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Kobe Beef in the News

kobe-cow

A few customers asked us for our thoughts on this story in Forbes. Here you go:

It is important that people ask questions about their food. Period. End of Story. If more people made a habit of asking questions about what they eat, then our country would be a whole lot healthier. In that vein, it is important that people know that “Kobe Beef” is a term that is commonly used to denote eating qualities, not necessarily a geographical origination.

I’ve always regarded the term “kobe beef” to be similar in usage to brussel sprouts, Swiss cheese and Dijon mustard. It is a categorical designation, not a geographical one. We strive to accurately list the country or region of origin on our products. Our Kobe Beef has always been from Australia or the US and it has always been identified as such on each and every item page.

My personal opinion is that there is not a broad conspiracy among producers and chefs to defraud high-end diners, as accused in the story. Rather, this is the case of consumers, chefs and ranchers settling on a particular nomenclature over a period of decades for a term used to describe a category of product. The term “Kobe Beef” is surely not a brand that is owned or controlled by anyone. And, what is sold as “Kobe Beef” most certainly is different than the other products on the market – beef that has higher levels of marbling and fat (and therefore flavor) due to its genetics.

I do not think that users of the term are implying that it is “Beef from Kobe”. I still assume that most Americans don’t even know that Kobe is a city in Japan. Among those that do know, I am having a hard time imagining that they think their beef comes from a metropolis.

Reading this story on actual salmon fraud makes me think that there are probably a few restaurants out there who advertise Kobe Beef but use commodity beef instead. There are always a few bad apples just as there is an abundance of restaurateurs out there that are buying higher quality Kobe Beef at a higher cost and therefore passing that higher cost on to their customers while serving them better quality beef.

We need more consumers and journalists asking questions about food. Regardless of the author’s intentions or motivations, I commend him for igniting dialogue around this issue. However, I take strong issue with the author’s claim that this is “food’s biggest scam.” That statement may draw attention, but it is highly sensationalistic. Every food issue is important, but in the scheme of things, I personally find this nomenclature issue to be a non-issue. In fact, I wish that the author had used the significant journalistic power that he wields in order to uncover whatever actually is “food’s biggest scam” …because surely Kobe is not it.

I think that everyone’s attention is better served by focusing on issues that not only affect far more people, but that also affect people in more than a semantic way, like the 29 million pounds of antibiotics a year in livestock feed or the FDA’s acceptable levels of things like maggots, mold & rodent hairs in your food (hint: it’s not zero).

I am very curious to see where this dialogue leads us. Specifically, I ask that commenters share their opinions below. For the time being we are going to continue calling the product “kobe beef” and list the country of origin, just as we have for years. But, I am open to change.

Frankly, for my money, I’ll take New Zealand Grass-fed Beef any day over Kobe Beef.

 

3/14/14 Update: Since I wrote this original post, beef nomenclature has shifted. It is now our impression that “wagyu” is becoming the dominant word to describe “Kobe” beef produced in Australia or the US. I still stand by what I said above, but as a result of the shift in language we’ve recently renamed all our Kobe beef products to “Wagyu beef”.

Post Written by Justin Marx




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4 Responses to “Kobe Beef in the News”

  1. 1
    Jimmy says:

    Mr. Marx, I commend you on being so far the most amicable and open-minded of all the beef purveyors I’ve contacted regarding the GREAT KOBE BEEF DEBACLE!!! lol Okay, it’s not earth-shattering as the journalist would like to convey, but you’re right, he has sparked discussions. Thanks for delving deeper into it, and digging up other more pertinant food issues. I’m gonna read about salmon now.

  2. 2
    Cheryl Lee says:

    Justin, I 99.9% agree with your thoughts on the article.

    But here’s my two-cents. Having spent 3+ years living in Japan and substantial time traveling in the Kobe/Hyogo region, I admit that I have never seen marbling the way I have in Kobe as I have in America…and I have NEVER tasted any beef greater or more delicious than what I had in Kobe.

    The truth is that the wagyu in Japan are specific breeds that are designed to thrive in Japanese climates and ranching customs and to suit the Japanese palate. They have higher levels of unsaturated fat, are customarily not give any hormones or antibiotics, and have longer life spans – wagyu in Japan are allowed to live 2+ years rather than the usual 18 month-limit in America. Lastly, Americans don’t prefer “white steak” – so much marbling that the meat looks white – as much as the Japanese do.

    That said, even the wagyu rachners say it is hard to distinguish between a pure-bred wagyu and a half/cross breed…and my own taste buds are only human.

    So, I think it all depends. It is almost acceptable to call something “Kobe Beef” if it has specific characteristics and levels of marbling and fat, just as it is almost acceptable to call food served at P.F. Chang’s “Chinese cuisine.”

    Perhaps a compromise can be achieved by designating your Kobe beef as “American-style Kobe Beef” or “Kobe-style Wagyu Beef.” Maybe include a link or sidebar containing the minute differences between Kobe Beef from Kobe and Kobe Beef from America/Australia, and detail why your beef is just as delicious as beef originating from Kobe, Japan.

    That’s if any food elitist customer cares 😛

    ps. for my money, I’ll take beef in Kobe over beef in America…any day.

  3. 3
    Cheryl Lee says:

    *****edit: I admit that I have never seen marbling the way I have in AMERICA as I have in KOBE.

    (Sorry, I spent too much time in Japan and forgot how to speak English!)

  4. 4
    justin says:

    Cheryl, I like your suggestion of calling it “American” or “Australian” Kobe. That is something that we are considering and thanks much for throwing it out there!! Sounds like Japan was good to you. And, knowing you, I’m sure you were good to Japan as well!



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