Two names and a dilemma
If we’re talking about fullblood stock, Kobe and Wagyu are the same thing. But why are there two names?
In the second century, people brought cows from China and raised them to work in Japan’s mountainous rice fields. These small, isolated herds created unique genetic qualities.
In time, Europeans came along and cross-bred these working cows with existing breeds. The resulting herds created four distinct breeds of cattle, all of which are known as Wagyu (meaning “Japanese Cow”).
Kobe is a type of Wagyu specifically bred from the Tajima strain of the Japanese Black breed. The meat is known for its light color, intense marbling, and LDL-lowering oleic acid. This buttery, tender meat is a delicacy.
Similar to champagne from France, the “Kobe” name is trademarked in Japan. Named for the vibrant Japanese port city, it applies only to cows bred, born, raised, and processed in this region—just 3,000 per year—that meet highest standards set by the Kobe Beef Marketing and Distribution Promotion Association.
As a consumer of high-quality beef, you can be misled into thinking you’re buying 100% Kobe or Wagyu when you’re not.
The first reason is that the Kobe name is trademarked only in Japan, but not internationally. This means any country can label meat “Kobe” even if it isn’t from Japan. Even if it doesn’t meet the region’s quality standards.
The second reason is cross-breeding. In the US, many ranches crossbreed Wagyu with Angus and lable it as “American-Style Kobe Beef.” It is still delicious, but not the same as full-blood.
How to find the real deal
If you’re traveling in Japan, be sure to indulge. In the US, you can visit one of nine restaurants that carry Kobe from Japan. If you’re buying Wagyu online, we like Morgan Ranch in Nebraska as they breed and process the beef themselves. (We breed 100% Wagyu stock too, but we don’t sell the meat.)
At restaurants, you can inquire about paperwork, but expect to pay about $20 per ounce for real Wagyu. If it costs less, the meat is likely a cross-breed. Again, it’s still delicious, just not the same.
Have you tasted Wagyu or Kobe? What did you think?