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"?

  • 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.
    – Cascabel
    Mar 11, 2013 at 4:46

4 Answers 4


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.

  • +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
    Mar 11, 2013 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, 2013 at 18:07
  • 3
    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. Mar 13, 2013 at 10:21
  • I think you meant to say that all American champagne is called sparkling wine. To be called champagne it must come from the Champagne region of France. Whisky is from Scotland. Whiskey can be from either Ireland or the US.
    – user36802
    Sep 9, 2015 at 20:39
  • 1
    @ChefBrooksie : no, I meant that we can call it champagne over here, because the name isn't protected in the US. If you want to sell it in France, you have to call it 'sparkling wine'. For the same reason we can produce American 'parmesan'.
    – Joe
    Sep 9, 2015 at 22:29

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


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/

  • But it must mean something, right? Is it perhaps a Wagyū like cattle imported to the U.S?
    – nbubis
    Mar 11, 2013 at 5:17
  • 1
    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
    Mar 11, 2013 at 11:42

When a store says it's Kobe-style they're essentially saying it's not Kobe beef. Kobe beef is only bred in Japan and only a little over 5000 head are bred annually. There's a Wynn casino in Las Vegas. That's the only place in the US where you can buy real Kobe beef. There is no such thing as Kobe beef sold at retail in the US. There's a website you can go to and see where every single head, by serial number, of Kobe was sold/exported to.

For one Kobe looks different from any other beef you've seen due to the extensive fat marbling. Secondly, one steak of Kobe beef would cost about $200 or more in your local grocery store.

There's a similar situation for Wasabi sauce. Guys think there so tough because they are eating wasabi sauce, much like when they try to impress by eating hot peppers. Then I tell them that most Wasabi is simply horseradish with green food coloring. Don't believe me? Check the ingredients. Real Wasabi root is very expensive and if the restaurant is truly professional, they grate the root fresh at the table.

The situation with Wasabi is improving as a farmer in the Pacific Northwest has figured out a way to grow it commercially. You now have some chance of getting real wasabi. Will you like it? Can't say. I myself have never tasted real wasabi root.

As far as I know, the situation is unchanged for Kobe. If your market says they are selling Kobe beef, they are likely lying to you. Now whether the laws say you can't do that...they don't stop people from labeling stuff as wasabi even though it has no wasabi.

Eater beware.

  • Supposedly real wasabi loses its pungency quickly after grating ... so you'd only get it if the chef was grating it to order.
    – Joe
    Jan 19, 2017 at 23:02

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