What's the difference between wagyu and Kobe beef?
- kansai_mike Feb 9, 2007 09:34 PM
I live in Kobe and would like to tell my friends the difference between the two.
Kobe beef is VERY evenly marbelized and almost melts in your mouth. You don't need a knife. It also doesn't have a very strong beef flavor.
Supposedly Wagyu refers to a particular breed of cattle, while Kobe beef is Wagyu that has been raised in Kobe, Japan, but these definitions aren't strictly enforced. When you see Kobe beef in America, it may actually be "Kobe-style" beef that was raised in America or Australia and might not even be full-blooded Wagyu.
Wagyu is the breed of cattle. True Kobe beef only comes from Kobe, Japan and is supposedly much much better than than wagyu beef from elsewhere. Whether its due to the genetics of the particular cattle in each country (i.e., cross bred vs. pure bred) or the way the cattle is raised and fed in Japan, I do not know. One restaurant in NY has wagyu cattle from Kobe, Australia and America. The most recent review of the restaurant indicated the real Kobe beef was the best, followed by the one from Australia and then the wagyu beef from America. And it goes without saying that real Kobe beef is much much more expensive than the wagyu beef from other areas.
All Kobe beef is Wagyu (I presume), but far from all Wagyu is Kobe beef. I've never eaten either, but the Wagyu I've seen looks basically like regular steak - well marbled, but nothing out of the ordinary, whereas the Kobe is so heavily marbled with fat that it almost looks like foie gras laced beef.
Wagyu (which means Japanese beef) is the breed - the same way that Angus or Long Horn are breeds. Kobe is from the specific cattle that are raised in Kobe that get a speicalized treatment. It's important to note that Kobe isn't the only type of special beef in Japan - some will argue that there are other finishing treatments that produce even more marbled and tasty beef. Some of the other well known types (in Japan) are Mishima, Matsuzaka, and Omi. All use Wagyu cattle, but with different feeds an finishing techniques, all produce different results.
Wagyu sperm was originally snuck into the states in the 70's and a group of long-horn cows in Texas were inseminated. The idea was to continue to use the sperm to breed in the generations - so that the next would be 75% Wagyu, the next 87.5%, etc., until they approached 100%. This process has worked, and although the original owners apparently went bankrupt, and the business has changed hands, this is currently one of the established sources of wagyu beef in the US. However - this group has never tried to replicate the finishing process that is used in Kobe or anywhere else in Japan, so the beef has never met the same standards that Kobe beef has.
In the meantime, several other ventures imported cattle before the beef and cattle embargo with Japan over the mad cow issue (they cut us off first, we retaliated). Some of these cattle growers have followed through with the finishing techniques, so there is some very high quality wagyu now grown in the US.
The embargo affected frozen/processed beef as well, so for several years, you could not get real Kobe beef in the US. These restrictions were lifted last summer, so we can now get REAL Kobe beef in the US. Typically it costs from $300-$800/lb.
Unfortunately, the US has no laws against calling anything Kobe beef. So buyer beware - most beef sold as Kobe here, in stores and restaurants, is still US Wagyu, not Kobe Wagyu. Calling it Kobe beef is the same as calling an Italian asti spumonti a champagne, or a California brandy, a cognac.
The quality of US Wagyu varies greatly with the originating strain and the finishing process. There have been several articles written recently that point to the sources of the beef and who their suppliers are - and this is a shifting landscape, so a good source one time may end up providing you beef from a lesser source the next time. I've ordered US Wagyu from Snake River Farms and Lobels in the past and found that Snake River is cheaper and every bit as good (for the Wagyu - for Dry-aged USDA Prime, Lobels is hard to beat).
Applehome said it best.
Here is what real Kobe Wagyu, in a Kobe Japan specialty store, I think they are apx. grades 8-11 looks like. (Grades go 1-12, US Prime is at best around 5-6 on the scale.Those prices are for 100 grams, a little under 1/4 lb. So they weren't that bad, considering. Yen is about 120 to the dollar.
The sliced pieces are from a briefly outside seared, raw inside, I think apx. grade 10-11 that was then chilled and sliced. You eat it cold, raw, dipped in a scallion, ginger, soy sauce. Absolutely luscious and creamy. Those two thin 3 1/2"x8"slices filled me up for hours. Price around US$20.
Can anyone translate what the Japanese says? Does it list the grades? Thanks.
the four largest characters designate where the beef is from and i think the first two would be pronounced "Ohno"...i think. place names are difficult in japanese. the second two are def 'gyuuniku' which just literally means cow meat (beef). the smaller characters to the left side say 'sirloin' and i think 'older cut'.
Last two characters of the 4 big ones are Gyuniku - beef (all the same). I can't tell the smaller characters - there may be differences, but I can't see them.
Great replies everyone. Thanks. I was wondering about the taste. Is wagyu stronger in flavor? I would think that replicating Kobe beef one would first try to replicate the texture, and then the flavor. If the texture is different, which sounds like it is, then I would presyme the flavor is at least similar.
The flavor is very mild and actually buttery. The texture is very soft and tender. It is easy to overcook wagyu and especially Kobe beef. It should always be served raw, rare, or medium rare. Anything past that and it starts to turn tough, rubbery, and you lose the buttery taste... actually you start to lose almost all the taste at that point.