Kobe beef, also known as Wagyu beef, is renowned for its melt-in-your-mouth texture and unique flavor. But have you ever wondered why it has a distinct aroma? Some people might even describe it as “weird.”
Well, fear not, because scientists have been hard at work trying to unravel the mystery behind this delicacy’s alluring scent. In this blog post, we’ll explore the latest research on the compounds that contribute to Kobe beef’s aroma and what makes it so different from other types of beef.
So, let’s dive in and discover the science behind the smell of Kobe beef!
Does Kobe Beef Smell Weird?
First things first, let’s address the elephant in the room – does Kobe beef smell weird? The answer is no, not necessarily. The aroma of Kobe beef is actually quite pleasant and sweet, often compared to coconut or fruit. However, it is definitely distinct from the smell of other types of beef.
So, what makes Kobe beef’s aroma so unique? According to a study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, the answer lies in several key odorants that contribute to its alluring scent. These odorants are derived from fatty acids present in the meat, which makes sense considering Kobe beef is known for its high fat content.
In fact, Kobe beef is bred and raised to have 30 to 40 percent fat in the muscle, whereas typical U.S. beef won’t even come close to that. This high fat content not only contributes to the meat’s texture and flavor but also its aroma.
The Origins Of Kobe Beef
Kobe beef is a type of Wagyu beef that originated in Japan’s Hyogo prefecture, specifically from the Tajima strain of Japanese Black cattle. The cattle must be of pure-breed Tajima-Gyu ancestry, born and raised in Hyogo Prefecture, and fed only grasses and grains from within the Prefecture. The meat is a delicacy that is highly valued for its flavor, tenderness, and fatty, well-marbled texture. Kobe beef can be prepared in various ways, including as steak, sukiyaki, shabu-shabu, sashimi, and teppanyaki.
The origins of Kobe beef can be traced back to the late 1800s when an Englishman visiting the port of Kobe had the idea of eating beef from cows raised in Hyogo. At that time, the Japanese diet did not include meat, and cows in Japan were used mostly as draught animals. Since then, Kobe beef has been celebrated as what many believe to be the best in the world.
To qualify as Kobe beef, the cattle must meet strict grading requirements set out by the Kobe Beef Marketing and Distribution Promotion Association. The steer must be of the Tajima cattle breed, born in the Hyogo prefecture, fed to a minimum of 26 months, and meet strict grading requirements. When graded, the score must be A4 or higher, with a BMS 6 or higher. The gross weight of beef produced from one animal must be 470 kgs or less. Beef must also have a fine meat texture and excellent firmness.
Kobe Beef is a specific brand of Wagyu that many may claim to provide. However, it is important to note that Kobe-Style Wagyu beef is not the same as the branded Kobe Beef. Although many may know of the term “Kobe Beef”, actual Kobe Beef in the United States is quite rare due to limited availability and strict standards that contribute to a tight supply of Kobe Beef.
What Makes Kobe Beef Smell Different?
To understand what makes Kobe beef smell different, researchers conducted an aroma extraction dilution analysis of Matsusaka-beef (a kind of Kobe beef ribeye) and grass-fed Australia beef (loin). The samples were heated to about 175 degrees Fahrenheit to simulate optimal cooking conditions. Using gas chromatography techniques, the research team detected 10 newly identified compounds in the Kobe beef aroma, including one previously associated with cooked chicken that had an egg-white odor.
Several compounds found in the Kobe beef aroma were also found in the Australian beef aroma. However, the researchers say they likely don’t smell alike because of the differing amounts of these constituents in the meats. The most potent odorant of Kobe beef was a compound known to be derived from fatty acids present in the meat. This study not only clarifies which compounds are the main odorants in cooked Kobe beef, but it also helps confirm that particular types and amounts of unsaturated fatty acids in the beef play a key part in this aromatic process.
So, while Kobe beef’s aroma may be distinct from other types of beef, it’s ultimately due to the high fat content and specific types of unsaturated fatty acids present in the meat. These compounds contribute to the meat’s texture, flavor, and overall sensory experience.
The Science Behind Kobe Beef’s Aroma
To understand the science behind Kobe beef’s aroma, we must first understand the breed of cattle it comes from. Kobe beef comes from the Tajima-gyu breed of cattle found in Japan’s Hyōgo Prefecture. These cattle are known for their unique taste and texture, which is a result of their isolated breeding and distinct feeding techniques.
