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Bamboo Vs Wood Cutting boards: The Pros & Cons You Need To Know

 

A cutting board is one of the kitchen accessories you will find in every home. Even a standard kitchen needs a quality cutting board to simplify work and make cooking experience exciting.

Cutting boards come in different types- from wood, plastic, to glass.Often, for many people, they recommend going with boards constructed from fine-grained hardwoods -- the likes of Walnut, Maple, Cherry. 

But why go for hardwood?

One, hardwood boards are lasting. Some wood species are lenient on the knife’s edges. And three, wood blends well with the kitchen’s decor. Also, Wood chopping boards are hygienic compared to plastic or glass cutting boards.Wood has antimicrobial properties that make it bacteria resistant. Studies has shown, some woods have natural antimicrobial properties that help in killing germs.

As an alternative to hardwood boards, some people opt for bamboo cutting boards. It’s true bamboo boards cost little, given bamboo is sustainable and economical to reproduce.  

If you're a pro chef or even a regular cook, you want a cutting board that will be gentle on your knives.  A high-grade cutting board  will complement with your sharp knives for a fast prep, and those ultra-thin slices.

Using soft boards can be a menace because hard knives will scar the wood. Soft boards will most likely take a beating from daily use - they can easily split or warp the more they are used.
The type of wood used in a cutting board matters.

If you’re new to using cutting boards, or you have plans to upgrade to a hardwood board, you could be undecided on which type of board to go for – between bamboo and wooden boards. Which between the two makes the best type of cutting board

In this article, we are going to compare and contrast the pros and cons using both bamboo and real hardwood, highlighting which makes the best cutting board for harder knives.

Key factors to consider when searching for the perfect wood cutting board

If you’re wondering if the type of wood used on a cutting board makes a difference, the answer is – YES!

In reality, it may not matter to a cook or chef who isn’t concerned about keeping knives sharp. But for the chef who goes for paper thin cuts and wants their knives ultra sharp – the type of board chosen is a critical factor.  Some types of boards, depending on the material used, are edge killers, meaning the material becomes harsh to the knife's edges.  

When searching for the perfect cutting board, some of the key factors to consider include hardness, porosity, grain, toxicity. These factors will affect the lifespan of the board, food safety, and the way you use the board.  

1. Hardness

Hardness is a key factor to consider. When choosing a cutting board, you want to go for hard wood that is neither too soft nor too hard. 

The Janka hardness test rates the hardness of a wood species – be it exotic or domestic. The Janka test measures the pounds of force needed to pierce through a piece of wood until it reaches its diameter. Measured in pounds of force (lbf), lower numbers indicate a softer wood while those on the high end of the spectrum indicate a harder wood.

Too Soft woods are prone to scratches and damages. If too hard, the board may dull the edges of the knife after long usage.  For that reason, woods with a Janka hardness ranging from 900-1500 are recommended for cutting boards.

Here are some Janka ratings for different types of wood species:

  • Red Oak: 1220.  
  • Hard maple: 1450.  
  • Hickory – 1820.  
  • Eucalyptus – 1400.    
  • Bamboo – 1,180.
  •  Walnut – 1010
  • Cherry – 995

 

A rule of the thumb is to choose moderately hard and dense hardwoods – in particular fine-grained hardwood – as it is favorable on cutlery and has natural self-healing properties.  

Wood porosity and grain

Hardwood trees have pores or vessels that transport sap. You can spot these pores throughout the tree. In contrast, softwoods use tracheids to transport the sap.  

It helps to understand how the different pores affect a cutting board. By doing so, you’ll be able to pick a board that soaks up less moisture.

 Typically, there are four types of size pores – it helps to understand how they affect your board

  •        Ring porous – refers to woods with large pores; e.g oak, & ash.
  •        Semi-ring porous.
  •        Diffuse porous.
  •        Non-porous – refers to softwoods.

Large pores are the same as having deep scratches and cuts on the surface of your board. These large pores trap bacteria and moisture. Some examples of woods that have large pores include ash, oak, hickory and elm.

In contrast,hard wood with smaller pores make the best cutting boards. Boards made from less porous wood do not present the same issues like boards made from large porous woods.

When referring to the size of the pores, they are differentiated using the terms ‘open-grained’ and ‘close-grained’, defined from a tree’s grain orientation.  The arrangement, size, and distribution of pores differentiates between fine-grain and coarse grain. Wood grain determines how smooth or coarse a piece of wood will be.

Basically,Wood grain or grain orientation refers to the pattern created by the arrangement of wood cell fibers.  It describes the appearance, texture, and alignment of wood fibers.  

Open grain describes woods with visible pores –you can notice the pores with your naked eye.

