When choosing the best wood for cutting boards, one thing you need to remember is that not all wood types can adapt to the kitchen. Only a handful of tree species are made into butcher blocks and chopping boards out of thousands of wood sources in nature.
In general, maple, bamboo, teak, cherry, and walnut are some of the select few that make the list of suitable wood for the kitchen. On the other hand, you can’t find plenty of recommendations for fir, cedar, and pine.
Why can’t all types of wood be made into a cutting board? Several factors bring about this fact, which we will discuss in this article.
What to consider when choosing wooden cutting boards
When shopping for a new chopping board or block, it’s essential to look for these key attributes that the wood should possess.
Janka hardness rating
The Janka hardness scale measures the hardness of every wood species with each other. Although experts mainly use it to determine the most suitable wood for flooring, it’s good to understand how every wood stands as a kitchen must-have.
Measured in lbf or pounds-force, a high Janka hardness rating indicates that wood is resistant to dents, scratches, and dings from knives. Hard maple is rated at 1450 lbf while butternut is at 490 lbf.
The best wood for cutting boards is naturally the ones at the harder end of the Janka scale. It’s a good indication that the material can stand up to repeated knife use over a long time. It could also prevent bacteria from being absorbed into the wood.
If you’re choosing or making a chopping board with more than one wood species, it’s better to keep them within the same range of hardness. For example, mixing maple and butternut causes uneven wear and inconsistent finish, which you don’t want for your cutting board.
Wood toxicity is a common concern of woodworkers since wood dust and the raw composition of a few species cause irritation, sensitization, and poisoning in some cases. Using the chopping board won’t necessarily expose you to wood dust. However, there’s always the big question of whether it’s safe to use in the kitchen.
Take rosewood for example. This dark brown timber has a rich and stunning texture. The problem is that the oil it leaches can trigger an allergic reaction in a few individuals. As a rule of thumb, wood species that produce edible leaves, nuts, fruits, or sap are food safe.
You should also be careful when using reclaimed wood. These are wood materials used for a different purpose than their original application. It may look safe and even charming with its worn-out look, but this wood may have been exposed to toxins and chemical treatments, making it unsafe for food-related use.
Close-grained woods (pores are invisible to the naked eye) are preferable to open-grained ones. Tight pores on the cutting board ensure that no bacteria or liquid seeps through the cutting surface. It effectively prevents mold growth, stains, and wood warping, which ultimately damages your chopping board.
Ash and oak are poor choices since they are open-grained and tend to soak up moisture, making them a likely habitat for bacteria.
The best wood for cutting boards and chopping blocks are those that have food-grade mineral oils applied to them. This component prevents the wood from shrinking naturally. It also suppresses any splitting or warping that typically happens when there’s a decrease in surrounding humidity.
It’s good practice to condition your chopping board quarterly after thoroughly cleaning it. Some wood species may shrink faster so you would have to oil the board more frequently.
When buying a cutting board, you should consider whether the material is made from an endangered wood species. Some types of ebony, walnut, teak, and mahogany belong to this classification. It’s best to choose a board from a brand that’s environmentally conscious and avoids using endangered sources, keeping their products sustainable and eco-friendly.
A lot of factors go into the cost of the wood material. For instance, bamboo is readily available as it grows faster than other species. Therefore, they tend to be one of the cheapest to buy. Store-bought wooden cutting boards are in a cheaper range than butcher blocks.
Alternatively, you can create your chopping board if you don’t mind doing handiwork. You can shop around for hardwood and craft it into a DIY board that matches your style.
Best wood for cutting boards
Not all chopping boards are built the same. This kitchen tool stands the test of time and keeps your food safe. However, you must arrive at the right choice of the wood material to reap its benefits.
Here are a few standout candidates for the best wood for cutting boards.
Hard maple or sugar maple is the most popular option for cutting boards. It’s close-grained and has a neutral color, making it a fitting choice for the kitchen. It also boasts the right hardness that makes it long-lasting despite regular use.
A word of caution: red maple is toxic, so opt for sugar maple instead!
A lot of kitchen-savvy individuals love white ash food for cutting boards. It is a tough material that withstands daily use. However, it gets stained easily because it is ring-porous. If you choose ash, you might have to give it extra care compared to other wood cutting boards.
Teak is durable and easy to maintain, making it a prized material for chopping boards. It also boasts water-repelling oils that come out naturally after it is processed. The tight grain allows protection against bacteria and mildew growth, making it a top pick for sanitation.
However, there’s a sustainability issue with this wood material. For instance, the African teak is already listed as an endangered species, likely because of its soaring popularity.
Cherry is another close-grained wood species that last for years if treated. It features a medium to dark color and a rich texture that creates an elegant, timeless cutting board. Cherry is also not too hard, ensuring that it won’t dull knives.
Eco-friendly and affordable, bamboo is technically a hard grass but still belongs to the list of the best wood for cutting boards. It checks almost everything: high hardness rating (1,380 lbf), sustainable, renewable, water-resistant, high in silica, and needs no chemical to harvest or grow.
Walnut is a closed-grained hardwood but more on the soft side at 1,010 lbf. That means this chopping board doesn’t dull knives, although it could be more prone to dents and scratches. The stunning dark hue effectively masks stains, too!
Which wood cutting board works for you?
If you have a woodsy-themed kitchen, selecting chopping boards made of these valuable wood species will not only match your style but also ensure your safety. When choosing the best wood for cutting boards, it’s essential to find one that’s hard enough to resist scratches but not too much that it dulls the knife. It should also be washable, non-toxic, and eco-friendly!
Again choosing the right knife is also important for smooth chopping and cutting experience. Ceramic and metal knives are the most popular ones in terms of material but they both have certain pros and cons. Read this ceramic knives vs metal knives comparison to have the best knife.