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The Differences Between Kobe and Wagyu Beef

The Differences Between Kobe and Wagyu Beef

Tuesday, 24 November 2015 11:17:52 Europe/London

In a nutshell, all Kobe is Wagyu but not all Wagyu is Kobe. Make sense? If not, allow us to explain further -Wagyu literally means ‘Japanese cow’ and Kobe cattle are reared in a particular part of Japan; Kobe. That is the fundamental difference, but read on to find out what that actually means in terms of the steak you find on your plates and the substantial variances in quality and taste.

Some Keywords and Definitions of Kobe and Wagyu Beef

-   Kobe – A city in Japan and the capital of the Hyōgo Prefecture. Much like Champagne is to France and Parma is to Italy, Kobe is a term that cannot be imitated.

-   Wa – Japanese

-   Gyu – Cow

-   Wagyu – Japanese cattle. Japanese cattle consist of four breeds: Japanese Black, Brown, Poll and Shorthorn.

-   Tajima-Gyu – The cow, which is a Japanese black breed that the Kobe beef comes from.

-   Japanese meat quality score – Wagyu beef is graded from one to five, and all Japanese meat is strictly rated  and the quality scores or Beef Marble Score (BMS) are derived from four different factors: colour and brightness; fat colour, lustre and quality; firmness and texture; and of course marbling. 

What is Kobe Beef?

Japanese law states that Kobe beef can only originate from the Hyōgo Prefecture, of which Kobe is the capital city. The cows are raised and fed on a highly specialised diet, with some farmers known to give sake (Japanese wine) and beer to the animals in the hope of increased marbling.

To be authentically certified as Kobe beef, the following criteria must be met:

-   Cattle must be pure lineage Tajima, between 28-60 months age, and born, raised and slaughtered in the Hyōgo Prefecture.

-   Japanese meat quality of score > 4 (/5)

-   Beef Marble Score  (BMS) > 6 (/12)

-   Has the ‘Japanese Chrysanthemum’ official Kobe seal.

This process is so rigorously policed, that every piece of meat sold in shops and restaurants must have a unique ten digit code that identifies it to the exact Tajima-Gyu cow! It is due to this amount of regulating and hard work, that one; it tastes so good – the common comment made on high grade Kobe beef is that you can slice through it with only a butter knife due to the succulence, and two; it is very rare and pricey. For an authentic Kobe fillet steak in a top restaurant, you will be looking north of £300 and that would be for a cut off with a low BMS.

Approximately 3000 cattle annually make the grade for Kobe beef certification. Around 30 leave Japan for export. That stat alone tells you all you need to know about the scarcity of Kobe beef. 

What is Wagyu Beef?

Wagyu (also quite commonly known as kobe-style in the UK) were originally animals used in agriculture only, and were famed for their physical endurance. The fittest cows and cattle were bred together, resulting in cattle with naturally high intra-muscle fat, otherwise known as marbling. It was this marbling that provided the cattle with boundless energy, and is also why nowadays, wagyu beef (also known as Kobe-style) is so highly sought after because of the taste the marbling gives off.

Not all Wagyu comes from Japan anymore though, in the 90’s, the first Wagyu cattle began to get exported to Australia, where they were bred with Angus cattle and fed on diets almost identical to what was being given to the ones in Japan. As more and more came over, the cattle being produced became closer and closer to being a truly authentic product. Japan have now stopped exporting Wagyu cattle, but Australian ranches are home to the finest Wagyu in the world outside of Japan. The breed is also bred in the USA and UK now, however both the American and British Wagyu are not up to antipodean quality levels.  

It is universally accepted now, that Wagyu cattle are the number one breed for marbling, tenderness and carcass quality. Even cross-bred Wagyu, when fed and looked after properly consistently top the tables for prime, quality grade beef. It is noted, that the Australian strain of Wagyu cattle have notably smaller muscles than the Japanese, but the difference in price far outweighs the issue with that.

Where To Try and Where to Buy Wagyu & Kobe Beef?

Currently Kobe beef can only be found in an exclusive set of high end restaurants across the UK, with SushiSamba in the Heron Tower and Engawa in Piccadilly being our particular favourites.

Wagyu beef however, is more widely available and as well as being found at many top restaurants, is also available to the public at certain select online butchers, of which Tom Hixson are one.

As a side note, the majority of UK sold Wagyu, is ‘Kobe-style’, which is a term used to trick customers into thinking they are purchasing the real thing. Kobe-style beef is not of the requisite authentic Kobe quality and is normally a breed of Wagyu cattle cross bred with another variety.

We stock a range of cuts of Black Japanese Wagyu, including wagyu brisket, wagyu sirloin and even halal wagyu rib eye and halal sirloin cuts.  As mentioned, this doesn’t come cheap, but quality never does.

For those looking for an introduction to Wagyu, our wagyu burgers are substantially cheaper but still pack all of the flavour and succulence associated with the luxury cattle brand.

Posted in Foodie News By

Emma Pearson

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