help to reduce cholesterol levels. Wagyu beef is visually striking because of its wonderful marbling” (Pennsylvania State University). The Kobe beef is the best teak to not only gourmet people, but also the people. I would like to have a meal with delicious even though it is expensive, and I really look forward to eating the Kobe beef one day.

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Kobe Beef, Meat That “Milt-In-Mouth”

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Tajima Cattle

People may have heard the term “Kobe Beef” over and over times, and some may even have tasted it already, but what is “Kobe Beef”? “Kobe Beef” is the beef cut from cattles that are primarily raised in Hyogo Prefecture, Japan. The “Kobe Beef” as known in today are mainly refers to beef that is cut from Tajima cattle, a breed of black Japanese cattle.

There are many stories regard to the discovery of “Kobe Beef”, but this one is fairly reasonable. In late Tokugawa Shogunate, killing cattle was once prohibited in Japan as an order directly from the Emperor. Along with the prohibition and addition to eat beef was not a cultural thing for Japanese people, “Kobe Beef” was not renowned by Japanese people. As the decadence of Tokugawa Shogunate in late 19 century, many foreign merchants entered Japan, and as their culture that beef is one of their main diet, they squeezed under the law and discovered the taste of “Kobe Beef” was terrific. After that, the beef with its trademark “Kobe” becomes distinguished from other beef brands and renowned to the world.

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“Kobe Beef” barbeque
(caption from koubegyu.net)

In United States, it’s not hard to find a restaurant that has “Kobe Beef” in their menu. However, according to USDA, between 2010 and 2012, “Kobe Beef” was banned from import to United States due to concern of certain diseases that may in the meat. If the restaurants input names in menus as Wagyu, it’s definitely fine because the U.S. has imported and domestically raised Wagyu for years. Wagyu, by its word to word definition, it means Japanese cattle. And importantly, there is no equal sign between Wagyu and “Kobe Beef”. “Kobe Beef”, by its significances, follows several strict rules, such as the beef must be processed in slaughterhouses that in designated locations in Japan and the meat quality must score above 4 and etcetera. The trademark is authorized only to the beef that fulfills all required conditions. Thus, there can’t be any authentic “Kobe Beef” used in restaurants in restricted time period in United States.

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A5 class “Kobe Beef” sirloin steak
(caption from koubegyu.net)

Unlike other beef, “Kobe Beef” has a low melting point, and this leads to whoever has tasted it describes it as “melt-in-mouth”. The farming techniques that use to raise Tajima cattle somehow is a myth; mostly spread is that the farmers feed the cattle with beer and give them massage by human hand. And the selection of cattle that are going to send to the slaughterhouse must be virgin cattle, the reason behind this is to avoid milk stink in beef. Despites of myths around farming strategies, most of people agree the beef does “milt-in-mouth” if it’s cooked properly and does taste way better than other beefs. The demand for “Kobe Beef” is growing, however, the supply from Japan can’t equilibrate with the global demand. Because of shortage in supply, the price of the beef has increased extremely high; according to a domestic Japanese online market, a 200g (about 7oz.) sirloin “Kobe Beef” costs 7,350 yen with tax (about 73 dollars). “Kobe Beef” is certainly becomes superior, upscale and must-try meat for meat lovers.

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.

Kobe Beef: Its Origin and Foreign Prestige

Kobe beef is considered the epitome of fine dining, as it is renowned for its superior flavor, tenderness, and perfectly distributed fat that gives it its famous marbled appearance. Originally it comes from the Tajima-gyu breed of cattle found in Japan’s Hyōgo Prefecture, of which Kobe is the capital and the meat’s namesake. It is this geographical factor that can be attributed to having produced this beef as the mountainous terrain isolated the region where ranchers could no longer breed the Wagyu with other types of cattle. Instead, they were able to selectively breed a species that was genetically predisposed to the marbling that Kobe beef has become synonymous with. Along with the herd isolation, distinctive feeding techniques are also said to have led to unique differences in the taste and texture of the beef. The treatment of the cattle and the secrets behind achieving the quality of Kobe beef seem kept under secrecy by the Japanese ranchers but there are particular stories that have surfaced that have reached an almost urban legend status. The first being that the cows are given beer to induce appetite. The second is that in addition to this special diet, they are massaged daily as a substitute for exercise. While there is no hard evidence to suggest that any of these techniques improve flavor or texture, they certainly give the imagery of the cows living opulent lifestyles, adding to the decadence of Kobe beef.

