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Recently moved to the bay area, and it seems that everyone is advertising "Kobe beef burgers" on their menus. As someone who has been in Japan and tasted the real thing, it's quite clear to me that this isn't in any way related to Wagyū cattle especially considering the low pricing (<15$ per burger).

So, does anyone here know why Americans are calling this meat "Kobe"?

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For what it's worth, I think you've got better odds with "wagyu" than "kobe", because "kobe" is a more well-known word, so as long as you're going to have a misleading label, it might as well be the one that'll appeal to more people. –  Jefromi Mar 11 '13 at 4:46
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3 Answers 3

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It's for the same reason that all sparkling wine is in America is called 'champagne'. We don't participate in PDO / PGI / DOP / etc. agreements with most foreign countries. We do have requirements for specifically American-made items to have similar tules, such as Bourbon (so Jack Daniels is Tennessee Whiskey, not Bourbon). But just as America doesn't recognize the European protection for parmesean, champagne, etc, European countries don't recognize the American protections.

I've talked to a local Wagyu farmer, and he said that true Kobe has to be processed in Japan (and he said it in an ambigous enough way suggesting that it might be possible for American-raised cattle to be shipped back to Japan for processing), and they're given a specific diet and treatment that doesn't happen in the US. (I also tried to talk him into selling me 1/2 a cow, and at the time (3-4 years ago?) he said it was in such high demand that all of his cows were sold before he even started raising them. At that time, Wagyu was still pretty rare in the US, and it was being sold as Wagyu ... it only seems to be more recently (last 1-2 years) that I've people selling it in the US as 'Kobe'.

Most of the "American Wagyu" has also been cross-bred with an American cattle. (The story I've heard is that the sperm was brought over, not live cattle, so they had to start with American heffers). So it's going to have some percentage of Longhorn or Angus in it.

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+1 for "it might be possible for American-raised cattle to be shipped back to Japan for processing" I also saw several references to this while researching this question. "Kobe" products need to be slaughtered in Kobe to earn their name. –  Preston Fitzgerald Mar 11 '13 at 20:11
    
Minor nitpick: Jack Daniels is bourbon. Tennessee whiskey legally is just bourbon distilled in Tennessee. It tastes different from regular bourbon due to the additional filtration through maple charcoal. –  user5561 Mar 12 '13 at 18:07
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Nitpick correction: jackdaniels.com says "Jack Daniel's is not bourbon". jimbeam.com says "Tennessee Whiskey is not bourbon". I think I trust those two sources. –  Phil M Jones Mar 13 '13 at 10:21
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The rules for "Kobe Beef" labeling in final food products (like a burger) are lax. For the burger to cost $13-$15, it´s only possible using "Kobe-style" beef. These are Wagyu cattle raised by ranchers in the USA, typically bread with Angus cattle. The other option is Wagyu cattle raised in the "Kobe Style" in any other area that is not Kobe, Japan.

Source: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-barrett/chicagoburgerbiblecom-kob_b_875658.html

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To sum it up succinctly, it's false. They are exploiting a foreign brand to make their product seem exclusive and high-end. They can get away with it because the brand has little legal validity in the States.

While Kobe may be imported legally at the moment, it is most certainly not available at the prices you mentioned.

Some reading on the subject: http://www.forbes.com/sites/larryolmsted/2012/09/28/kobe-beef-is-back-new-rules-allow-some-japanese-beef-in-u-s/

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But it must mean something, right? Is it perhaps a Wagyū like cattle imported to the U.S? –  nbubis Mar 11 '13 at 5:17
    
That happens. Additionally, there are Wagyū cattle raised in Japan outside of the Kobe region as well as Wagyū raised in the US (as Jamison mentions in his answer). Either way, it's either Champagne or it isn't if you follow my meaning. –  Preston Fitzgerald Mar 11 '13 at 11:42
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