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What's the beef with Kobe beef?

kobe beef sushi

Question:

A foodie blogger gave me crap for putting a burger made with Kobe brisket on my menu. He said it’s not really Kobe beef unless it comes from Japan and now is making a big deal of it. When I order it, it’s just called “Kobe brisket.” 

– Chef, Philadelphia

Answer:

While your blogger may be annoying, he’s actually right. Kobe beef—when used correctly—describes not only the specific breed of cow, but the region where the beef is produced and the methods of production. Kobe is made in the Hyogo region surrounding the city of Kobe, Japan, from the Tajima breed of wagyu beef. The Kobe Beef Marketing and Distribution Promotion Association in Japan certifies true Kobe beef. It is available for export and can be found in the U.S., but not in much supply, at very high prices; and it is only served at a handful of restaurants.

Kobe-style beef, also called American Kobe or Japanese Beef, however, is much more common and is produced in the U.S. as well as elsewhere in Japan and worldwide. That beef is typically made from wagyu and has many characteristics—most notably a lot of soft intramuscular fat (marbling) that makes Kobe beef so melt-in-your-mouth delicious. Since “American wagyu” does not exactly have the same ring among chefs or consumers as “Kobe,” many operators indeed inappropriately use the term Kobe when they mean wagyu.

My advice is not to fight this one—he’s right. The media—especially in truth in menu states—has been exploiting the confusion. In the meantime, stand by your product, which I’m sure is still using great beef. Market the fact that it’s an accessible and delicious option with a lower carbon footprint than true Kobe from the other side of the world.

More on Kobe menu labeling problems here.

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