The Secret Behind Japan’s Legendary Kobe Beef

As a foodie and meat lover, I’ve always wondered what makes Kobe beef from Japan so incredibly tender, flavorful and expensive. After doing some digging, I was fascinated to uncover the intricate process Japanese cattle farmers use to produce this melt-in-your-mouth delicacy

In this article, I’ll give you an inside look into how they raise Kobe beef cattle in Japan. From the lush environment to the beer-filled diets, you’ll learn all the details that go into creating beef so finely marbled it literally melts on your tongue!

So grab a fork and napkin, because by the end of this article you’ll be dripping with juicy details on real Kobe beef!

What Makes Kobe Beef So Special?

Kobe beef comes from the Tajima strain of Japanese Black cattle raised in the Hyogo prefecture surrounding the city of Kobe. It’s famous for its extensive marbling, tenderness and ridiculously rich flavor.

The best Kobe steak is graded A4 or A5 by Japan’s beef marbling standards. This means it has a high percentage of fat intricately woven between the muscle fibers. Typical beef sold in America is A1 to A3.

This extensive marbling is the key to Kobe’s succulent texture and buttery flavor. When cooked, the fat melts at a lower temperature than muscle, basting the beef in its own juices and creating an unbeatable tender and juicy eating experience.

Plus, the cattle are raised in a stress-free environment and given a specially formulated diet to enhance fat marbling. This produces beautifully tender, well-marbled beef that is truly in a league of its own when it comes to taste and texture

The Genesis of Kobe Beef

Cattle were first brought to Japan from China around the 2nd century AD. But the origins of Kobe beef can be traced to two distinct events in the 1800s:

1868 – The Meiji Restoration ends Japan’s 200 year isolation from the rest of the world. Foreign cattle breeds like Brown Swiss are imported to increase the size of native cattle.

1918 – The Great Kanto earthquake devastates farms around Tokyo. Hyogo prefecture sends cattle to replenish the supply, accelerating the development of Tajima cattle.

Over time, Tajima cattle were crossbred with foreign breeds to optimize meat quality and marbling. But it wasn’t until the 1970s that the protocols for breeding and raising “Kobe beef” cattle were officially established.

Since then, Kobe beef’s reputation for excellence has made it one of the most prized types of beef in the world. And genuine Kobe doesn’t come cheap!

The Kobe Beef Production Process

Raising premium Kobe beef is an art form generations in the making. Japanese cattle farmers follow strict protocols to produce the highest quality meat:

Breed Matters

As I mentioned earlier, only the Tajima strain of Japanese Black cattle can qualify as real Kobe beef. They are bred specifically for their genetic predisposition to marbling and meat quality.

The cattle can be raised anywhere in Japan, but must pass strict government inspections to be designated as Kobe beef. Only about 3,000 head of cattle meet the incredibly high standards each year.

Special Kobe Beef Diet

Cattle spend the last 300-500 days of their lives eating a specially formulated diet to maximize marbling. Here are some of the standout features:

  • Beer – Yes, you read that correctly! Kobe cattle drink beer to increase their appetite and improve meat quality. Popular brews are beer lees (residual yeast) and used beer malt. The alcohol and amino acids in beer promote fat marbling.

  • Grains – Cattle spend up to 360 days eating a high energy diet of grains like corn, barley, soybeans and wheat bran. The high glycemic carbs increase intramuscular fat development.

  • Forage – In the summer, cattle graze on nutritious grasses and harvested rice straw for roughage and vitamins. The active grazing builds muscle tone.

  • Massages – To relieve stiffness from cramped barns, farmers massage cattle with sake and brush their coats daily. Happy, relaxed cows produce tender beef.

That’s right, these cattle get daily massages and beer with their grain. Talk about living the good life!

Low Stress Environment

To keep the cattle calm, they listen to classical music and get brushed gently twice daily. Stress hormones negatively affect marbling and meat quality, so keeping the cattle relaxed is a priority.

Cows aren’t dehorned or branded. The barns have soft hay floors and are kept dimly lit and quiet. Raising cattle humanely helps create beautifully marbled Kobe beef.

Government Inspections

Only Tajima cattle that pass Japan’s famously strict government inspections can be labeled Kobe beef. Each head of cattle must meet stringent requirements for marbling, meat color and texture.

Less than 3,000 head make the cut each year to be certified as authentic Kobe beef. This super strict screening ensures every piece of Kobe beef lives up to its reputation for perfection.

