One of the most essential and overlooked items in a kitchen is your cutting board. A cutting board is used daily and needs to withstand use and time with the sharpest tools in your kitchen. Even though there are several different types of material, you can make some of the best cutting boards out of bamboo and wood.
The main difference between bamboo and wood cutting boards is what is known as porosity. Bamboo is considered a grass and is slightly more porous, making it harder to clean yet stronger than a wood cutting board.
Prepping food in your kitchen without a cutting board and a knife can be virtually impossible. For those who are eco-conscious, a bamboo cutting board might be the best option. However, there are many benefits to wood cutting boards as well. Read on to find out more about the pros and cons of both bamboo and wood cutting boards.
Key Characteristics of Cutting Boards
Cutting boards made of more porous material like wood or bamboo are ideal for using expensive knives on. Porous and softwood or “open grain” wood is better for expensive knives because they can be oiled and will not damage your knives like a glass cutting board might.
However, there are many characteristics that differ between bamboo and wood cutting boards.
Before you start to compare the materials and usefulness of bamboo and wood cutting boards, it is helpful to understand both bamboo and wood cutting boards’ characteristics. Even though there are differences between the two, you can compare both wood and bamboo cutting boards by hardness, porosity, and toxicity.
The most important characteristics that make up the composition of every cutting board are listed below. These characteristics can help you to compare wood and bamboo cutting boards better overall and by individual uses.
Determining a material’s hardness is not difficult. You can rate most materials by pounds-force(lbf). Wood and bamboo are no different. The hardness of a material is known as the Janka hardness rating. You can use the Janka Hardness Rating to determine the hardness of bamboo and most types of wood.
If a material has a higher pound-force rating, it is harder. The harder a material is, the better it will be resistant to scratching and divots. Cutting boards with a higher pound-force rating or Janka Hardness Rating are more durable and less prone to being damaged by your knives.
|Cutting Board Material||Janka Hardness Rating (lbf)||Overall Hardness|
The size and number of pores in the cutting board material is a characteristic that can tell you about the safety and health of the cutting board. All-natural materials have a varying degree rating of porosity.
Those materials with fewer and smaller pores are known as “closed grain” materials because the pores are not visible. Materials with larger pores are known as “open grain” materials because the grain is open, and the pores are visible with the naked eye.
Pores in wood and bamboo cutting boards can be a big problem. If you do not properly clean and dry your cutting board, food, moisture, and bacteria can get stuck and begin to grow in the pores. Building-up of bacteria on the cutting board can cause some dangerous and unhealthy mold to build up on the cutting board and ruin it.
Using oil is a great practice to occasionally use on wood or bamboo cutting boards because it helps to seal the material’s porosity. For open grain materials, it is better to use oil often. Closed grain does not require oil conditioning as often.
The interesting thing about cutting boards is that some of the woods they use to make them out of might not be very healthy and even dangerous. If a wood used for a cutting board has some toxicity, the toxic chemicals could leech into your food as you cut it.
A good rule to live by is that most woods from edible fruit or nut-bearing trees are fine to use as a cutting board. However, other woods that are commonly used as cutting boards but could create toxicity for the foods you cut on them are:
- Rosewood: Known for hardness but has large pores and leaches into food.
- Pine: Leaves a resin taste on food and can leach irritants into the wood for allergic reactions.
- Some Walnut: Allergies and high porosity allow leaching of some types of walnut into food.
- Pistachio: Irritants that cause allergies and taste differences in the wood.
The characteristics of cutting board materials are crucial for comparing and deciding which are the best for your price range and style. Read on to find out more about the pros and cons and specific characteristics of both bamboo and different types of wood cutting boards.
Bamboo Cutting Boards: Pros and Cons
When it comes to functionality and eco-conscious kitchen tools, bamboo cutting boards are your best option. Not only are bamboo cutting boards eco-friendly, but they are also incredibly durable and can help to protect your knives. The silica in bamboo is not great for long term use on knives, but the amount of silica can vary between bamboo brands.
