Wood Cutting Boards
A good knife needs a good cutting board. Using your knife on a bad cutting board is like taking one step forward and two steps back: the knife cuts the food but the cutting board dulls the knife. Since cutting boards are indispensable in the kitchen, you have to have a good one that will work perfectly with your knives. Even with the rise of plastic cutting boards, wood cutting boards are still wildly popular. But what type of wood is used for cutting boards? Are wooden boards safe? Let's see.
Features of a Good Cutting Board
It's all in the wood. Wooden material has to meet certain standards to make a good cutting board. These are:
You probably know all about hardwood and softwood trees. Softwoods grow faster and are mostly evergreen cone-bearing trees. Think pine, cypress, cedar. Their wood tends to be soft.
Hardwoods grow slower and are harder (obviously), meaning their wood is denser than softwood. Think maple, teak, walnut, etc. This makes them better choices for cutting boards because hardwood scratches less easily than softwood. The wood shouldn't be too hard though, because then it would make the knife dull with frequent use.
This refers to the size of the pores (very small holes) in the wood. Porosity is determined by the wood grain. Woodgrain is the size, direction, and appearance of the wood cell fibers of a cutting board.
The best wood for a cutting board is closed-grained wood. It has small pores and feels smooth. Small pores prevent liquids from getting into the wood, keeping the cutting board safe from bacteria and other germs.
Open grain wood has large pores and feels rougher. Larger pores allow liquids and other bits of food into the wood, which can in turn encourage the growth of bacteria and other germs. Open grain wood also warps more easily as it absorbs and holds more water.
Cutting boards come in direct contact with food, so they cannot be made from toxic wood. Some tree species are known to produce poisons for reasons best known to them. Avoid these for use as cutting boards as any natural toxins in the wood could be absorbed into the food. For example, some species of tropical hardwood trees produce lots of toxins to keep predatory microbes and insects from eating them up. Avoid them.
If you're not sure what material is safe, keep to wood from trees that produce edible nuts, fruits, or sap. Also, make sure any finishes on the cutting board like glue are non-toxic.
Types of Wood for Cutting Boards
Now that we know what makes different types of wood good for cutting boards, let's look at some popular materials for the ideal wood cutting boards.
Maple, specifically sugar maple, is the go-to material for wood cutting boards. It is strong enough to withstand daily use, but not too hard to ruin your knife. I
t also has small pores and closely packed grain, so it won't soak up liquids easily. That means it's also easy to wash and it dries fast.
Maple cutting boards are naturally antimicrobial, which means they're tough on germs and won't let them grow. They are also relatively affordable. Maple's only downside is its light color, which easily retains stains from brightly colored foods.
Walnut is the opposite of maple. It is a heavy and soft closed-grain hardwood. Walnuts come in rich, dark colors, which just about hide any stain, so you don't have to worry about unsightly marks.
Softness makes walnut the most knife-friendly of the hardwood cutting boards because soft cutting boards don't dull knives as much as hard cutting boards. However, soft boards get scratched and dented more, so that's a drawback. Anyway, you can't have everything. Keep in mind also that this tree produces nuts, and oils from the wood can get into the food. Watch out for nut allergies.
Beech is a European tree that produces wood that is as hard as maple. Like maple, it is also water, dirt, and germ-resistant due to its small pores.
Beech is like wine-it improves as it ages. When young, it has a creamy, soft pink tone, which then darkens to a lovely red color with time.
Teak is a tropical hardwood tree that typically grows in Southeast Asia. It has high levels of silica, which makes it really hard and scratch-resistant. This is good, as fewer scratches mean less dirt and germs getting in. However, it also means that it will dull your knives faster.
Teak also has lots of natural oils and is closed grain, which makes it water-resistant. This prevents the cutting board from warping (losing shape) due to constant washing.
Teak cutting boards last really long due to their hardness and durability. They, therefore, aren't cheap. Still, if you're into cooking for the long-haul, they are a worthwhile investment.
Some cutting boards like the Tojiro Pro Kiri Wood Japanese Cutting Board are made from Paulownia wood. Paulownia is a tree native to Japan and other East Asian countries. It is traditionally known as Kiri.
It is light in weight, close-grained, and warp-resistant. It also has natural antibacterial qualities, so any bacteria left over from washing are killed.
Are Wood Cutting Boards Safe?
A common misconception about wood cutting boards is that they're unsafe because they retain germs in the wood grain. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Sure, perhaps some germs escape the wash with soap and water and get into the wood. However, the germs remain trapped inside and cannot multiply so they eventually die. Plus, plenty of hardwood cutting boards are made from wood with natural antimicrobial properties which prevent the growth of bacteria. As long as you keep your board clean and dry when not in use, it should serve you for a long, long time.
Wood cutting boards look great and authentic in the kitchen. When paired with a good knife they make for enjoyable cooking. Shop our range of wooden chopping boards now.