When I first got into the business, professional chefs and culinary colleges in the UK used wooden cutting boards. But someone decided that wooden boards were not hygienic and decided to replace them with plastic ones, and so the plague of plastic cutting boards began.
In the last few years, however, wooden boards have begun to regain popularity because several University studies have shown that bacteria actually grows slower on hardwood boards than plastic. This is because hardwood has a natural antibiotic property.
Basically, wooden cutting boards kill bacteria. Wood binds up water which bacteria needs to grow. Wood also contains antimicrobial compounds (given that many other plants can be used as natural antibiotics, this is not entirely surprising). Oak showed the highest decrease rate in bacterial titre, followed by beech and ash.
Types of Hardwood
There is a test of wood hardness called the Janka Test but for most people, it is more complicated than the casual observer needs.
Which woods are used for cutting boards can depend on the area of the world you live in; in America, chefs tend to favour Sugar Maple, in Europe we use a variety of hardwoods including Beechwood, White Oak and Rubberwood (also called Malaysian Oak). Ranging from inexpensive Rubberwood or Beechwood up to Teak and American Sugar Maple.
Just to clarify, bamboo is not wood it is a type of grass. The recent fashion of bamboo cutting boards just ‘muddy’s the water’. The seller’s claim it is sustainable, what they don’t tell you is that because Bamboo isn’t a wood, over time the fibres of the bamboo will break off and possibly get into your food. Some bamboo boards are glued together using phenol formaldehyde resin, which can be toxic until cured.
Size Of Your Cutting Board
Since you can not put your wooden cutting board into the dishwasher, you need to wash it by hand. Therefore deciding what size to buy can depend on the size of your kitchen sink. You need to be able to at least get half of your cutting board in your sink to make it practical to clean it. So I suggest a size of about 40 cm (15 3/4″) in length and a depth of about 26 cm (10 1/4 “) and no thinner than 1.8 cm. This is big enough to be practical but still easy enough to manoeuvre to clean. If weight is not an issue then a thicker board that is 3-4 cm thick will last longer.
Types of Wooden Boards
Traditionally, the wood grain on a chef’s cutting ran its length, this was thought to be more hygienic and easier to clean. The other type used to be only found in a butcher’s shop and are often referred to as a ‘butcher block cutting board’. Butcher blocks are constructed using pieces of wood with the grain running down, and were only used in a butcher’s because they are cleaned differently. They were salted down to kill bacteria and then scrubbed down with a serious, wire brush to remove the dirty layer of wood.
Modern butcher block cutting boards may look attractive, but eventually the glue holding the squares together could come loose (from washing) causing the board to warp. Having the grain run downwards may also help the board absorb more water which you don’t want from a hygiene point of view.
To Stop Your Board From Slipping
Don’t buy a board with rubber feet because that just stops you from using one side of the board. Instead, use something like this non-slip rubber mat, that you can cut to size and also keep clean.
Cleaning your Wooden Cutting Board
Plastic and wood have different characteristics, so you have to handle them differently. Plastic cutting boards can be placed in the dishwasher, where they can be sanitised by washing at high temperatures. However, wooden cutting boards would quickly be ruined by a dishwasher, and not everyone owns a dishwasher. If you’re washing a cutting board by hand, you should:
1.) Scrub the cutting board with hot clean soap and water (to get out any food debris in the scratches or grooves on the board’s surface).
2.) Sanitise the cutting board (you should use different sanitisers for wood cutting boards than for plastic ones). Look for an antibacterial cleaner with ‘Quaternary Ammonium Compounds’ listed in the ingredients, such as this one sold at Waitrose for UK readers, or Mr Clean antibacterial spray if you live in the USA.
3.) Then pat off the excess moisture with a paper towel and allow to air dry completely (I like to place my clean board on a wire cake rack, or trivet to allow air to circulate around it).
When I decided to write an article about the resurgence of wooden cutting boards I felt it was important to review a couple of boards myself. I did a lot of looking on the internet to try and find a few reasonably priced boards that I would be happy to use myself. I also read a lot of the information and tried to condense this into useful, but not overly long article. You can easily spend £60 to £120 on a large board which is unnecessary.
ChefRemi 4 stars
The Chef Remi company state their cutting board comes with a ‘100% Money Back Lifetime Warranty’, which says something about their quality and gives a first-time buyer some confidence in a growing market of cutting boards.
This rubberwood board measures 40cm x 25cm x 1.8 cm thickness
After using plastic boards both professionally and at home it was good to use a wooden board again. This board has a useful groove on one side to capture any liquid
and preventing it from getting onto your kitchen floor.
At £19.95 on Amazon, this might a good board for you, particularly if the weight of the cutting board is an issue and you want something light yet sturdy. The board has a protective coating that makes it easy to clean.
CollectorShop Oak Cutting Boards 4.5 stars*
This very handsome and solid oak cutting board measures 40cm x 30cm x 3cm thick, and is sold by the CollectorShop for £24.98 on eBay. This board has grooves milled into both sides (to act as handles) to make it easy to pick up.
Unlike other cutting boards that are made using lots of ends cuts, this board is made with five planks of white oak and thus will be around for years.
This cutting board is already impregnated with mineral oil, which is helpful, though I do still recommend you rub this board down with mineral oil from time to time. If you want a serious cutting board that you can still manoeuvre and get into your sink to clean then this is the board that I recommend.
Since reviewing this board back in 2017 the thickness of the board has gone down to 3cm instead of 4cm, the length and width remain the same 40 x 30cm. I still rate this oak cutting board for its practical size, the fact that it made of planks rather a a composite board glued together from end cuts. Though I am disappointed that it is now 3cm thick instead of 4cm. Thickness counts in the longterm stability of the cutting board and prevents warping.
If you have a larger kitchen and thus a larger sink, then the same company also sell an extra large board measuring 52cm (20.5 inches) x 39cm (15.5 inches) x 4cm (1.6 inches) thick for £39.99 on eBay which is a good price for the quality.
With all cutting boards, it is important to rub them down from time to time, with food grade mineral oil to stop them from absorbing too much water when you are cleaning them. Food grade mineral oil can be relatively expensive, although during my research for this article I did discover that buying a 1-litre bottle direct from Lincs Products was cheaper than anywhere else in the UK. It is important to store the mineral oil in a cool dry place to prolong its shelf life, if the oil becomes rancid it will need to be replaced.
Good cutting board hygiene is the key whatever your cutting board is made of.
Plastic cutting boards over time absorb grease and no amount of runs through the dishwasher or scrubbing can remove all of the grease, plus the scarring and knife marks can potentially hold bacteria. Glass and ceramic can stay grease free but just like plastic they blunt your knives, which can create a different hazard. If you like cooking and keeping your knives sharp then it’s time you took a look and perhaps fall in love with wood.