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Kobe beef (神戸ビーフ Kōbe bīfu?) refers to cuts of beef from the Tajima strain of wagyu cattle, raised in Hyogo Prefecture, Japan, according to rules as set out by the Kobe Beef Marketing & Distribution Promotion Association. The meat is generally considered to be a delicacy, renowned for its flavour, tenderness, and fatty, well-marbled texture. Kobe beef can be prepared as steak, sukiyaki, shabu shabu, sashimi, teppanyaki, and more.
Cattle were introduced into Japan in the second century as work animals, and used in rice cultivation. The mountainous topography of the islands of Japan resulted in small regions of isolated breeding, yielding herds that developed and maintained qualities in their meat that differ significantly from other breeds of cattle.
Starting in the late 18th century, and for several decades thereafter, native Japanese cattle were interbred with many European breeds, including Brown Swiss, Shorthorn and Devon. The cattle originally recognized in 1943 as "Kobe beef" were cattle from herds in the Kobe area of Japan, and could be any of four breeds of Wagyu cattle: the Akaushi (Japanese Red), the Kuroushi (Japanese Black), the Japanese Polled and the Japanese Shorthorn. Tajima is a strain of the Japanese Black.
In 1983, a marketing group was formed in order to define and promote the Kobe trademark. The Kobe Beef Marketing and Distribution Promotion Association sets standards in order for a cow to be labeled Kobe Beef.
Kobe beef in Japan is a registered trademark of the Kobe Beef Marketing and Distribution Promotion Association (神戸肉流通推進協議会 Kōbeniku Ryūtsū Suishin Kyōgikai?). It must fulfill all the following conditions:
Prior to 2012, Kobe beef was not exported. The first exports, in February 2012, were to Macao. Since then, exports have also been made to Hong Kong, the United States, Singapore and Thailand.
The increase in popularity of Japanese beef in the United States has led to the creation of "Kobe-style" beef, taken from domestically raised wagyu crossbred with Angus cattle, to meet the demand. Farms in the U.S. and Britain have attempted to replicate the Kobe traditions. US meat producers claim any differences between their less expensive "Kobe-style" beef and true Kobe beef are largely cosmetic. Cuts of U.S. "Kobe-style" beef tend to have darker meat and a bolder flavor.
The proliferation of beef outside Japan marketed as Kobe beef is an issue for Kobe beef farmers. Due to a lack of legal recognition of the Kobe beef trademark in some countries, it is possible to sell meat that is incorrectly labeled as Kobe beef. To address some of these issues, the Kobe Beef Marketing and Distribution Promotion Association plans to make available a pamphlet in foreign languages with details about Kobe beef.
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