Premium Kobe beef with a "chrysanthemums stamp" proving its authenticity

Premium Kobe beef with a “chrysanthemums stamp” proving its authenticity

With its reputation for excellence, it is unsurprising that the popularity of Kobe beef has extended past the borders of Japan. In the past, however, there have been strict laws that prohibited the export of any Japanese Wagyu cattle. Hence, despite what many restaurants claim to be Kobe beef on their menus, it is disappointingly not the meat that fulfills the strict lineage of Tajima-gyu or to the standards of excellence to actually be considered true Kobe beef. In fact, “the American distributor of Kobe beef is Freemont Beef Co. of Freemont, Neb. Laun Hinkle, Fremont’s sales manager, insists restaurant goers should ask to see proof of authenticity before ordering any meat described on the menu as ‘Kobe beef’.”(Daley, Chicago Tribune) So why are people willing to go to such lengths and pay exorbitant amounts of money to find real Kobe beef? According to Hinkle, “the Japanese have done an excellent job of marketing it like caviar and high-end wines. Also there’s a very, very limited supply, only about 3,000 animals a year.”(Daley) In fact, it is this rarity of the meat and the strict monopoly Japan has on exporting its cattle that has made it so prestigious outside of Japan and has prompted it to become a delicacy. Additionally, the lore of Kobe beef is what makes it special as the stories surrounding its production give it an air of mystery while additionally ensuring that no other rancher can mimic exactly the techniques needed to achieve such a high quality meat. It is precisely in the lengthy and rich lineage of the cattle, the mystery of the treatment of these cows, and the sheer scarcity of the meat that illustrates the prestige and popularity of the beef and makes Kobe beef such a treasured cuisine both within and beyond Japan’s borders.

Kobe Beef and Its Prestige

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Kobe beef is known for its marble pattern.

Originally, cattle were not native to Japan. When cattle were introduced in the country later on, they were initially used for the purpose of helping with labor. In addition to working as animal laborers, cattle held a role in some spiritual rituals. This role of the animals in spiritual rituals and the banning of consuming beef in Japan resulted from Buddhist philosophy and beliefs. The attitude towards beef has changed significantly in Japan since its first introduction. Now, the higher grade of beef, known as Kobe beef, has spread through Japan and to other countries due to its origin and quality.

Because of natural geographical barriers, such as mountains, cattle breeds were able to evolve separately amongst each other. Kobe beef comes from Tajima cattle located primarily in Hyogo prefecture (Staley).  The beef is famously known for its marbling. Marbling refers to the intramuscular flat in the beef that gives a “marbled” appearance. Kobe beef is also said to have a different texture, tenderness, and taste than other beef. These characteristics may be attributed to the raising of the cattle while still alive. Japanese cattle ranchers limit the animals’ range and feed it a particular diet of grains. Since the 1940s, the Kobe Beef Marketing and Distribution Promotion Association have overseen the production of Kobe beef. Authentic Kobe beef is now stamped with a seal so consumers now they are purchasing real Kobe beef. Consumers also often pay much more for Kobe beef in contrast to other types of beef.

Kobe beef is now a symbol of Japan. The great lengths taken to produce and distribute Kobe beef are due to the meat exclusively coming from Japan. In present times, Kobe beef has risen as a prestigious delicacy in other countries. The meat has presented itself as an exotic and, therefore enticing, dish outside Japan. It is much harder to come across Kobe beef in places like North America and Europe because it is native to Japan. The exclusivity of this food is a reason for the larger demand. Even though there is larger demand, the amount of authentic Kobe beef available for consumption is much less, making it even more desired. Kobe beef is also ranked so highly that it exceeds the grading of the USDA scale (Staley). Hence, Japanese beef quality is of a higher caliber. Some beef has even been mislabeled outside of Japan as Kobe beef so it can sell.

Despite the original beef consumption bans, the association of wealth and luxury to the food caused for the lifting of those bans. A once barbaric-like practice in Japan has been embraced (Cwiertka). The changing beliefs in Japan about food items for consumption has led to significant differences in what Japanese eat today. The above standard quality of the beef in Japan has also made it into a desirable dish throughout the globe. Overall, beef is now part of Japanese cuisine. Kobe beef, in particular, has now transformed into a world-renowned delicacy that is representative of Japan. 

The Truth About Kobe Beef

Image by Kobe Beef Marketing & Distribution Promotion Association (www.kobe-niku.jp)

Image by Kobe Beef Marketing & Distribution Promotion Association (www.kobe-niku.jp)

Cattle are not native to the island of Japan and no one knows exactly when they arrived, but historical records like the Zoku Nihonki and Kokugyu Juzu first indicate their presence during the Kofun Jidai (Tatsumi). According to the Nihon Shoki, Buddhism was also introduced and slowly matriculated Japanese society during this same period (1213, par. 2). Buddhist doctrine strictly prohibited the eating of meat and cattle were strictly used for spiritual rituals and manual labor (Wagyu). Furthermore, the emperors of Japan issued a series of decrees banning meat consumption entirely (Wagyu). Consequently, aside from “so”, a dairy product eaten by aristocrats between the 8th and 10th centuries, beef products were absent from the Japanese diet until the mid-19th century when all laws prohibiting the consumption of beef were lifted (Wagyu).

