It seems that everywhere you go now there are restaurants proclaiming their Kobe beef menu. Kobe sliders, Kobe steaks, Kobe wraps — basically anything you can put beef in, restaurants are claiming it’s Kobe or Wagyu beef. They also had that hefty price tag to it. Areas in New York and Vegas charge $40 or more for an “authentic” Kobe burger.
Here’s the problem. It’s not authentic Kobe beef. None of it.
In 2010 an epidemic of Hoof-and-Mouth spread across Miyakonojo, in Miyazaki Prefecture, on the island of Kyushu — the home of Kobe and Wagyu beef in Japan. Because of that, the USDA put up an immediate ban on any Japanese beef entering the United States. Previous to 2010 Kobe beef was the only beef product allowed into the US. But, with the April 2010 adjustment of the Japanese meat regulation – Kobe beef is now illegal as well.
Kobe beef will now be refused entry, including in passenger baggage. – USDA
The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) also reinforces this by saying beef from Japan, fresh or frozen, whole or cut, bone-in or boneless, will be “Refused Entry.”
So how can restaurants, suppliers and delivery services call their meat “Kobe” or “Wagyu”?
Here is where bending the law comes into play. While the US can control whether or not Japanese beef comes into the country, they don’t have any legal restrictions on using the terms ‘Kobe’ or ‘Wagyu’ to describe domestic or any other type of beef. Genuine Kobe beef is a registered trademark of the Kobe Beef Marketing & Distribution Promotion Association, but their trademark doesn’t extend to the US – so our restaurants and farms snatched it up for their own use. We basically did with beef, what we cry foul over with Asian markets doing to our namebrand fashions and hand bags. Kobe beef sold in the US is a knockoff.
Like all good knockoffs, it’s extremely close to the real deal. Many steps in the Japanese Kobe method can be reproduced, creating tender, delicious beef. Everything from feeding them only grass to drinking beer to massaging them as they grow – it’s all included in some of the best Kobe imitators in the US and other countries. But, like all knockoffs, there are one or two tell-tale signs that it’s not the original. Authentic Kobe beef must be from Tajima cattle born in Hyōgo Prefecture in the Kansai region on Honshū island. The capital of this area is Kobe, hence the name of the beef raised there. It must have been fed Hyogo prefecture grass and water. Currently there are only 3000 certified Kobe Beef cattle in the entire world – and they are all in Japan. The restrictions on Japanese beef earning the label of Kobe are so stringent that when the beef is sold it must carry an official 10-digit ID number which tells exactly which Tajima cow it came from.
But I see it for sale on Amazon and eBay! And what about Hawaii?
Yes, you’ll see plenty of beef for sale online that is labeled as Kobe and/or Wagyu beef. It doesn’t come from Japan. Some people believe the price is an indication of it’s authenticity and, while the higher priced meats are often closer in quality to real Kobe, they still aren’t authentic. Take for example Greg Norman Signature Wagyu. Their Rib Eye steaks go for $165 each….even though it’s actually Angus cattle bred in Australia. Don’t get excited though. The USDA ban only applies to the US, yes. But, Japan has it’s own rules about every other country.
Japan, by it’s own choice, does not export to any country except Macao. And they didn’t even allow Macao export until March 2012. – kobe-niku.jp (Kobe Beef Association)
The same goes for Kobe sold in Hawaii. Unlike the US, Hawaii at least took time to perfect their own methods which are now known as “Hawaiian Kobe” and have become famous within their own right. ”According to Hiroshi Kimura, owner and chef of the excellent Yakiniku Hiroshi in Honolulu, Hawaii, it is currently illegal to import beef into the United States from Japan, and restaurants often make false or misleading claims as to the genuineness of their so-called Kobe or Wagyu.”
The Bottom Line
That $40 burger you ate while on vacation in Vegas: not Kobe. That fancy New York restaurant: not Kobe either. They tricked you. That doesn’t mean the beef you had was bad. On the contrary. There are plenty of domestic cattle ranches that provide delicious, succulent cuts — but the fact remains: it’s not Kobe. And the question surfaces… Do you know where your beef came from?