In contrast, ‘closed grain’ or “fine-grained” refer to woods with small vessels and tiny pores, only visible with a superior microscope.  Maple and sycamore fall in this category.  Mahogany and Walnut are medium-grained.

A wood board could have a tremendous grain amount, depending on how the woodworker has cut it.  The technique used to cut the board determines how the board dries up, and even how it absorbs a finishing coat.

A golden standard practice is to go with closed-grain boards. They not only have smaller pores but also they have a smooth finish.  Unlike closed-grain, open-grain have large pores that act as passages for liquids and bits of food.  Ultimately, these large pores trap bacteria, mold, and stains.  We can compare the large pores to having deep scratches or cuts on the face of the board.

Woods that absorb liquids warp and deform with time. That’s because as the wood absorbs and releases moisture, it influences millions of micro-movements, stressing the wood’s shape. That said, boards made from ash, oak, hickory, and elm don’t make the best wood cutting boards because they have large pores.

Hard wood with tiny pores make the best cutting boards.

Toxicity

Wood toxicity can manifest as irritation, being sensitive, or food poisoning. Some woods are food safe – others are toxic.

You can’t go wrong with boards made from woods well-known to produce edible sap, leaves, or fruits. Good examples here include walnut, maple, and cherry.

Exotic woods are not recommended for kitchen use. Most exotic woods may contain toxins that may contaminate your food. Rosewood is one example of hardwood that has toxic characteristics. Boards built from Rosewood can leach oils into your foods. Some people are allergic to these oils.

Also, choose boards made using non-toxic components. Always verify that components like glue, conditioners and finishes used to seal the board are all non-toxic. 

Our handcrafted wood cutting boards have been assembled using TiteBond 3 Food-grade glue, which is waterproof, food-safe, and  solvent free.

With that said, let’s look at how bamboo compares with various hard wood species.

Why some cutting boards are made from bamboo 

A popular question many people on the web ask is ...are bamboo cutting boards as good as wood? Chiefly, that depends on one’s preference and needs. A few reasons some people prefer bamboo or start out with bamboo include:  

  1.  Bamboo is highly sustainable and easily renewable.Bamboo is sustainable and easily renewable. Unlike hard trees that take 20-30 years to grow, bamboo takes a short time to grow. Within a day, it can grow up to 2-3 feet. And in 3-4 months, it can reach maturity. Given it has naturally renewing properties; re-growing bamboo would take only 3-6 years.  
  2.  Bamboo is resistant to water, and scratches.Little moisture penetrates bamboo’s porous material. Its porous nature makes it resistant to bacteria as it’s fibres absorb little moisture. Also, given its porosity, a bamboo chopping board is resilients. It’s even hard to scar it with some type of knives. 
  3. It is eco-friendly.Bamboo is an easily available renewable source. People who are eco-conscious will find bamboo a fine alternative. Being natural and 100% biodegradable, it’s easy to regenerate this wood species. Bamboo can be grown or harvested without chemicals or fertilizers. Also, bamboo absorbs 2x more carbon dioxide while releasing 30% more oxygen than regular trees. Plus, the soil on which bamboo grows is more stable because of its robust roots.
  4.  Bamboo cutting boards are appealing. The fine grain combined with their light hue creates eye-pleasing cutting boards.
  5.  Durable and sturdy. Because of its versatility and strength, bamboo is popularly used in home construction. It has a long lifespan. With its dense property, regular care and maintenance can prolong their durability.
  6.  Safe and hygienic.Bamboo has natural antimicrobial bio-agents in its fibers known as‘bamboo kun’ that make it resistant to bacteria. This means bamboo doesn’t need to be cultivated using harmful chemicals or pesticides. Thanks to these antimicrobial bio-agents present in its fibers
  7.  Low-priced.Bamboo is wild grass – fast-growing and easily renewable. For that reason, boards made from bamboo are fairly low-priced. 

Why bamboo doesn’t make the best wood cutting board   

While bamboo boards are durable and pleasing, standard wooden boards are far more superior. Here are a few reasons that may convince you to upgrade from a bamboo board to an above par cutting board.

  • Bamboo is less porous compared to regular hardwoods.Porosity is the major difference between bamboo and wood boards.  Bamboo, being a type of grass, is slightly less porous than ordinary hardwood – which means its structure is harder.  While it’s strong, dense fibers make durable boards – they are known to be unfriendly to sharp knives.  In fact, bamboo is 16% harder than regular hardwood maple.
  • Needs frequent oiling.Bamboo boards need constant seasoning.  Bamboo boards splinter if not well-seasoned. 
  • Can be contaminated with toxic chemicals. Adhesive glue used in bamboo boards can be toxic.  Bamboo cutting boards are constructed by meshing together small bamboo pieces using adhesive glue. Some variations of the glue could have formaldehyde, a toxic chemical. Also, bamboo grown in tropical areas may contain high silica compounds that can be harsh on kitchen cutlery.  

