What Is the Difference Between “Wagyu” and “Kobe" Beef?

“Wagyu” means “Japanese cow” and there are four different breeds (or strains): Japanese Black, Japanese Brown, Japanese Shorthorn, and Japanese Polled. Over 90% of all Wagyu are of the Japanese Black strain, and only Japanese Black and Japanese Brown are available outside of Japan.

So what, exactly, is “Kobe" beef? Kobe beef is also Wagyu. It is meat from the Tajima strain of Fullblood Japanese Black cattle and raised in Japan’s Hyogo Prefecture. Specifically, the capital city of the Hyogo Prefecture, the eponymous Kobe.

Kobe beef is considered the most expensive and sought after beef in the world, with single portions often selling for more than $200. In Japan, the cost of Kobe beef starts at about $300 per pound. In the States, it can be $50 per ounce—whereas other non-Kobe Wagyu can be half of that cost. Why is that? Because of all the beef in the world—and all of Wagyu, in general—Kobe beef is the most abundantly marbled.

There are seven standards that determine if that Wagyu is Kobe:

  • Bullock (steer) or virgin cow.
  • Tajima-Gyu born within Hyogo Prefecture.
  • Fed on grasses and grains on a farm within Hyogo Prefecture.
  • Meat slaughtered and processed within Hyogo Prefecture.
  • Marbling rating (BMS) of 6 or higher on a 12 point scale.
  • Meat quality rating of 4 or higher on a 5 point scale.
  • An overall weight not exceeding 470 kg.

With these standards in mind, true Kobe beef is extremely rare. In fact, only approximately 3,000 Tajima cattle per year are certified as Kobe beef, with Kobe beef contributing to just 0.06% of beef consumption in Japan, and even less actually exported, due to a lack of Hyogo slaughterhouses actually being USDA-approved.

This means that a good amount of restaurants in the States that claim to offer Kobe beef don't actually do so. But the reason behind that is not necessarily a nefarious one: The meat is still high-quality, but it's a conscious decision to describe it with a term that is more recognizable to customers ("Kobe") than one that isn't ("Wagyu").

Check out The Story of The Steer to learn more about Browsey Acres’ first Wagyu steer, Kobe.