Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create a free account.

liuzhou

Food's Biggest Scam: The Great Kobe Beef Lie

Recommended Posts

They probably should come up with a new name for what is called "American Kobe beef" here in the US, because that is a misnomer. Many are using the term "Wagyu beef" now, which is a bit more accurate, although most in the US are Wagyu crossed with Angus.

That said, I think there is something to be said for improving the US genetics with Japanese breeds. The imported Wagyu cattle have better marbling, more of the animal's fat within the meat (as compared to backfat), lower cholesterol, and higher levels of monounsaturated fatty acids (healthier fat). In the US, Wagyu sires generally undergo genetic testing looking for specific genes contribute to marbling, feed efficiency, and tenderness. The most common system is the "Genestar" system, which looks at the number of copies of certain desirable genes. Some breeders are getting over 90% prime grading on their cattle using the Wagyu crosses (something like 2% of beef in the US is prime).

We have a few cows that we raise for both milk and beef, and currently have an Angus cow bred to a high quality Wagyu bull. I'm looking forward to our own experiment with "American Kobe", but it will be a couple years until I can report on the results.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

What's meaningful to me, as someone who plans to eat, not sell, their beef, is the quality of the beef.

The "Wagyu" that were imported to the US from Japan for breeding were imported because they were sires that produced high quality beef with a large amount of marbling. They may have come from different Japanese breeds (which, incidentally, trace back, in part, to English and European breeds such as Devons, Angus and Simmentals, in addition to the native Asian cattle) but the individuals that were imported to the US were imported to introduce genetics that produce a high quality meat.

I don't know much about the USDA rules, but there is now an American registry of Wagyu cattle ("Wagyu" is now a breed in the US) and all breeding animals must undergo genetic testing for parentage in order to be registered as purebred. So at least from a breeding standpoint, it is not meaningless.


Edited by tikidoc (log)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I don't know that it's an agribusiness construct, it appears to mostly be smaller producers that produce registered animals. The commonly used definition for a "breed" of animal is "Animals that, through selection and breeding, have come to resemble one another and pass those traits uniformly to their offspring." In the case of Wagyus in the US, the foundation stock came from a select number of imported Japanese cattle, selected for their superior meat genetics. They came from several different genetic lines (different Japanese breeds), but they had some similar characteristics due to line breeding that occurred in Japan.

The "American Wagyu" is no less a breed than any other breed of livestock. They have similar characteristics and they have a registry for breeding stock. They even require genotyping for registration of breeding animals, which is more than many other livestock breeds require. They use the name "Wagyu" because it describes something about the heritage of the animals - 'Wa' means Japanese or japanese-style and 'gyu' means cattle, and the lineage of the animals traces to Japanese imports.

I don't think that "acknowledgement by the USDA" as a breed is meaningful either. How many breeds of cattle does the USDA recognize? I own a registered Miniature Jersey cow and a registered Jersey, as well as a herd of registered Nigerian Dwarf and LaMancha goats. One of my horses is a registered Thoroughbred, and one is a registered Belgian Warmblood. I doubt the USDA recognizes any breed that I have but they are certainly meaningful in that all of the animals that are registered share certain characteristics and lineage.


Edited by tikidoc (log)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

clearly food labeling is for economic reason, ie to make the sale.

study what 'Black Angus' means for USA beef. Just as suprising.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
The "American Wagyu" is no less a breed than any other breed of livestock.

Neither the American Wagyu Association or the USDA recognise "wagyu" as being a breed, as the second article explains at some length.

And it certainly isn't a "breed" in Japan.


Edited by liuzhou (log)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

They have a registry, requiring certain documented lineage and genetics. The American Wagyu Association may not use the term "breed" in their literature (that I have seen) but it certainly fits just about any definition of a "breed" of livestock that I have seen.

I would also not rely on the USDA to certify as to an animal's breed. For example, "Angus" is certainly a breed of cattle, but there are plenty of animals that the USDA certifies as "Angus" that are not full Angus - they are just black cows with prime or choice meat. My point is certainly not to defend either the marketing or the USDA certifications, as both are misleading.

What I argue with is the assertion that the term "Wagyu" is "meaningless", because it is not. I can't register my Angus or my Jersey or my Mini Jersey or my Dexter/Hereford cross as Wagyu, because they don't meet any of the criteria. If an animal is either registered Wagyu or a cross (such as an Angus/Wagyu cross), that DOES have meaning, because there are requirements for animals to be registered as Wagyu with the American Wagyu Association. They have to descend from certain animals and the purebreds have to undergo genetic testing. And statistically, they are much more likely to produce USDA Prime beef than your average US steer.

