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Cutting Board Oil: What is the Best Oil for a Wood Cutting Board?

Cutting board oil

Cutting board oil is the ingredient you need to give your cutting boards a natural luster, and keep them from dulling, cracking, and warping.  

You want to oil a new cutting board or even a used one, but you’re still obsessing over the best cutting board oil to use on it. It can seem baffling, with so much conflicting advice on which oils to use. But it’s not confusing at all, once you know which oils are safe to use and which are unsafe. 

Not all oils are safe for treating a cutting board. Some commonly used oils spoil with time, leaving a rancid smell and flavor. A rancid-smelling board can be unfit to use. Not only that, you can get sick from food poisoning once the rancid food oils come in contact with the cutting board. 

Choosing cutting board oil – What you should know first

Here are a few points worth noting when picking cutting board oil:

  • Avoid oils that turn rancid

  • Some oils remain liquid at room temperature. It's because they contain unsaturated and poly-saturated fats. When left exposed to air, light, or moisture –  these oils release unpleasant odors or flavors. 


    Unsaturated fats have two or more carbon bonds that break up once they combine with an oxygen molecule in the air, in what is known as oxidation. Once these oils undergo oxidation – they turn rancid, giving off a foul smell.


    Avoid seasoning your board with oils that will spoil once exposed to air.  

    • Is it food-grade quality?  

    Any oil used on a cutting board will leach into the foods you cut on it. Hence, chosen oils for treating wooden boards should be free from poisonous impurities. 


    Food-grade quality oils are oils that use non-toxic and safe ingredients. After being refined to remove impurities, oils of this nature are odorless, tasteless, and colorless 


    Some food-grade oils that are safe for cutting boards include mineral oil, MCT coconut oil, beeswax, walnut oil, and raw linseed oil.  

  • Non-drying vs. drying oils

  • Oils can fall into two broad categories: oils that harden (drying oils) and oils that stay liquid at room temperature (non-drying oils). 


    Drying oils thicken and harden to form a surface coating at room temperatures. Once applied on a surface, they form a firm, durable finish. Walnut oil, linseed, oil, and tung oil are drying oils.


    In contrast, non-drying oils remain in a liquid-like state. Because they don't harden when left exposed to air, you can clean off non-drying oils using soap and water. Also, non-drying oils are best suited for treatment purposes. These oils are food-safe after passing the distillation process. Hence, they are safe for treating kitchen cutlery, countertops, and even cutting boards. 


    But non-drying oils need frequent re-application because they don’t form a long-lasting coating. 


    Examples of non-drying oils include Mineral oil, MCT coconut oil, and Macadamia oil.

    Best cutting board oils: Safe and recommended oils

    The following oils are safe to use on your cutting boards:

  • Food-grade mineral oil


  • Food-grade mineral oil is safe and best recommended for treating a wood cutting board. 


    Mineral oil itself comes from distilled petroleum. It's also commonly referred to as white mineral oil or liquid paraffin. During the distillation process, various contaminants are extracted to create different grades of mineral oil.


    Mineral oil is the best for oiling a cutting board for these reasons: 


    • It's food-safe. Food-grade mineral oil is odorless, colorless, and flavorless. Because it's food safe and free from impurities, it will not contaminate your food once used to treat your boards. 

    • It's resistant to oxidation. Mineral oil is highly resistant to rancidity, unlike vegetable oils that smell, become sticky, and even spoil once exposed to air, moisture, light, or heat.

    • It's non-drying oil resistant to water absorption. Mineral oil will not polymerize when left exposed to air. Instead, it forms a water-proof, plastic-like film once applied on the surface. Because it does not solidify (it remains in a liquid-like state), it can penetrate deep into the wood, saturating the fibers. Treating wood with mineral oil moisturizes the wood fibers, ensuring the board doesn't crack or warp. The water-proof finish keeps liquids out.

    • It restores the natural look of wood. Treating wood with mineral oil restores its natural, shiny luster.

    Not all varieties of mineral oil obtained from crude oil are safe for treating cutting boards. The low-quality type can be toxic and loaded with impurities. But top-quality, food-grade mineral oil is food-safe certified and non-harmful for consumption.


    N/B: When oiling a new cutting board, apply 3 to 4 coatings to ensure the wood soaks up enough oil. 

  • Beeswax

  • If your board has lost its natural, shiny luster – oiling it with mineral oil and then sealing with beeswax paste will restore its rich-brown hue. Beeswax is natural wax, extracted from honeycombs. 

    It’s food-safe, stable, and has antimicrobial effects against a variety of bacteria. It’s a popular choice for many people because it permeates and moisturizes the wood, giving it a shiny, silky-smooth sheen. 