How Kobe Beef Marbling Is Graded

Kobe beef is graded from A1 to A5 based on marbling, color and meat texture:

  • A5 – Highest grade, with at least 25% fat marbling. The best of the best!
  • A4 – Second highest grade, with 15-25% fat marbling.
  • A3 – Medium marbling, with 10-15% fat.
  • A2 – Minimal marbling, under 10% fat.
  • A1 – Trace marbling only.

For Japanese Wagyu like Kobe, A4 and A5 are considered the premium grades to look for. The extensive marbling gives it that melt-in-your-mouth tenderness Japan is famous for.

Lower grades still taste delicious, but won’t deliver that superbly rich Kobe eating experience. Try getting at least A4/A5 level if you want to enjoy the very best Kobe beef for yourself.

Is American Wagyu the Same as Kobe Beef?

Wagyu cattle from Japan have been exported worldwide, including to the United States. This has led to the rise of luxury “American Wagyu” beef. But despite the similar sounding name, it’s not the same as genuine Japanese Kobe:

  • Location – Only Tajima cattle raised in Japan’s Hyogo prefecture can legally be called Kobe beef. American Wagyu can come from anywhere in the US.

  • Breed – True Kobe comes from 100% pure Tajima genetics. American Wagyu is often crossbred with Angus or other breeds.

  • Standards – Japan enforces the most stringent regulations for Kobe beef. No US breed can match their strict protocols.

Of course, Wagyu-influenced beef raised in America can still be delicious. Names like American Style Kobe and Kobe American Wagyu are used to market this domestic product.

Just know that if it wasn’t born and raised under the strict regulations in Japan, it’s not true Japanese Kobe beef. There are no exceptions or loopholes to this rule!

Where to Buy Real Kobe Beef

Genuine Kobe beef is extremely rare outside of Japan. As of 2018, Japan only exports Kobe beef to Macau, Singapore and Thailand.

Until 2012, no Japanese beef was exported to the United States. That year, Japan granted access to American beef companies, but only 200 pounds made it in initially.

Today, you can find certified Kobe beef at some high-end restaurants and specialty meat purveyors:

  • Restaurants – Some upscale steakhouses like Nick and Sam’s in Dallas offer real Kobe on their menus. But expect to pay $30-60+ for just a few ounces.

  • Online – Buying directly from a supplier like Crowd Cow ensures authenticity. Prices typically run from $100-200 per pound.

  • Abroad – Your best bet is to visit Kobe, Japan and dine at an acclaimed Kobe steakhouse like Mouriya or Wakkoqu. Flights and hotels are cheaper than the beef itself!

Due to the small supply and sky-high demand, get ready to splurge if you want to experience true Kobe beef for yourself. For most meat eaters, the astronomical price makes it an ultra-special-occasion treat.

But those lucky enough to savor rich, tender Kobe insist every gorgeous bite is worth the price! One mouthwatering morsel and you’ll never view beef the same way again.

Kobe Beef – The Artisan Craft of Japanese Cattle Farmers

As you can see, raising Kobe beef cattle is an intricate craft passed down through generations of Japanese farmers. Their care and dedication is evident in every tender, beautifully marbled cut of beef.

From the glossy black Tajima cattle to the beer and massages, I was fascinated to learn the incredible details that go into producing this extraordinarily lush beef. It gave me a whole new appreciation for the work of Japan’s dedicated cattle ranchers.

I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to hop a plane to Kobe and bite into one of those perfect beefy works of art! Maybe I’ll become a sake massage therapist for luxury cows to earn my way there, ha.

If you get a chance to enjoy true Japanese Kobe beef, savor every unbelievable bite. Just be ready for all other beef to pale in comparison once you experience the best of the best!

Cattle Farm – How Japan Farmer Creat Most Expensive Beef in The World


How is Kobe beef raised?

The calves stay on farms where they are born and raised until they are 9 months old when they are sold to fattening farms. At the fattening farms, wagyu cattle are raised in ventilated barns and each one is given a name instead of just a number.

What do they do to cows for Kobe beef?

For instance, the cows receive daily massages and are fed high-quality meals consisting of ground apples and other fruit. They are also fed beer.

What is the process of making Kobe beef?

For being Kobe beef, cattle is to be born, raised, slaughtered and processed in Hyogo Prefecture specifically and is at the age between 28 and 60 months of bullock or uncalved cow. In addition, carcass needs to score Meat Quality score of A or B, Yield Score of 4 or 5 and Beef Marbling Score (BMS) of 6 or higher.

Can you raise Kobe beef in the US?

U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines do not permit the use of the term “Kobe” alone to describe American-grown wagyu beef, but labels like “American Style” or “American Brand Kobe Beef” are OK. And beef that comes from cattle cross-bred with Angus or other breeds needs to be labeled as such.

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