Bottom line, if the USDA certifies beef as Wagyu, I would not put a lot of stock in that. But if I purchased beef directly from a producer (and many Wagyu breeders do sell directly to the public) as either "pure Wagyu", or more likely Wagyu crossed with a more common beef breed such as Angus, then that would have significance.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Ive read them all. As tikidoc as suggested, get your meat if you can from the hoof, not the AgriBiz.

although Angus, black or not, might be a breed, the Black Angus in the store is, literally, commercial hype. Nothing more.

http://www.angus.org/pub/AngusInfo.aspx

" Angus Advantages - This brochure explains how Angus genetics can work in producer's herds to improve demand, boost profits and take some of the work out of cattle production."

don't see a lot here about 'flavor'


Edited by rotuts (log)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
How many of you have thoroughly read either or both articles?

I too wonder that, but in fact there are three articles.

The third details how the US regularly ignores protection laws accepted by most of the world in an "intentional piracy approach to foreign foods and drinks".

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Assuming the conditions in which they were raised and slaughtered were virtually identical, would you feel that the seller was justified in charging signifcantly more for 'Wagyu' beef, than that from a breed that is known to be an excellent meat breed?

Would I pay more? Probably not as much as many are charging for it. I have had "Wagyu" and "American Kobe" in restaurants before, and it was good but not worth a huge markup to me. But who knows what it really was and how it was raised. In general, I strongly prefer grass fed beef (both for flavor and health reasons), and I would bet most of what I have tried was grain fed.

That's why we are experimenting and breeding our own. We raised one grass fed beef out of the Angus cow that we have, and the meat was excellent (100% Angus- really!). We have bred that same cow to a registered Wagyu bull with excellent beef genetics (based on genotyping). It will also be grass fed. I'll let you know if it's awesome in a couple years, and I'll be able to tell you how it compared to the full Angus with the same mother and similar environment (we have moved from TN to VA, so terroir might be a factor). Other advantages to the Wagyu - they tend to make smaller calves (therefore easier calving), and they tend to be fairly mellow, so easy to work around. Important

I do think they are justified in charging somewhat more for it because it is more expensive to raise than a breed like Angus. Although the Wagyu (I'm talking about the cattle registered and marketed as Wagyu in the US) tend to be efficient in converting feed (either grain or grass) to meat, they also mature at a later age than other meat cattle, so they need to be kept around longer before slaughter. Also, they tend to have a healthier balance of fats (less saturated fat and less cholesterol), so that would be worth some extra cost to me.

I'm also not sure how to add this to the comparison, but most of the Wagyu/Wagyu cross beef is graded Prime (compared to less than 2% prime for beef cattle overall), and this is one of the big things that Wagyu bull owners stress when marketing semen to breeders. Prime is more expensive than Choice, regardless of breed, and if you can produce more Prime, your beef will be worth more.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Interesting article. I sortof like the old USDA system of grading beef by the marbling rather than worrying so much about its genetics, breed, hide color, location it was raised, what it ate, etc etc. Best beef I ever had came from the ugliest mongrel of a calf you've ever seen but when we quartered her the steaks looked like a blizzard in Montana. Of course it wouldn't have gone CAB since her hide was not black. Still can't figure out how such wonderful meat came out of a cow with red hair. :wink:

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Personally, I don't really care what the lineage of the animal was if it meets with my expectations for marbling. If the meat with the "kobe" label has that, then sure I'll pay.


Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

So armed with this knowledge, are we justified to call out restaurants that have Kobe on their menu? Should we talk to the manager/chef and question their misleading use of Kobe?


Edited by Junkbot (log)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

So armed with this knowledge, are we justified to call out restaurants that have Kobe on their menu? Should we talk to the manager/chef and question their misleading use of Kobe?

Ooh, sounds like a fun evening out...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I often use Snake river farms "American Wagyu" in my dinners. I explain that "it's like the fatty kobe beef in Japan". Most on the diners haven't experienced marbling like that before so I really don't think I'm misleading them.

I mean, this is the stuff I'm working with...clearly a different level of beef...

