So you might be familiar with luxury or high-end beef like Wagyu. But did you know there’s also such a thing as high-end pork?
It’s called Kurobuta.
Kurobuta, which means “black hog” in Japanese, comes from the Black Berkshire pig, and is known as the highest quality pork in the world.
Due to its rich marbling, tenderness, and flavor, it’s often called the “Kobe beef of pork.”
What is Kurobuta?
Berkshire pigs are a rare breed of pig that was discovered over 300 years ago in Berkshire County in the United Kingdom. The breed quickly developed a reputation for its deliciousness.
Originally, the Berkshire pig had a reddish or sandy color, sometimes with spots. But Asian black pigs were soon imported into England and cross bred with the Berkshire, which produced pigs that have a black coat with white spots on the feet, tail end, nose and tip of ears. Hence the name, the Black Berkshire. From then on, the Black Berkshire pig has remained a pure breed.
Back then, the pork was only available to royalty. Because these pigs tasted like no other, the King of England had them specially bred so he could have eat-all-you-can Black Berkshire bacon and pork chops.
Thankfully, the British didn’t keep the delicious pigs to themselves. As a diplomatic gift, the British government gave some Berkshire pigs to the Kingdom of Ryukyu (now Okinawa) in Japan.
The Japanese were so impressed by the quality of the breed that they sent some to Kyushu island (where there’s more land) to breed them. Over time, the Japanese improved the quality of the pork even further. They developed their own breeding, feeding, and care methods to make the meat taste even more delicious. This is what separates Kurobuta pork from normal Berkshire pork.
Just like Wagyu, there are different brands of Kurobuta.
And just like Wagyu, the brands are named based on their location.
If Wagyu’s most famous brand is Kobe, from the capital city of Kobe of Hyogo Prefecture, the most famous Kurobuta brand is Kagoshima Kurobuta from the capital city of Kagoshima of Kagoshima Prefecture in southern Kyushu.
How is Kurobuta different from other pork?
Kurobuta pork looks and tastes like no other pork.
Traditional pork has a white color. Kurobuta has a darker reddish color.
Its meat contains a lot of intramuscular marbling (fat intermingling within the meat), which makes it uniquely tender and juicy. When you cut into it, the meat glistens.
There are four main factors that give Kurobuta the perfect combination of juiciness, flavor, and tenderness.
Just like how LeBron James was born to play basketball, Kurobuta were born to be deliciously eaten. Kurobuta comes from the Berkshire breed which is genetically predisposed to shorter muscle fibers and lots of marbling, which contributes to both the flavor and the tenderness.
In pork, the meat’s pH is the main driver of quality – even more important than marbling. pH is the measure of acidity in the meat. Small differences in pH can have a huge impact on pork’s flavor and texture. Kurobuta have a higher pH than other pigs. That’s why their color is darker and have a reddish hue rather than a white one. A higher pH also gives the meat a firmer texture and more flavorful taste. Pork with low pH is the opposite. Its color is paler, its texture is softer, and its taste is bland.
Aside from no hormones or antibiotics, Kurobuta pigs are given special diets since the food they eat while fattening is crucial. Pigs have a special digestive system that allows what they eat to affect how they will eventually taste.
Basically, you can change the flavor of the pork based on what you feed them! Feed it fish and it’ll taste fishy. Feed it corn and it’ll taste….corny. Kurobuta pigs are usually fed apples so the pork will have a sweet fruity taste. But each pig farmer is different, so pigs may also be fed peanuts, clover, corn, oats, milk, and even beer.
Kurobuta live a low-stress life.
When pigs are stressed, they produce energy that reduces their intramuscular fat. This results in dry, tough meat. The calmer the animal, the more evenly blood flows throughout its body, which ensures a juicy flavor.
Pigs are also prone to depression. Which causes stress. And nothing makes a pig depressed faster than being confined in tiny pigsties. So Kurobuta pigs are allowed to roam freely in a pasture.
Farmers make sure their pigs are happy. Happy pigs taste good. Sad pigs taste gross.
Is Kurobuta and Berkshire pork the same thing?
Just like how Kobe beef is Wagyu, but not all Wagyu is Kobe beef….
Kurobuta pork is Berkshire, but not all Berkshire is Kurobuta pork.
While the Berkshire is known for its high quality meat, Kurobuta pork takes quality up a notch.
This is due to the methods and standards in which the pigs are bred and raised. These methods and standards are just as important as the type of the breed.
In order for pork to be considered Kurobuta, it must be certified by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.
In the United States, the American Berkshire Association (ABA) has a pedigree registry system that certifies genetic purity. The “ABA Certified 100% Pure Berkshire Pork” program requires pedigree history on all breeding and market animals as well as DNA testing for meat quality genes.
Just like the question of whether Wagyu that are born and raised in the States is as good as Kobe Wagyu, the same debate arises between US and Japanese Berkshire pork. Although, there are smaller American farms that do export their Berkshire pigs to Japan.
Where can I eat some Kurobuta?
The most popular way to experience Kurobuta is to eat a tonkatsu dish. Tonkatsu is a breaded and deep-fried pork cutlet or filet, similar to European dishes like the schnitzel. Aside from the pork itself, what really makes a tonkatsu delicious is the special breading called panko.
Here are some local Manila restaurants (in alphabetical order) that offer Kurobuta tonkatsu:
Ginza BairinG/F UP Town Center, Katipunan Ave., Quezon City, Metro Manila
Katsu Sora2/F Greenhills Promenade, New Wing, Annapolis St. cor. Missouri St., Greenhills Shopping Center, San Juan, Metro Manila
Kimukatsu5/F Shangri-La Plaza, East Wing, EDSA cor. Shaw Blvd., Mandaluyong, Metro Manila
Tonkatsu by TerazawaG/F Greenbelt 2, Paseo de Roxas St. cor. Esperanza St., Ayala Center, Makati, Metro Manila
Yabu2/F Glorietta 5, East Drive, Ayala Center, Makati, Metro Manila