You’re Not Really Eating Kobe Beef

The world-renown Kobe beef is a delicacy that is not sold anywhere outside of Japan. Yet many American restaurants have menu items supposedly containing Kobe beef. According to NPR, they’re all lying: besides the fact that it has to come from a particular lineage of cow and has to be slaughtered in a particular region of Japan, Kobe beef is illegal to import in the United States.


Fake Kobe burger on the menu at Square One Burgers


The USDA has not approved any of the Kobe slaughterhouses to export their meat to America due to health concerns, so it cannot be legally imported either commercially or privately. The only way it can get into the country is if it were smuggled in. But since the Kobe trademark is not recognized by the US government, anyone is free to slap the Kobe name to any old beef and charge twice the price for being clever enough to do so.

But the Kobe beef you find in American restaurants is likely not entirely fraudulent: American Kobe-style beef comes from a hybrid cattle bred from the Wagyu cattle (which produces true Kobe beef), and Angus cattle, which is better suited to American climates. Besides the genetic lineage however, true Kobe beef also has a secret cattle-raising tradition which, rumors say, include being fed superior grain, beer, and even massaged with sake. The American Kobe cattle gets none of that treatment: it’s really just a genetic cousin of the Wagyu cattle that’s fatted up about a year longer than normal, and is probably organic. So it’s quality beef, but nowhere near true Kobe.

Other products are legally protected from similar counterfeiting:

  • Champagne has to come from the Champagne region in France; otherwise, it’s just sparking wine
  • Scotch has to come from Scotland, otherwise it’s just whiskey
  • Bourbon has to come from the US (preferably from Kentucky)

From NPR and ABC News

(Updated April 23rd, to include information about American Kobe-style beef.)


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