Everyone loves to take pictures of their food. It is an extension of who you are and where you’ve been and your photo album is as much your personality as your own thoughts and behaviours. If you didn’t post it, did it really happen? Well, here’s another thought for us. What about the provenance of these ingredients we document so eagerly? What about the origins of those ingredients. What about paying attention to the authenticity of those ingredients?
In a casually investigated expose into the beef market, and more specifically, the Japanese beef market, and even more specifically, Kobe beef, I found a pretty remarkable story.
Here’s the lowdown. Kobe beef is a very defined and rare type of Japanese beef. To tell the whole story, is super complicated, so I’ve tried to make it as easy to understand as possible, by using Marvel Universe analogies.
Cattle arrived in Japan from China, around the 2nd Century, which is a long time ago. This is even before MySpace and BBMs. I don’t even think Wolverine was alive back then. These cows were only used as draught animals for many, many centuries. Then, in 1900, the Japanese started crossbreeding their domestic cattle with imported European cattle, a strategy they would use in the motorcar industry some years later! From there, four superior breeds of cow were born. They were bigger, stronger, better tasting with more flavour. They were named The Japanese Black, Brown, Polled and Shorthorn. Together they were known as The Wagyu – forever immortalised in the echelons of cow history.
Consider The Wagyu like the wider Marvel Universe, a group of individuals cows all with superpowers, like intense marbling, abnormal percentages of unsaturated fats (the good kind), amazing ability to “moo” in a deep register. Things like that.
Here’s where it gets complicated. Within The Wagyu, there are a small group of cows called the Tajima, from the Japanese Black breed, who are born and raised in a small area of Japan called The Hyogo Prefecture. Consider these cows as The Avengers, earth’s mightiest cows. The highest of profiles in The Wagyu Universe, the big summer box office hit. The Japanese Polled and Shorthorn might go straight to Netflix or animation, but the Tajima cows are kept for the big screen blockbusters.
We all know, within The Avengers, there are the big three. There is Iron Man, The Hulk, and Captain America. Likewise, with Tajima cows, there are the big three brands, Matsusaka, Omi, and Kobe.
Now, every group needs a leader. The Avengers have Captain America.
Sidenote:- if you want to get into specifics, Tony Stark is technically not in The Avengers, the Iron Man suit is. Therefore, Tony Stark is technically a consultant, which is why Captain America is really the official leader of The Avengers.
Within the Tajima cows, The Kobe brand is clearly the leader, internationally at least. Kobe holds itself to the most exacting of expectations and the highest of standards, much like Capt’n himself. Kobe is the boy scout of the Tajimas.
Now, let’s talk about how rare Kobe beef is. Approximately five thousand cows are certified Kobe each year. Five thousand for the entire world. Each cow gets a ten-digit certification number that allows the consumer to confirm true Kobe heritage.
So, how special are these Kobe cows? Well, USDA Prime, the very best of American beef has a maximum marbling score of either four or five. The minimum score a Japanese Kobe is allowed is a level eight and can go all the way up to twelve. That’s like Thor against Hawkeye.
Out of the five thousand Kobe cows available annually, only about two of them were sent to the UAE in 2017. Not two thousand. Just two. To be more precise, 964 kilograms of certified original Kobe beef was imported into the UAE in 2017 according to the Kobe Beef Marketing & Distribution Promotion Association. Otherwise known as S.H.I.E.L.D.
Let’s put that in perspective – Assuming an average portion size of a 150g steak, that means only 6,500 steaks are available for the entire year or 125 portions a week for the whole country. So, unfortunately, if you think you’ve had real Kobe beef recently in Dubai, maybe think again, because there really is not much available on the market. If you are going to pay 800 dhs for a 150g Kobe steak, perhaps you should ask for some certification from the butcher or restaurant to make sure you are getting what you pay for. In fact, I would argue that anyone claiming to sell Kobe beef should already be showing proof of authenticity.
However, unfortunately Kobe is not a Protected Designation of Origin so that means anyone can use this word. Kobe style sliders are the worst, in my opinion. What does that even mean? Even Wagyu beef is misleading as most of the Wagyu in this market is from Australia, not Japan. Be warned about Kobe or Wagyu burgers, because chances are they’ve been blended with a lower grade of beef.
This raises a broader question, what’s more important, getting that beautiful flat lay Instagram shot or getting genuine, authenticated ingredients. I’m afraid of the answer, to be honest.
Next week, I’ll be explaining the origins of Parmesan cheese, using Pokémon as an analogy. Stay tuned.