Grill Hills

Is SA's Wagyu beef the same as Japan's famously expensive Kobe?

Our food expert answers your culinary questions

12 November 2020 - 08:30
The characteristic intramuscular marbling of fat in SA's Wagyu beef gives it an incredibly rich flavour.
The characteristic intramuscular marbling of fat in SA's Wagyu beef gives it an incredibly rich flavour.
Image: 123RF/Andrei Iakhniuk

THE QUESTION

I see Wagyu beef is on sale at my local butcher. Is there a difference between Wagyu and Kobe beef? — Jenny, Sandton

THE ANSWER

The meaning of the word “Wagyu” is Japanese beef. The name “Kobe” is a reference to the specific region in Japan where a premium variety of that beef is raised. Therefore, all Kobe beef is Wagyu, but not all Wagyu is Kobe.

There are strict regulations regarding the production of authentic Kobe beef. The meat is prized globally for its incredible tenderness and its unique marbling of fat — it sells for the highest price of all the beef produced in the world. Some refer to authentic Kobe beef, produced in Japan, as edible gold - it’s that pricey.

According to Caroline McCann of Braeside Butchery, the first farmer to produce Wagyu beef in Africa was Brian Angus of Woodview Wagyu in the Free State, and there is now a growing number of South Africans doing so. They’re governed by the strict regulations of Wagyu SA.

Some refer to authentic Kobe beef as edible gold - it’s that pricey.

Semen imported from Japanese bulls is used to impregnate heifers, and the calves are raised in the style of their Kobe counterparts. This means that the cattle don’t expend too much energy to promote the production of fat. They’re also fed a high-carb diet, which gives the meat the intramuscular marbling of fat for which it’s famed.

This marbling, which results in the meat having “very fine muscle fibres”, is one of the things that stands out about local Wagyu beef for McCann. The other is its incredible richness — “you’re not going to eat a lot of it,” she says.

That may be just as well because it's expensive. Abattoirs use specialised technology to grade the meat which, according to McCann, ranges in price from between R180 and R220 a kilo for beef patties, and between R700 and R1,200 a kilo for the much-prized steak.

Have you tasted local Wagyu beef? We’d love to hear your thoughts on the meat in the comments section below. ​

HAVE A COOKING QUERY? GRILL HILLS

In a cookery quandary, have a problem with a recipe, bogged down by measurement conversions, or baffled by an ingredient? For sound advice, Sunday Times food editor Hilary Biller is at your service. Send your queries to food@sundaytimes.co.za with “Grill Hills” in the subject line. If yours is selected, she'll answer it in an online article.


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