As beef began to gain in popularity, clearly distinct Japanese beef dishes began to evolve and there was a sudden spike in beef consumption for the first time. As a result, during the Meiji era foreign breeds of cattle were imported and interbreed with “native” cattle to increase their overall quality and yield (Wagyu). Subsequently, four unique hybridized breeds of cow emerged – the Japanese Brown found in Kumamoto and Oichi prefectures, the Japanese Polled found in Yamaguchi prefecture, the Japanese Shorthorn found in cool northern prefectures like Tohoku and Hokkaido and lastly the Japanese Black which is found throughout Japan (Wagyu).

Image by Kobe Beef Marketing & Distribution Promotion Association (www.kobe-niku.jp)

Image by Kobe Beef Marketing & Distribution Promotion Association (www.kobe-niku.jp)

Unlike most countries that prefer a lean cut of beef, the Japanese prefer theirs to be fattier with a characteristic “shimofuri” webbed marbling effect. Of the four types of Japanese cattle, the Japanese Black has been noted for its ability to retain a fattier content and is typically selected for beef production. In order for this marbling affect to occur, Japanese farmers prohibit their cattle from pasture grazing and partaking in regular exercise that would promote muscle development (Wagyu). They are raised in small byres from birth until they reach approximately 32 months old and fed high quality diets ensuring a succulent and tender meat (Kobe). Since the Japanese beef industry cannot compete with foreign beef markets, Japanese farmers are dedicated to rearing the highest quality beef possible (Wagyu). Through this quality initiative, Japanese beef has gained in popularity and the “Kobe Beef” phenomena thus began.

From the early Meiji era onwards, “gyunabe” and other meat dishes began to appear on the dining tables of Japanese families. Yet, until the late 1970’s, the clear distinction between “Kobe beef” and common supermarket grade meat was not clearly defined (Kobe). There was no way to prove if the meat you purchased as “Kobe beef” was actually real, authentic “Kobe beef”. This was the driving force behind producers, meat distributors and consumers joining forces to establish the Kobe Beef Marketing & Distribution Promotion Association in 1983 (Kobe).

Kobe Beef Stamp

Image by Kobe Beef Marketing & Distribution Promotion Association (www.kobe-niku.jp)

Through this initiative a strict serialized breeding system was implemented and tending sites were designated within Hyogo prefecture (Kobe). Furthermore, a severe twelve point meat marbling standard was established to grade the “shimofuri” consistency (Kobe). Once the beef has been screened and processed, only the highest quality beef gets stamped by the trademarked chrysanthemum seal from the Kobe Beef Marketing & Distribution Promotion Association (Kobe).

The Kobe Beef Marketing & Distribution Promotion Association states that their “Kobe Beef” is unique due to “…a harmony of delicate, dignified sweet lean meat and the taste and fragrance of melt-in-your-mouth fat. The “sashi” fatty content of the meat itself will actually begin to dissolve at low temperatures. This means that it will literally melt in your mouth. An abundant content of inosinic and oleic acids have also been scientifically proven to add to its outstanding flavor.”  (Kobe)

In the United States, wagyu is frequently misrepresented as “Kobe Beef”. Wagyu is raised in many regions of Japan, Australia and the United States. “Kobe Beef”, on the other hand, can only come from Hyogo Prefecture (Freemont). Currently the Freemont Beef Company is the only authorized importer of “Kobe Beef” to the United States (Freemont). As of October 2013, the Kobe Beef Marketing & Distribution Promotion Association has only exported 508 pounds of “Kobe Beef” to the Freemont Beef Company for American consumption (Kobe). With this staggeringly low amount being exported, it is highly unlikely that the average American consumer has ever eaten authentic “Kobe Beef” at their local neighborhood eating establishment.

With the inception of the Kobe Beef Marketing & Distribution Promotion Association, many breeders of non tajimagyu breeds have begun to revolutionize their breeding methods to compete with the booming “Kobe Beef” market. Due to this domestic demand for even higher quality meats, the “All-Japan Wagyu Olympics” is held to identify the healthiest and most productive Japanese black stud bull bloodline (Wagyu). In October 2012, thirty eight prefectures competed in the 10th annual “All-Japan Wagyu Olympics” with the hidagyu breed from Miyazaki prefecture claiming best bull, thus, ousting “Kobe Beef” from their top honors.

10th Annual "All-Japan Wagyu Olympics" Image by NHK World Education Corporation

10th Annual “All-Japan Wagyu Olympics”
Image by NHK World Education Corporation

In closing, “Kobe Beef” has become synonymous with the Japanese beef industries perseverance for quality and flavor despite its recent loss at the “All-Japan Wagyu Olympics”. This is in part due to its popularity amongst foreign countries and commercialization through western media outlets. Unfortunately, it has also become a title frequently used by western free enterprise to loosely identify any wagyu breed slaughtered for commercial sale. As most consumers are inexperienced with the Kobe Beef Marketing & Distribution Promotion Association’s severe grading criteria, they will continue to be duped by the American restaurant industry into paying enormous amounts of money for an inferior mislabeled product.