If you like eating beef and steak, then you've probably heard of Kobe and Wagyu. These two types of meat are both world-renown and highly-prized and come from different parts of the world. In "Kobe vs. Wagyu: Which Beef is Better," we will go over the differences between Wagyu and Kobe, their origins, main characteristics, what you should be looking for when purchasing these cuts of meat.

What is the Difference?

Wagyu is a type of beef that comes from Japan with four different breeds of cattle. Wagyu is famous for its marbled fat, which separates the meat into distinct sections of lean and fatty.

Kobe beef is one selective breed of Wagyu that comes from a region in Japan located around the city of Kobe and is the highest grading and the most expensive variety of Wagyu on the market today.

Origins of Kobe and Wagyu 

Kobe vs. Wagyu: Which Beef Is Better?

Wagyu translates to "Japanese cattle" and first began to be bred for consumption in Japan after the 1860s. Before this, ranchers primarily bred Japanese cattle for endurance and labor for use with agriculture. During these years, several European cattle breeds were introduced to Japan and crossed with native Japanese species.

Wagyu Breeds

Four major cattle strains emerged superior over time, and they became the predominant breeds in the 20th century due to decades of crossbreeding Japanese cattle with foreign cattle. These four breeds - Kuroge (Black), Aakage (Brown), Nihon Tankaku (Shorthorn), and Mukaku (Polled) - are the ones we consider Wagyu today. The Kuroge cattle are the breed most often used to produce highly marbled Wagyu beef.

  • Japanese Black (Kuroge) - This Wagyu breed was initially bred as a work cattle and is renowned for its rich marbling. It accounts for 90% of Wagyu consumption around the world.
  • Japanese Brown (Aakage) - The brown type is the lightest and most mild-tasting lean breed of cattle.
  • Japanese Shorthorn (Nihon Tankaku) - A rich, delicious cut high in inosinic and glutamic acid and known for its strong, bold taste.
  • Japanese Polled (Mukaku) - It's a well-known choice for its gamier texture and meatier flavor.

Kobe Beef

On the island of Japan, Wagyu primarily comes from different breeds such as the Tajima, the Shimane, or the Kedaka. The Tajima breed is more concentrated in the Wagyu raised within the Hyogo Prefecture, where the city of Kobe lies. Kobe beef is named for this city and references Wagyu born and raised in the Hyogo Prefecture, whose carcass must meet specific grading and factors.

The high restrictions on these animals make Kobe beef stand apart from other Wagyu, resulting in less than 3,000 cattle per year. 

  • The cattle must be purebred, and evidence of such is required. Each calf born in the prefecture has a unique serial number to verify and track its lineage and life cycle and preserve authenticity.
  • Kobe cattle must be fed and slaughtered under stringent standards.
  • To be considered a true example of that breed, they must be fed food from the region and meet certain weight and marbling requirements.
  • Kobe beef is unique to Hyogo Prefecture, and it may not be produced, reared, or butchered anywhere else in Japan.

What are the Main Characteristics?

Kobe vs. Wagyu: Which Beef Is Better?

Kobe beef is incredibly tender, flavorful, and fatty with an amazingly smooth texture. The intramuscular marbling in Wagyu results in some of the highest levels of monounsaturated fats, which can reduce low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol.

Wagyu beef is marbled through and through, literally soaked in fat. This high-fat content makes it highly flavorful and meltingly tender and leads to higher calorie counts per serving than most other cuts of meat due to its high saturated fat content. Wagyu beef has received criticism for containing an above-average amount of oleic acid, a fatty acid known to contribute to heart disease.

Both Wagyu and Kobe beef contain elevated amounts of unsaturated fats like Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids, which can help fight inflammation or inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis.

Beyond their nutritional value, Wagyu and Kobe beef are renowned for their exquisite flavor and luxurious texture. The fat marbling ensures that the meats remain tender and moist during preparation while also adding a rich depth of flavor.

Why Are Wagyu and Kobe Beef so Expensive?

Wagyu cuts are incredibly costly, generally more than $100 for each amount. One of the significant reasons Wagyu beef is so pricey is that it requires so much labor and effort to develop and grow the ultimate beef.

Kobe vs. Wagyu: Which Beef Is Better?

There are several distinctions between Wagyu breeders' cattle and other common beef breeds. Compared to the various typical beef providers, there is a significant difference in Wagyu breeders' cattle selection, care, and feeding. They create unique feeds out of grasses, forage, rice straw, and so on that significantly impact the beef's flavor and health benefits.

Wagyu cattle are generally treated better than traditional breeds, with special care that ensures they remain healthy during their lives. They are allowed to roam free compared to other beef breeds held in pens most of the time. Wagyu breeders' cattle also receive a variety of natural supplements such as beer occasionally to keep them happy and healthy.

The result of all this extra effort is highly-prized Wagyu beef, with Kobe beef pricing even higher. All this effort and unique breeding methods make the meat high in marbling and have a unique flavor.

So, Which Beef is Better?

Wagyu and Kobe beef are two world-renowned types of beef that come from different parts of the world and have varying tastes. Wagyu is more common, while Kobe beef is considered rarer. Both of these forms of meat differ in their origins and in terms of taste and price. Either way, this breed of beef features superior marbling and flavor for a fantastic grilling experience!

September 07, 2021 — Jason Klein