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Kobe beef burgers are at the luxury end of the burger market. Made from ground beef from a Japanese breed of cattle called Wagyu, the burgers are bought by customers who want what they regard as very high quality meat. Wagyu beef has a distinctively strong marbling and a very red color. The difference in taste between Kobe beef and regular beef, connoisseurs say, is down to the way the cattle are raised, which can include a diet of beer and grains, and regular massages for the animals.
The origin of the beef is in a part of Japan called Hyogo, which has a capital city called Kobe. The type of cattle that produces the beef, Wagyu, include the Japanese Black, Brown, Polled and Shorthorn breeds. It is the Japanese Black, more specifically the Tajima subgroup, that is the source of Kobe beef. All Wagyu cows originally had both European cows and wild Japanese cattle as ancestors.
Technically Kobe beef is from Japanese cattle, but on the worldwide market, the name can also refer to Wagyu beef from other countries, such as the U.S. The market for beef from these cows is global, with a target customer of expensive restaurants and people who can afford to pay ten times more for Kobe beef burgers than burgers made from regular cattle. The legendary luxury life of the Wagyu cattle, along with the meat characteristics, bolster up the expensive image of the beef.
A defining feature of Kobe beef is that it has a great deal of marbling in the meat, where fat runs through the flesh, and the flesh itself is a strong red color. The massaging of the cattle, supposedly with Japanese rice wine, is purported to increase the marbling and distribute the fat evenly throughout the meat. Advocates of the massage also say that beef cattle that are relaxed and happy have tastier meat, as stress hormones are lower than usual in the body. Typically, Wagyu cattle receive special food that help improve the meat, such as grains and sometimes beer.
Japanese people eat Kobe beef both raw and lightly cooked. Kobe steaks, the experts say, require only searing on the outside and should not be cooked any more than medium rare. Cooking more than this apparently releases the fat that gives the flavor and tenderness to the meat. Kobe beef burgers may not need to be cooked through, depending on preference, although raw ground beef can harbor bacteria that can cause food poisoning, especially beef that has not been freshly ground. Salt and pepper are common additions to Kobe beef burgers, to bring out the flavor.
Typically, a Kobe beef burger comes in a large patty compared to regular burgers. Traditional burger accompaniments such as lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise are suitable to top off a Kobe beef burger, but if money is no object, then more luxurious condiments may be in order. Truffle oil mixed with freshly made mayonnaise is one popular option.