What Is the Difference Between “Wagyu” and “Kobe” Beef?

What Is the Difference Between “Wagyu” and “Kobe” Beef?

Over 90% of all Wagyu are of the Japanese Black strain, and only Japanese Black and Japanese Brown are available outside of Japan.

The common question is what is Kobe Beef? Kobe beef is also Wagyu. It is meat from the Tajima strain of Fullblood Japanese Black cattle and specifically raised in Japan’s Hyogo Prefecture.

Kobe beef is considered the most expensive and sought after beef in the world, with single portions often selling for more than $200. In Japan, the cost of Kobe beef starts at about $300 per pound. In the States, it can be $50 per ounce—whereas other non-Kobe Wagyu can be half of that cost. Why is that? Because of all the beef in the world—and all of Wagyu, in general—Kobe beef is the most abundantly marbled.

What are the main differences between Wagyu beef found in South Africa and Japanese Kobe Beef?

  • Origin and Production: Kobe beef is a specific type of wagyu beef that comes from the Tajima strain of Japanese Black cattle raised in the Hyogo Prefecture of Japan. The cattle are raised under strict regulations, including specific breeding, feeding, and management practices. On the other hand, wagyu beef refers to any beef from the four native Japanese cattle breeds, including Japanese Black, Japanese Brown, Japanese Shorthorn, and Japanese Polled. South Africa also produces wagyu beef, but the cattle are not of Japanese origin.
  • Genetics and Bloodlines: Kobe beef is exclusively produced from the Tajima strain of Japanese Black cattle. These cattle have been carefully bred and selected for generations to produce the unique qualities associated with Kobe beef, such as intense marbling and rich flavor. South African wagyu beef may come from various crossbreeds or full-blooded wagyu cattle imported from countries like Australia or the United States.
  • Grading and Certification: Kobe beef is subject to rigorous grading standards set by the Kobe Beef Marketing & Distribution Promotion Association. The beef is graded based on various factors, including marbling, meat color, fat quality, and texture. All Wagyu that is globally produced is subject to rigorous grading standards as set out by each producing country. This is done on various factors with marbling being a large contributor to overall grading. South African Wagyu Beef is graded on marbling score according to the standards set out by Certified Wagyu Beef. The grading is done objectively through the use of carcass camera technology such as MIJ and MasterBEEF.
  • Availability and Price: Kobe beef is relatively rare and highly sought after, with limited availability outside of Japan. It is known for being quite expensive due to its exclusivity and the meticulous production process. South African wagyu beef, while still considered a premium product, may be more widely available in certain markets and could be comparatively more affordable.

True Kobe beef is extremely rare. In fact, only approximately 3,000 Tajima cattle per year are certified as Kobe beef, with Kobe beef contributing to just 0.06% of beef consumption in Japan, and even less actually exported.

This means that a good amount of restaurants in the world that claim to offer Kobe beef, don’t actually do so. But the reason behind that is not necessarily a nefarious one: The meat is still high-quality, but it’s a conscious decision to describe the Wagyu beef with a more renowned and notable title “Kobe”, all in the pursuit of promotion.

In South Africa, you can find Certified Wagyu Beef from various registered producers and suppliers. Look out for the Certified Wagyu Beef logo on the packaging that ensures authenticity. The Wagyu Society of South Africa has established the Certified Wagyu Beef Program (CWB) program which aims to ensure the integrity of the South African Wagyu beef supply chain and so assure the end customer of product reliability (percentage Wagyu through DNA testing),  quality (Minimum marbling percentage using carcass camera’s)  and full traceability (from farm to fork). For more details of the Certified Wagyu Beef Program (CWB)

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