What do the terms "Kobe beef," "Wagyu beef," and "American Wagyu" mean exactly?
Wagyu is a breed of cattle originally raised in Kobe, the capital city of Japan’s Hyogo prefecture. Wagyu have been bred for centuries for their rich intramuscular fat, the source of the buttery-tasting, supremely tender meat. Wagyu cattle boast extra fat since they spend an average of one year longer in the feedlot than regular cattle, and end up weighing between 200 and 400 pounds more at slaughter. What’s more, the fat in Wagyu beef is genetically predisposed to be about 70 percent desirable unsaturated fat and about 30 percent saturated fat, while the reverse is true for conventional American cattle.
In order to earn the designation “Kobe beef,” the Wagyu must come from Kobe and meet strict production standards that govern that appellation. Since all beef exports from Japan are currently prohibited because of an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease, any Wagyu consumed stateside are domestically raised. The “American Wagyu” or “American-Style Kobe Beef” that appears on some menus is usually a cross between Wagyu and Angus, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture requires that the animal be at least 50 percent Wagyu and remain in the feedlot for at least 350 days to receive these designations.
Snake River Farms, located in Idaho, has one of the largest herds of American Wagyu. When we tasted its beef ($18 to $50 per pound, depending on the cut) against regular prime beef ($13 to $30/pound), the Wagyu proved itself a delicacy worthy of an occasional splurge: It was strikingly rich, juicy, and tender. The prime beef was also very good, but its texture and taste weren’t quite as luxuriant.