The origins of Kobe beef

February 18, 2009|By JULIE E. GREENE

We've tried to sort out the Kobe beef puzzle.

True Kobe beef comes from Wagyu cattle originally bred in the Kobe area in Japan, says Charley Gaskins, executive secretary for the American Wagyu Association in Washington. Wagyu's genetics lend the cattle to having a higher degree of marbling and the meat is more tender.

To help develop marbling potential, a Wagyu's feed portions are controlled so it gains weight slower. Gaskins says properly fed Wagyu cattle will gain 2 to 2 1/2 pounds a day, whereas a typical cattle might gain 3 to 4 pounds a day. Wagyu also tend to be raised for a longer period of time, being marketed at 30 months of age whereas most beef cattle are marketed at less than 20 months.

Some Web sites refer to feeding and grooming techniques in Japan that include feeding beer to Wagyu cattle, brushing them with sake and massaging them daily.


In general, Gaskins says, that doesn't happen, but there might be isolated cases where Japanese farmers do that for a few animals. That kind of care wouldn't work on a massive scale.

Gaskins said he's heard beer might stimulate the animal's appetite and the massaging could be because the cattle can develop arthritis as they get bigger and heavier.

High quality; high price

If you are ordering a Kobe beef dish in a restaurant, there's a good chance it's not true Kobe beef, Gaskins says. Most likely, it's a mix of 50 percent Wagyu and 50 percent Angus. However, diners will still get good value, he says. It's possible to produce a high level of marbling with that crossbreed.

Gaskins says the U.S. Department of Agriculture is trying to make sure labeling of Kobe beef and Kobe-style, American-raised beef is clearly marked.

But restaurants might still try to fudge the issue. After all, true Kobe beef costs at least $125 a pound wholesale, Gaskins says. The retail cost would be higher.

Allen Brothers lists the cost of two Wagyu sirloin strip steaks, 8 ounces each, at $126, according to the company's Web site (

There are American farmers who raise Wagyu or Wagyu-Angus mixes.

In the United States, Gaskins says, as there are few full-blood Wagyu (of 100 percent Japanese origin) or pure-bred Wagyu (15/16 Wagyu with the other 1/16th most likely Angus). There are not enough Wagyu cows to produce many Wagyu cattle.

Ecker, of Legacy Manor Farm, said she acquired some Wagyu cattle about five years ago. The farm has full-blood and pure-bred Wagyu as well as a 50/50 Wagyu-Angus cross. Angus have a larger frame than Wagyu. The crossbreed is an attempt to get more of the well-marbled meat on a larger frame, Ecker said.

Ecker refers to her crossbreed's beef as Kobe-style beef. She expects it to be available for sale this year, though she has not set a price.

The genetics of Wagyu cattle lend its beef to a higher degree of marbling.

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