    Natural beeswax penetrates the wood deeper than most finishes used to preserve wood.  It can penetrate up to ¼ inch of a dry piece of wood when left overnight. 

    Once beeswax has moisturized the wood and solidified, it seals the wood with a water-proof coating that repels moisture, grime and dirt. But, this water-proof protection needs reapplication because it wears out with time. Once a month is a good routine to  re-apply the oil. 

  • Organic fractionated coconut oil (MCT oil)

  • Organic fractionated coconut oil (a.k.a MCT oil) is safe and a good choice for treating cutting boards. Although it comes from regular coconut oil, MCT oil is different from ordinary coconut oil. The two differ in fatty acid composition.  


    Coconut oil is mainly composed of saturated fatty acids – up to 90%. Of these fatty acids, up to 65 – 70% are short and medium-chain fatty acids. The rest is long-chain fatty acids.


    In fractionated coconut oil, the long-chain triglycerides (LCTs) are eliminated through a process referred to as ‘fractionation,’ leaving only Medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs). 

    Fractionation is a distillation process that separates LCTs from MCTs.


    Once LCTs are removed, it leaves oil that’s odorless, colorless, and food-safe. This oil is 100% pure and is commonly known as ‘MCT oil’ or ‘fractionated coconut oil.’ 


    Note: Regular coconut oil itself is unsafe for treating cutting boards.  

    Regular coconut oil is resistant to rancidity – because of its high levels of saturated fats and low content of unsaturated fatty acids – but eventually, it turns rancid.

  • Mevell’s Cutting board oil and conditioner (Our best recommendation)

  • Give your cutting boards’ wood grain a natural hue and keep them from dulling, cracking, and warping with Mevell’s cutting board oil and conditioner.


    Combined, our mineral oil hydrates and seals the wood from the inside while the conditioner provides a protective finish that traps out liquids and food particles.


    Given  its low viscosity and a high absorption effect,  the mineral oil penetrates deeper and faster in the wood cells than competitor alternatives.


    The mineral oil is food-grade quality – FDA and NSF certified.  Also, it’s non-toxic and has no additives or allergens from nuts or gluten. You can use it for seasoning all wooden utensils, not just cutting boards.


    The conditioner is made from two ingredients: Food-grade mineral oil + Natural beeswax. 


    Plus, because our conditioner has a cream-like consistency – It's easy to apply it on the cutting board. 


    Oils to use with caution


    The following oils are safe for treating cutting boards, but you should use them with caution if you go with these options because they eventually turn rancid.

  • Linseed oil

  • Linseed oil is commonly known as Flaxseed oil or Flax oil. But linseed oil is not the same as flaxseed oil. Production methods and applications differ.


    Linseed oil is extracted from the flax plant through a process known as cold press extraction. It's commonly found in two different varieties. There is raw linseed oil, which refers to 100% pure linseed oil. 100% raw linseed oil is non-processed and has no additives or chemicals. 


    Pure linseed oil can be modified to produce two types of linseed oil – stand oil or boiled linseed oil. 


    Boiled linseed oil has a faster drying time and is extracted using petroleum solvents. It's inedible and can be loaded with toxic chemicals. Unboiled linseed oil, a.k.a raw linseed oil, is the best oil for treating wooden boards. In its non-modified form, raw linseed oil is food-safe and edible. Also, it takes a long time to cure (harden).


    Linseed oil is a drying oil. Once applied, it will dry up to form a hard plastic-like film that seals the wood from the inside. The oil penetrates deep in the wood, saturating the fibers while forming a flexible, waterproof seal. 


    On the downside, raw linseed oil takes more time to dry – up to months -- compared to the modified types. Two, drying oils like linseed oil will need more reapplying than mineral oil. And three, linseed oil will go rancid with time, and it lightens the wood's natural color, giving it a yellowish or golden-brown hue.

  • Walnut oil.

  • Walnut oil is a natural drying oil extracted from pressed walnut seeds. It’s recommended because of its deep penetration properties. Walnut oil penetrates the wood grain, where it hardens to form a soft, flexible coating that seals the grain from moisture. 

    Although it won’t go rancid because it hardens, Walnut oil isn’t the best choice for oiling a cutting board. That’s because you’ll need to treat your cutting board more often compared to using mineral oil. Also, walnut oil can trigger allergic reactions for some people because it’s extracted from nuts.

    Note: raw walnut oil takes a long time to cure.

  • Tung oil.

  • Tung oil is a drying oil extracted from nuts (seeds) of the tung tree. It's a popular choice for woodworkers as it brings out a satin look with a blend of slight golden tint. Once it soaks into the wood's pores, it cures to form a solid film that gels with the wood from the inside. Also, it's resistant to rancidity, unlike many cooking oils.

