If you, like many Americans, think you've tasted Kobe beef, think again. Unless you've actually been to Japan and tasted it there, you haven't had the real thing, because you cannot buy Kobe beef in this country. If you've ever specifically ordered something called "Kobe beef" on a menu, we hope it was delicious... but it wasn't Kobe beef.
According to Forbes, what you've probably had is "faux-be" beef, some kind of imitation from the Midwest, Australia, or South America. Authentic Kobe beef is produced under some of the world's strictest legal food standards:
In Japan, to be Kobe requires a pure lineage of Tajima-gyu breed cattle (not any old Japanese breed crossbred with American cattle as is the norm here). The animal must also have been born in Hyogo prefecture and thus raised on the local grasses and water and terroir its entire life. It must be a bull or virgin cow, and it takes considerably longer to raise a Tajima-gyu for consumption than most other breeds, adding to the cost. It must be processed in a Hyogo slaughterhouse - none of which export to the US - and then pass a strict government grading exam. There are only 3000 head of certified Kobe Beef cattle in the world, and none are outside Japan. The process is so strict that when the beef is sold, either in stores or restaurants, it must carry the 10-digit identification number so customers know what particular Tajima-gyu cow it came from.
Additionally, since 2010 it's been illegal to import any Japanese beef. The "Kobe" beef sold in the US retains the name because, well, there are no laws in this country preventing vendors from calling their beef whatever they want! And people buy it based on its excellent reputation—a reputation, Forbes writes, "that has essentially been stolen."
Read More: Food's Biggest Scam: The Great Kobe Beef Lie at Forbes
(Image: Flickr member jiashiang licensed for use under Creative Commons)