The main pros and cons of a bamboo cutting board are listed below:
- Eco-friendly: Since bamboo is considered a grass and not actually wood, it is a fast-growing and very renewable source of material. Eco-friendly products like bamboo put less stress on the natural world.
- Durable: Bamboo cutting boards are decently durable and can withstand very sharp knives for extended use.
- Won’t harm knives as much as glass: The porous consistency of bamboo makes it ideal for protecting your sharp and expensive knives. Bamboo cutting boards will not harm or wear down your knives.
- Won’t warp, most likely: There is a very small chance of your bamboo cutting board warping due to excess moisture. Limited warping is especially true if you use oil and proper care techniques.
- Not very expensive: Bamboo cutting boards are fairly inexpensive to produce, so they are not very expensive for the consumer.
- Look and feel organic: Bamboo provides the clean and organic look that many chefs are looking for. The color of bamboo is pretty uniform and is usually a light brown. However, you can dye its porous consistency.
- Can become unsanitary: The porous consistency of the bamboo material can absorb bacteria and become unsanitary if not taken care of. Proper sanitation and care techniques need to be used consistently with bamboo cutting boards to avoid bacteria’s build-up.
- High silica content: Bamboo can harm knives more than wood cutting boards because of the mineral silica present in the bamboo. This mineral slowly wears down knives and their edges faster than wood cutting boards.
- “Fuzzy” splinters in food: Since bamboo is known as grass and not wood, it tends to get broken down into “fuzzy” splinters more quickly than wood cutting boards. These fragments can get transferred into food and be dangerous or painful.
How to Care For Your Bamboo Cutting Board
The importance of caring for a bamboo cutting board is critical for prolonging the life of the board. By keeping the board clean and dry and rubbed slick with food-safe oil, you will keep your bamboo cutting board in great shape and make it last longer.
Keeping the bamboo cutting board clean is very important because of the porous material. Bamboo is considered grass and is usually much rougher and more porous, with small crevices and grooves in the board’s face. These pores can catch and trap bacteria and even viruses that can grow if not cleaned properly.
Oiling the bamboo cutting board is another important part of the upkeep. Using various oils and rubbing them into the board after use and washing is a good idea and practice. This practice will keep the bamboo board pliable, less likely to warp, and less likely to wear out and become splintered or “fuzzy.”
Chefs who are serious about prolonging their bamboo cutting board’s life and limiting the fragments that can appear after a while of use should consider a care regimen. You should follow simple steps for care every few times you use your cutting board.
- Rinse the bamboo cutting board using mild dish soap, water, and a sponge.
- Remove any debris from the cutting board and rinse thoroughly.
- Use a cut half lemon and rub the lemon over the cutting board.
- Rinse and repeat if necessary, with the other half of the lemon if there are extensive stains on the bamboo cutting board.
- Apply a recommended finishing oil.
The Types of Oils to use on a Bamboo Cutting Board
After you clean the cutting board thoroughly, using oil as a finishing product is a great way to preserve the board for a long time. Not only will the oil seal any pores in the bamboo that could collect bacteria and dirt, but it also conditions the bamboo to resist warping and drying out. Warped or dried bamboo can become easily damaged and no longer good to use for cutting.
Although some websites and reviews will tell you that any food-grade oil is ok for use on a bamboo cutting board, we recommend not using a few products. You should avoid any products with olive or vegetable oil. These oils can damage the bamboo cutting board. Mineral oil is generally safe for conditioning bamboo cutting boards.
Wood Cutting Boards: Pros and Cons
Wood cutting boards are a staple in most kitchens. Their versatility and easy care make them a favorite of many chefs and cooks. Suppose you are interested in an organic-looking cutting board that is decent on your knives’ wear and easy to take care of. You may want to try one of the many different types of wood cutting boards in that case.
