Just about everyone uses a wood cutting board. They are easily available, affordable and a great help in the kitchen. But to be honest, we don’t think much about how they are made. On the surface, they look like a basic piece of wood. Truth is, it’s not that simple.
Choosing the Right Type of Wood
Before we get into the details of how wood is prepared to make cutting boards, we need to decide which species to use.
The wood that works best for a cutting board is dense, hardwood with fine grains. Commonly used hardwoods include cherry, maple, oak, walnut and birch. But each has its pros and cons. While all these types are high-quality wood, it’s up to you to decide what suits your requirements best.
Whatever type of wood is chosen, it must go through the same procedure before it becomes a cutting board.
It is, however, important to understand the nature of wood. This is because environmental conditions, such as humidity, can affect it. It can expand or contract at any point in the process.
For a long time, most (if not all) cutting boards were made of wood. But at some point people began using plastic cutting boards. The idea was that they were easier to clean (and sanitize), and therefore were safer.
But in the late 1980s, a UC Davis researcher named Dean Cliver – the de facto godfather of cutting board food safety – decided to investigate whether plastic cutting boards really were safer.
Answer: not really.
Plastic cutting boards, Cliver found, are easier to sanitize. But cutting on them also leaves lots of grooves where bacteria can hide. Wood is tougher to sanitize, but it’s also (often) tougher in general – you won’t find as many deep scratches in the surface.
In addition, researchers have discovered that the type of wood your cutting board is made from also makes a difference.
“Hardwoods, are fine-grained, and the capillary action of those grains pulls down fluid, trapping the bacteria – which are killed off as the board dries after cleaning,” says Ben Chapman, a food safety researcher at NC State. “Soft woods, like cypress, are less likely to dull the edge of your knife, but also pose a greater food safety risk,” Chapman explains. “That’s because they have larger grains, which allows the wood to split apart more easily, forming grooves where bacteria can thrive.”
Which type of cutting board should you use? Chapman recommends using plastic cutting boards for meat and wood cutting boards for fruit, vegetables, or any ready-to-eat foods (like bread or cheese).