    Regardless, it's not the best choice for oiling a cutting board. The knife will slice through the waterproof finish, allowing moisture inside the wood cells.

    Also NOTE: "Tung oil" is a generic name referring to paint and varnish products that could have toxic elements. In reality, Tung oil paint and varnish have small tung oil traces. If you opt for Tung oil, go for food-grade, 100% pure tung oil – it's food safe once it cures.   

    Also, food-grade tung oil is pressed from the nut of the tree. It might not be a favorable alternative if you're allergic to nuts.

    Oils to avoid completely

    All vegetable oils will go rancid after undergoing oxidation. Furthermore, once vegetable oils turn rancid, they give off unpleasant flavors and smells. 


    Oils that come in contact with your cutting board should be highly or100% resistant to rancidity. That way, your cutting board will not leach smells into your foods or cause food poisoning.


    Here are several vegetable oils to avoid:

    • Soybean oil.
    • Sunflower oil.
    • Flaxseed oil.
    • Corn oil.
    • Cottonseed oil.
    • Grapeseed oil.
    • Olive oil.
    • Rapeseed oil.
    • Sesame oil.

    Varnish

    Varnish is a finish. Never use varnish to preserve your cutting boards or other wooden utensils in your kitchen. It can chip off and contaminate your food.

    Cutting Board Oil: Wrapping Up

    Now that you know the best oils to use on a cutting board be sure to read our detailed article on Cutting board care instructions: dos and don’ts to avoid cracking and warping


    Remember to oil your board routinely. If it’s not well oiled – and done when necessary – it will crack and warp. Untreated wood discolors and readily picks up unfavorable smells and tastes. It also quickly absorbs moisture.


    Regularly Oiling your board has several advantages: 


    One, it keeps your board from cracking and bowing. The oil saturates the wood, softening the fibers. 


    Two, Oiling the board helps seal both minor and moderately large cuts. A cutting board with cracks traps food particles, juices, and even bacteria regardless of how thin. 


    Three, oiling helps maintain the board’s natural wood grain and polish. The board can serve you for many years and still retain its rich-brown wood color.  


    And four, oiling your cutting board will make it resistant to unpleasant flavors, odors, and even moisture. It’s even much easier to clean a regularly oiled board. You only need a scrubber, dish soap, and water. 

    Best oils for cutting boards: Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the best oil for wooden cutting boards?

  • Food-grade mineral oil, combined with beeswax, is the most effective combination for treating and enhancing wood's natural look.

      

  • What is food-grade mineral oil?

  • Food-grade mineral oil, also called liquid paraffin, is a refined oil from crude oil. It's scentless, tasteless, and transparent. Being food-safe, it's the best choice for oiling a cutting board.  


  • Can I use Olive oil to treat my cutting board?

  • No! Avoid olive oil and other cooking oils -- they go rancid. 


  • Can I use linseed oil on my cutting boards?

  • Yes – but go for raw linseed oil. It's non-toxic and food-safe. Avoid boiled linseed oil -- it can contain impurities. 


  • Can I use coconut oil on my cutting board?

  • Only go for 100% MCT coconut oil. It's food-safe and effective. 


  • How do you oil a wooden cutting board?

  • Oiling a cutting board is relatively easy. First, oil both sides of the board, spreading the oil 3-4 times until the board is soaking wet with oil. Next, leave the board to absorb the oil overnight. Please read our detailed guide on caring for and maintaining a cutting board.


  • Cutting board oil vs. cutting board conditioner – What is the difference?

  • The conditioner uses beeswax as a natural ingredient, adding a waterproof finish and an attractive sheen. Cutting board oil penetrates and hydrates the wood – it acts as the base for the conditioner. You apply the conditioner after oiling the board with oil.  


  • Is cutting board oil or wax better?

  • The oil penetrates and moisturizes the wood, creating a matte finish. Wax forms a waterproof satin finish that keeps out liquids and traps in the oil.  


  • Can you over oil a cutting board?

  • It's a standard technique to saturate the board's surface until it cannot soak up more oil.  


  • Should you oil both sides of a cutting board?

  • Yes! The board will swell and warp if you only oil one side. 


  • How long does it take for mineral oil to soak into a cutting board?

  • Allow the board to soak the oil for the longest time possible. It can take a couple of hours for the wood fibers to soak up the mineral oil; typically, it can take 24 – 48 hours to cure.  


  • How often should you oil your board? 

  • The standard advice is to oil a new cutting board once every week or after every two weeks. But as it ages, you can do it once per month or once after every two months.

    But, it also depends on how often you use and wash it; and the humidity of where you live. If the cutting board starts showing knife marks or looks pale or dry, it needs to be oiled. 





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