A study conducted on Japanese Black cattle, which accounts for 95 percent of Wagyu (of which Kobe beef is a type), identified 39 odorants using GC-O analysis. The study also quantified eight odorants that contribute to Wagyu beef aroma, with γ-hexalactone being proposed as a marker for Kobe beef aroma.
This lactone is present in higher levels in the marbled area of the meat, which is where the high concentration of fat is found. The study also identified several critical metabolites related to Wagyu beef aroma, including glutamine, decanoic acid, phosphoric acid, lactic acid, creatinine, and hypoxanthine.
Another study conducted by Satsuki Inagaki and colleagues used aroma extraction dilution analysis to detect several key odorants that contribute to Kobe beef’s aroma. The most potent odorant was found to be a compound derived from fatty acids present in the meat. The study confirmed that particular types and amounts of unsaturated fatty acids in the beef play a key part in the aromatic process.
While there is no hard evidence to suggest that cows are given beer or massaged daily with sake to improve flavor or texture, these techniques add to the decadence and mystique of Kobe beef. Ultimately, it is the unique breeding and feeding techniques, as well as the high fat content and specific types of unsaturated fatty acids present in the meat, that contribute to Kobe beef’s distinctive aroma.
The Role Of Fatty Acids In Kobe Beef’s Flavor
Fatty acids play a crucial role in Kobe beef’s flavor. Specifically, unsaturated fatty acids are responsible for the meat’s unique aroma. In a study conducted by Satsuki Inagaki and colleagues, it was found that particular types and amounts of unsaturated fatty acids in the beef play a key part in this aromatic process.
Kobe beef is higher in monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) than regular beef, which enhances its flavor and savory taste. MUFAs are considered one of the “good fats” and are known to help prevent coronary disease and aid in weight loss. Additionally, Kobe beef is rich in oleic acids, which determine the taste of fat and the flavor component inosinic acid.
The fine, delicate meat of Kobe beef has a high degree of fat marbling that melts at low temperatures. This marbling not only adds tenderness to the meat but also contributes to its unique aroma. The most potent odorant of Kobe beef is a compound derived from fatty acids present in the meat.
How To Properly Cook Kobe Beef To Enhance Its Aroma And Flavor
Now that we know what makes Kobe beef’s aroma so unique, let’s talk about how to properly cook it to enhance its flavor. It’s important to note that Kobe beef is a delicate and expensive cut of meat, so it’s essential to take the right steps to ensure that you get the most out of your experience.
Firstly, it’s crucial to thaw the meat safely in your fridge overnight. Once you’re ready to cook, take it out of the fridge and let it sit at room temperature for a while. This will allow the meat to cook more evenly and prevent an overcooked outside and undercooked inside.
Before cooking, trim the fat around the edges and use it to lubricate the pan. This will help the fat on your piece of beef stay in place rather than melting onto the pan. Once the oil starts to smoke, it’s time to cook the steak. Salt the steak a little just before cooking, but not too much. The intense umami that Japanese A5 Wagyu is known for carries all the flavor you need.
Cook it hot, at medium-high heat. Your goal through cooking is simple: To take this relatively thin, Japanese-cut steak and sear the outside quickly. You’re just warming and melting the interior fats, not truly cooking them. Depending on the size of your cut and the heat of your pan (which should be set to medium-high), this could take up to 3 minutes total to cook both sides.
Resting the steak is crucial as well. Rest it for twice as long as you cooked it (if you cooked for 3 minutes, let it rest for 6). This will allow all the juices in the meat to redistribute evenly throughout the steak, making it even juicier.
When you’re ready to eat, take a moment to savor the beef alone, focusing on its sweetness, fragrance, and tenderness. If you want to enhance its flavor even more, try adding a compound butter made with garlic and parsley.
Conclusion: Embrace The Unique Smell Of Kobe Beef
While the distinct smell of Kobe beef may be off-putting to some, it is actually a key component of what makes this meat so sought-after and unique. The aroma is a result of specific compounds derived from the high fat content of the meat, which contribute to its characteristic flavor and texture. So, instead of shying away from the smell, embrace it as a sign of the high-quality beef you are about to enjoy. And next time you indulge in Kobe beef, take a moment to appreciate the complex and alluring scent that makes this meat truly one-of-a-kind.