- Many different choices: Wood cutting boards come in all shapes and sizes. The main difference in wood and bamboo cutting boards’ composition is that wood cutting boards can generally be bought without glued composition. In contrast, almost all bamboo cutting boards have glue as part of the laminating process.
- Durable: Most wood cutting boards have high pound-force ratings that can take a beating and still not damage knives.
- Little silica compared to bamboo: Wood cutting boards tend not to have much silica in their materials. Bamboo has a lot of silica in the material. This can dull and damage the edge of your knives over some time using them.
- More fashionable: Wood cutting boards come with whole pieces of wood or blocked out laminates. These wood cutting boards come in different colors and patterns that can be beautiful and more unique and organic looking than bamboo cutting boards.
- Less porosity: Wood tends to be a little less porous than bamboo, although some wood types are not. Less porous material for a cutting board is an idea for limiting the growth of bacteria and mold on the cutting surface.
- Can become unsanitary: The porous consistency of some wood cutting boards can absorb bacteria and become unsanitary if not taken care of. Proper sanitation and care techniques need to be used consistently with some wood cutting boards and less with others. Make sure to read the information about the best wood to use as a cutting board below.
- Toxicity in some wood: The rule of thumb is to use wood from edible nut and fruit trees as a cutting board. The problem is that this information is difficult to figure out. Some websites listed in this article can help you, but if you are unsure, stick with the woods, you know, to be safe.
What to Look for with Wood Cutting Boards
The thing about wood cutting boards is that there are as many different types of wood cutting boards as types of wood. Not all types of wood are great for use with wood cutting boards. We have listed some of the best wood materials that cutting boards are made out of.
One of the most popular types of wood for wood cutting boards is maple. Maple is notorious for its strength and ability to withstand temperature differences. It is more scratch and dent or impact-proof than most other types of wood.
Soft and hard maple is the gold standard for wood cutting boards because it is incredibly hard and versatile. Also, maple longevity is great compared to some other materials such as cheaper wood or bamboo.
See our full article on Bamboo Vs. Maple Cutting Board: Pros & Cons Of Each.
Beech is a great wood for making cutting boards out of because it has a hardness density almost equal to that of maple, has very small pores, and is food safe. Although these boards are hard and on the less expensive side, they tend to shrink with use and cleaning. Beech cutting boards should be cleaned regularly and oiled regularly for optimal longevity.
Also, beech wood’s light coloration shows stains much easier than other wood materials with a darker hue. Consider using a regular oiling regiment to limit the amount of staining that develops on your beech wood cutting board.
Walnut wood cutting boards look great on the counter. They tend to be more expensive than other types of wood cutting boards for their visual appeal. Although walnut cutting boards have a low hardness rating, they are easy to care for. Their dark coloration makes them resistant to the everyday stains that can develop on other wood cutting boards.
Also, walnut cutting boards have very small closed pores in the wood. Smaller pores in the wood face mean that walnut is resistant to shrinking and does not need to be oiled very often to condition the wood.
Overall, walnut is easier to take care of than other wood cutting boards because it is hard and less porous. It is also more durable and less prone to staining.
The Lifespan of Bamboo vs. Wood Cutting Boards
If you are going to invest time and energy into choosing the right cutting board and then keeping a care regimen, you should know their lifespan. You could waste all that time and money without understanding how long wood cutting boards should last.
An average cutting board should last from five to ten years, depending on the care the owner shows. Care and knowledge about the material type and how often to condition with oil is crucial for bamboo and wood cutting boards’ longevity.
Manufacturers build bamboo cutting boards with glue and formaldehyde that are laminated together. Because of this construction process, they tend to wear out faster than wood cutting boards that are one piece of wood.
Bamboo cutting boards don’t last as long as wood cutting boards. The longevity of wood is less if the board is laminated pieces. Any cutting board that has laminate in the creation process will have a shorter lifespan than single wood piece cutting boards.