4994427052_53ac6bd9a0_z.jpg


Sleep, bike, cook, feed, repeat...

Chef Facebook HQ Menlo Park, CA

My eGullet Foodblog

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
...details how the US regularly ignores protection laws accepted by most of the world in an "intentional piracy approach to foreign foods and drinks".

A huge point, with vast history in the US of course. Rotuts cited the excellent example of Black Angus, now euphemizing half the beef in US supermarkets.

US (and not just US!) use of "genre" labels for wines and cheeses has long history. In fairness, it has also long been controversial in the US wine industry; Schoonmaker and Marvel's US wines book lambasted the practice 70 years ago.

It's also helpful to understand a less cynical motivation, at least in wines and cheeses; the wine book I mentioned dwells on this.

New-world industries struggle with utter lack of the kind of recognized product appellations common where such products have been made for centuries. Thus the main US high-end cookbook of 60 years ago proclaims merits of Oka and Poona, two North American cheeses I've rarely seen -- yet "Canadian Cheddar" is a self-explanatory homage. The US wine industry, as in other new wine regions, grappled seriously with labeling. New regional appellations would take time to establish; grape variety was an imperfect but at least honest compromise labeling; and the opportunistic called their jug wines "Burgundy" or "Rhine wine" and misinformed millions about those terms.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

ScottyBoy, that photo is outrageous. What's the cut?


Peter Gamble aka "Peter the eater"

I just made a cornish game hen with chestnut stuffing. . .

Would you believe a pigeon stuffed with spam? . . .

Would you believe a rat filled with cough drops?

Moe Sizlack

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The third details how the US regularly ignores protection laws accepted by most of the world in an "intentional piracy approach to foreign foods and drinks".

How is this not the thing people are talking about on this thread? It's by far the most important part.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
How is this not the thing people are talking about on this thread? It's by far the most important part.

I agree, and certainly some of us are talking about it.

To clarify what I posted earlier, in citing the naming history of North American wines and cheeses, my point was that some copy-cat food-product names had less cynical motives, they were a pragmatic choice among alternatives that all have serious drawbacks. I know little about the beef industry though, nor if any such extenuation can be argued in the cases cited in this thread.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I absolutely think that calling them Kobe or anything with the word Kobe is potentially misleading, especially since this refers to a specific appellation (or whatever one calls it with livestock).

I don't really have a problem with "American Wagyu" though. As I understand, "Wagyu" translates to "Japanese cattle". This is what they are, at least the full blooded cattle that were either imports or descended entirely from imports. There is a registry for these animals in the US, which provides some assurance of what they are (NOT as far as the USDA is concerned, that's another story). They do come from a couple of different Japanese populations but the beef, as I understand, is similar, so crossing them and calling them "American Wagyu" does not seem unreasonable. New breeds of animals are started all the time, and this name does correctly identify their heritage.

And yes, one could argue that then someone could import any breeding animal from Japan, high quality or not, and call it "Wagyu" but realistically, that's unlikely to happen. Importing livestock is very expensive. They have to be quarantined after importation, and the process is not cheap. I'm not sure about cattle, but I can tell you that importation of a horse from Europe to the US will run you around $10K. So they are not going to import lousy stock. You don't spend that kind of cash unless you are really trying to improve your herd genetics.

If they are crossed with another beef breed, as is commonly done in the US, then it should be labeled as such, as in Wagyu/Angus, the most common cross.

As ScottyBoy illustrated, whatever you are going to call these animals, the beef does deserve a different name of some kind, because the marbling you see is just not the same thing as a good quality Angus steak.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

As expected, you'll find me on the side of "make sure the product IS what you call it."

There are a dozen restaurants in Las Vegas that STILL call their meat "Kobe beef." They charge a premium for these items. And they seem to rely on an ignorant customer base. That's like selling "Cuban-seed Dominican cigars" as "Cuban cigars." Both items are banned in the US. But the cigar people know enough about cigars to avoid being ripped off.

The average American beef consumer doesn't know squat. And nobody is getting the information out there so he or she can make more informed choices. The mass media and the government agencies aren't doing their jobs. They're rolling over, as usual, and letting big beef call their product whatever they want. The small producers like Snake River label their product honestly. How can they compete with big ranches selling their mock Kobe beef to an ignorant marketplace?


Who cares how time advances? I am drinking ale today. -- Edgar Allan Poe

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×
×
  • Create New...