Why the pros go for superfine wood cutting boards

While bamboo makes durable, lasting, and eco-friendly cutting boards, many enthusiasts and pros prefer wood cutting boards because wooden boards are superior with unique properties. Wood makes the perfect balance for a cutting board. It’s hard to withstand daily use but at the same time easier on the knife’s edges.

Here is why you ought to upgrade to a wooden cutting board.  

  1.  Real wood is gentle on the knives.Hardwood wood boards – boards made from maple, walnut, or cherry, for instance – are easier on kitchen knives than bamboo boards. Bamboo is about 16% harder than regular woods like maple that are used in cutting boards.  Woods like maple and walnut are easier on knives. A chef who is keen on keeping their knives sharp for long cannot go wrong with a wooden board – particularly wood species like cherry, walnut, and maple.
  2. Wood kills bacteria and is hygienic.  Many wood species – just like bamboo – have antimicrobial compounds. In one particular study, researchers contaminated cutting boards with three types of bacteria – Listeria, Salmonella, and E. Coli, all known to be harmful for consumption.  They used both plastic and wood cutting boards in this experiment. Results demonstrated that wood killed and halted bacteria growth due to its porous structure and antibacterial effect.  99.9% of the bacteria in wooden boards died within minutes. In contrast, the survival rate for bacteria on plastic boards was low.
  3. Wood is used to design end-grain boards that can absorb cuts. Cuts sustained by some variety of boards will naturally seal up with time. Boards with this ability to seal up are usually sawn with the vertical end grain facing up. Since you cut along the grain -- and not across -- the wood fibers pull together, absorbing sustained cuts. So, the cuts seal afterwards.   
  4. Wood has less silica.Unlike bamboo or teak growing in tropical areas that have high silica content, recommended hardwoods used for cutting boards contain less silica – less than 0.5%. Wood containing more than 0.5% is abrasive to knives.  
  5. Wood is more durable and reliable. If maintained well through constant cleaning and care, wood boards can last a lifetime. 
  6.  Wood is stylish and fashionable. Hardwood, in particular end-grain woods furnish boards with alluring, fashionable patterns. Some hardwood boards combine several wood species to bring diverse tones. 

Disadvantages of wood cutting boards

  1. Needs to be hand washed and oil periodically. Like bamboo, a wood board should not be exposed to heat and moisture. If you put it in a dishwasher -- it can crack, splinter or warp. Instead, hand wash and ensure to oil periodically for a smooth chopping surface. Read our article on  how to care for your wood board like a pro
  2. Wood boards are heavy.Although bamboo is robust and stiff it’s lightweight.  Cutting boards made from wood are heavier than boards made from bamboo.
  3. Wood boards are more costly. Compared to bamboo boards, wooden boards are expensive because wood is thicker and takes long to grow. Bamboo grows fast and can easily be re-planted. Some hardwoods take long to grow, up to 20-30 years. As a way to offset diminishing trees from nature, We’ve partnered with Onetreeplanted organization to plant a tree for every cutting board we sell. 
  1. Some wood species are not food safe. Not all wood species are sanitary. Some wood species contain toxins that can be harmful if consumed. Before you buy a wood cutting board, research to know more about the exotic woods used to structure the board. Rosewood and pine are two examples of hardwoods that leach into foods. 

Final Verdict:

So there you have it -- a detailed comparison between bamboo vs. hardwood cutting boards. 

Our take is, hardwood cutting boards are superior to bamboo cutting boards. Though bamboo is sustainable, renewable, and tough -- boards assembled from bamboo are hardly gentle on knives. A bamboo board is a fine choice if you’re on a budget; and if you’re not ready to invest in a high-grade hardwood board that needs constant care. You could also go with bamboo if you’re not keen on keeping your knives sharp or extending their lifespan. 

But if you want a board that will be gentle on the knives... a cutting board that features gorgeous, elegant finishes and complements well with your kitchen wooden cutlery and decor… go for a handcrafted, fine-grained board made from wood. You can’t go wrong with Maple wood or Walnut wood. 

Tight-grained, handcrafted wood cutting boards are the perfect choice if you don’t mind investing the extra bucks to enrich your kitchen decor. 

At Mevell, we pride ourselves in delivering handcrafted, personable end-grain wood cutting boards. Our high-grade wood cutting boards are customized for the sophisticated cook or chef who wants elegance matched with world-class quality.  

Also, our end-grain cutting boards are sourced from either maple or walnut hardwood, and they are ingrained with juice grooves. Be sure to check out our merchandise on our product catalogue. 

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