Sanitation of Wood and Bamboo Cutting Boards
There is a stigma surrounding wood and bamboo cutting boards because they have pores within the wood’s grain. If you compare wood versus bamboo, bamboo tends to have a higher porosity rating than most wood types, making it a less sanitary option for a cutting board.
Pores in wood and bamboo cutting boards can trap moisture and bacteria that can grow into unhealthy mold. However, the truth is that wood and bamboo cutting boards may be more sanitary than their competitor, the plastic cutting board.
In the end, the sanitation of wood and bamboo cutting boards comes down to the frequency and effort put into the conditioning and cleaning of the board. Overall, bamboo and wood cutting boards are almost even when it comes to sanitation.
Safety Precautions with Wood and Bamboo Cutting Boards
Whether you will ultimately decide to use a bamboo or wood cutting board for your cooking and preparation in the kitchen, some safety precautions might differ for each material.
Safety information and precautions for wood and bamboo cutting boards tend to overlap. Some of the advice and precautions for each of these categories of cutting boards could be applied to the other. This is especially true for the harder and open grain wood material cutting boards.
Bamboo Safety Precautions
Bamboo is a versatile and eco-friendly material for cutting boards. Even with all of the positives it has going for, this material presents some challenges and dangers unique to bamboo. Make sure to consider all of these precautions before purchasing or using a bamboo cutting board.
Try not to use it for Meat
A bamboo cutting board can be used for meat. However, it needs to be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected with boiling water. The high porosity of bamboo and some types of wood cutting boards makes them a less than ideal choice for cutting raw meat, poultry, and fish.
If you have to use bamboo for cutting meat, use a second cutting board for your vegetables and other preparations. By separating the meat cutting board from the other cutting board, you limit exposure of vegetables to bacteria from the meat that could be left behind in the pores of the bamboo.
Wood Safety Precautions
There are so many different types of wood that can be used for cutting board material. You want to choose a safe material for your cutting board, and some of the best advice on precautions and possible dangers from wood cutting boards are detailed below.
Only use Wood from Edible Nut and Fruit Trees
Sure, some woods that are not from edible nuts or fruit trees look amazing and add creative vibes to your kitchen decor. But, when it comes to your health and your food, better to be safe than sorry.
If a plank of wood is not from an edible fruit or nut tree, it is probably not a good idea to use it in contact with your food. Toxicity and bad taste may leach into your food and could even cause illness.
Use Only Food Grade Oil for Conditioning
Oil is needed to condition wood cutting boards and keep them from splitting or drying out and breaking. The only problem with conditioning is that some used oils are not healthy for you or your cutting board.
Even vegetable or olive oils should be avoided as they have the acidity that could damage the cutting board and add fragments to your food. You should never use oils that are also used as lubricants for machinery or hinges as these may be petroleum-based and hazardous to your health.
Don’t Use Open Grain Woods
When looking at the grain of the wood sometimes, you can see the pores. Visible pores in the wood are called open grain woods because the wood pores are open and accept debris, bacteria, or anything else that could get stuck in it.
Using open grain wood for cutting boards can lead to all kinds of trouble, including a build-up of bacteria, excess moisture absorption, and even poisonous mold growth.
Open grain woods are also notoriously hard to clean and dry. Do yourself a favor and don’t use open grain woods such as red oak or ash as your cutting board’s material. If you do, you may have to clean and condition much more often than other wood types. Even with cleaning and condition, there is no guarantee that open grain woods will not mold or grow bacteria.
The Final Cut
When it comes to cutting boards, bamboo and wood are the best you can buy for various purposes and foods. Although both have positives and negatives, bamboo comes out on top as the best versatile cutting board, and wood cutting boards are better for the board’s longevity and your knives.
Bamboo is a great material for many reasons, including the fact that it is easy to take care of, durable, and relatively cheap to buy and create. Woodcutting boards maybe a little more expensive, but they tend to be harder than bamboo and be easier on knives.
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