What is kurobuta pork?
Kurobuta pork is getting increasingly popular in the United States. But what is it?
“Kuro-buta” means “black pig” in Japanese. Strictly speaking, it’s a brand used only for premium Berkshire pigs raised in certain areas in Japan. Kagoshima prefecture in Kyushu island (the southwest tip of the mainland Japan), is the largest producer of kurobuta pork, and Kagoshima (or more commonly called satsuma) kurobuta is known for its quality. Although meat usually has distinct smells even when it’s fresh, kurobuta has less of it and more of flavors.
According to the Kagoshima Kurobuta website, the region has long history of growing pigs (400 years). About 150 yeas ago, producers started to introduce Berkshire pigs from England for breed improvement, and by 1950 their kurobuta established a brand identity as quality/premium pork, and was in high demand in large markets such as Tokyo.
However, the path wasn’t always easy for kutobuta. It almost lost economic war after the 50’s, as producers started to switch to “white pigs (e.g. landrace),” which were cheaper/faster to produce. It took collective efforts to protect and sustain kurobuta production by sharing a belief that certain consumers would chose quality over price, and their hard work should be paid off.
And they were right. in the 21th century, kurobuta is going global as if it’s the new Kobe beef or wagyu.
In a sense, Kurobuta compared to regular pork is like turkey relative to chicken – lighter and heather. But kurobuta is not bland – it’s flavorful, and what’s better, it doesn’t have distinct smell like turkey. One of the reason for that is the fact that Kagoshima kurobuta grow eating sweet potatoes (another key agricultural product from the region). (You need to add 10~20 % sweet potatoes to the feed for more than 60 days in order to certify your pig “kurobuta” in Kagoshima.) It is believed that sweet potatoes increase the quality of meat by making the fat less fatty, increasing Vitamin E among other things.
It looks like kurobuta in US are raised in the US, but the rule of thumb is that Berkshire is requires more time/efforts to raise compared to other kind of pigs, so it could cost more.
But you don’t have to eat at lot of meat when it is with high quality. Although you may tempted to make some tonkatsu using kurobuta, it is actually very good for minimally processed dishes, such as shabu-shabu. Enjoy the natural flavor of kurobuta.