Writing for Forbes, journalist Larry Olmsted, who has written weekly columns for USA Today and Investors Business Daily, claims that if you think you’ve tasted the famous Japanese Kobe beef, you’re sadly mistaken, because you cannot get it in the United States.
“Not as steaks, not as burgers, and not as Kobe sliders,” says Olmsted. “Not in stores, not by mail, and certainly not in restaurants. No matter how much you have spent, how fancy a steakhouse you went to, or which of the many celebrity chefs who regularly feature ‘Kobe beef’ on their menus you believed, you were duped.”
Olmsted claims if it wasn’t in Asia you almost certainly have never had Japan’s famous Kobe beef.
What only a handful of people seem to realize is that under Japanese law, Kobe beef can only came from Hyogo prefecture (of which Kobe is the capital city), where no slaughterhouses were approved for export by the USDA.
According to its own trade group, the Kobe Beef Marketing & Distribution Promotion Association in Japan, where Kobe Beef is a registered trademark, Macao is the only place it is exported to — and only since last year.
If you’ve had real Kobe beef in the US in recent years, it’s only because someone smuggled it into the United States.
So all the promotional hustle touting Kobe Beef, from magazines and menu presentations on television food shows by famous chefs, to Kobe Beef sales at burger joints in Las Vegas, and high-end Manhattan restaurants, are nothing but lies.
Kobe Beef, as well as Kobe Meat and Kobe Cattle, are patented terms and/or trademarks in Japan, and are neither recognized nor protected by US law.
As far as US regulators are concerned, the term Kobe beef is meaningless. All that matters to regulators is that the beef sold in the US comes from cows.
“Like the recent surge in the use of the unregulated label term ‘natural’ it is an adjective used mainly to confuse consumers and profit from that confusion,” said Olmsted.
“The con the US food industry is running is leading you to believe that what you are paying huge dollars for – like the $40 NYC ‘Kobe’ burger – is somehow linked to this heritage of excellence. It’s not.”
Wagyu is a broad term and refers to all Japanese beef cattle –”Wa” means Japanese and “gyu” means cattle.
Kobe beef refers to beef from the black Tajima-ushi breed of Wagyu cattle, raised according to strict tradition in Hyōgo Prefecture, Japan, located in the Kansai region on Honshū island. The capital is Kobe.
In others words, all Kobe beef is Wagyu, but not all Wagyu is Kobe beef. Both are well marbled beef but Wagyu is less marbled and is priced accordingly. There are other “special” beefs in Japan in addition to Kobe.
So-called Kobe beef sold in the US is produced by American farmers who imported a few dozen Wagyu cattle and then cross-bred them with domestic Angus.
The offspring look similar to the pure-bred Japanese, but the meat is darker, with less marbling and has a bolder flavor and texture.
At a high-end Miami steak house Meat Market, the meat labeled “Kobe skirt steak” at $31 and “white truffle Kobe tartare” at $21 comes from Snake River Farms in Idaho, not Japan.
And there’s a neighborhood burger joint in South Beach selling seven-dollar “mini Kobe corn dogs” also from Snake River Farms.
Olmsted points out that in the US, restaurants and distributors have generically termed virtually any beef from anywhere in Japan “Kobe”, and many high-end restaurants did once get beef from Japan, and put it on the menus as Kobe, though it was not true Kobe beef. But in the past two years there has been no Japanese beef here.
If you still have doubts, Olmsted suggests exploring the USDA’s own words, and read about how as of early 2010 all beef from Japan including that “normally referred to as Kobe beef,” will “be refused entry,” “including in passenger luggage.”