Popping up all over America are signs for Kobe beef. Where does the beef come from? What makes it so special? What is Wagyu? How has production met demand?

Kobe beef is the world’s most famous red meat, but it is misunderstood, extremely rare, and cloaked in mystery. According to bonappetit.com’s July 12, 2016 article “Kobe Beef in the U.S. Is Basically a Huge Sham”.

Many restaurants and meat stores outside of Japan, including the United States, market steak that is incorrectly labeled as Kobe Beef (justonecookbook.com). Legal recognition of the Kobe Beef trademark is lacking. For clarification, Wagyu simply means Japanese cow. True Kobe Beef or Wagyu Beef is 100% full blooded Wagyu.

The bonappetit.com article explains that Kobe is an actual place, and its beef is one regional style of Japanese Wagyu. Stories of cattle reared on classical music, beer and massages are largely myths.

Genetics set pure Wagyu apart from all other beef with vastly superior marbling and fat quality. The fat is evenly dispersed and does not appear in bands or clumps, but as either tiny pinhead dots or a spider web of ultra-thin veins throughout the entire muscle. While most raw steaks are red and white, Wagyu is uniformly pink, a highly integrated blend of meat and fat. It’s also unusually high in healthier unsaturated fatty acids—especially oleic acid, which is responsible for flavor. These monounsaturated fats have a lower melting point, below human body temperature, so they literally melt in your mouth. Instantly recognizable, Japanese Wagyu looks and tastes markedly different from almost all other beef.

Today, enough Kobe beef reaches the U.S. To satisfy the average beef consumption of just 77 Americans. It’s so scarce that Kobe’s marketing board licenses individual

restaurants, and real Kobe beef is available at just eight restaurants in the entire country while none, ever, is sold retail.

From BusinessInsider.com on July 18, 2016, those eight restaurants are:

B&B Butchers & Restaurant in Houston, Texas

212 Steakhouse Restaurant in NYC, New York

Alexander’s Steakhouse in Cupertino, California and

Alexander’s Steakhouse in San Francisco, California

Bazaar Meat by Jose Andres, SLS Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada

Jean Georges Steakhouse, Aria Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada

SW Steakhouse, Wynn Las Vegas in Las Vegas, Nevada

Teppanyaki Ginza Onodera in Honolulu, Hawaii

Nick and Sam’s, Dallas, Texas

If you are not at one of the eight certified restaurants, simply assume any Kobe beef claim is false, especially “Kobe” burgers and hot dogs. More menus are listing domestic or American Kobe. This false advertising is on par with domestic Scotch Whiskey.

Wagyu can only be legally imported in boneless cuts—reject any porterhouse or rib steak posing as imported Wagyu. The real thing is always boneless, usually strip, rib eye or filet. High price may not be a guarantee of quality, but low price is a big red flag. Japanese Wagyu typically starts at $20 an ounce and can easily run twice that, so even a small serving for under $60-$80 is likely an impostor. If still in doubt, ask what region it’s from and from where the restaurant got it, as there are very few suppliers. If the waiter or chef hesitates or doesn’t know precisely, that’s a bad sign, as real Wagyu takes Herculean effort to procure.

For more information, read Real Food, Fake Food by Olmsted.