Cutting Boards | Why Wood?

Growing up, my Mother’s cutting board was the centerpiece of the kitchen. It was big, thick, and took up some serious kitchen real estate! It stood proud, almost like a piece of furniture, and was the surface that she used for all food preparation. She’s had other small boards, like plastic for mincing garlic, slate for serving cheese and crackers, and a few others, but for the most part they just gathered dust beneath the countertop.

The way my Mother uses her cutting board follows a long tradition of people before us using wooden cutting boards– from a butcher cleaving meat day in and day out on a two foot thick butcher’s block, to a grandmother in Italy preparing tortellini for her grandchildren, people have been cooking on wood forever. And for good reason; wood is an ideal cutting surface to retain a knife’s edge, it’s antibacterial, it can be conditioned and resurfaced, and in the case of an end-grain cutting board it “self-heals” marks left behind by knives.

Comparably, glass, slate, or other stone surfaced cutting boards are simply too hard of a cutting surface and will dull knife edges quickly. However, these are generally not the type of cutting boards people shop for, opting instead to look between either plastic or wood. Let’s look a little deeper into the benefits of wood over plastic…

"Scarring" on a plastic cutting board

"Scarring" on a plastic cutting board

A conditioned, well cared for Deoria Made block in the wild. My Mother's in fact.

A conditioned, well cared for Deoria Made block in the wild. My Mother's in fact.

It is commonly known that plastic can be run through the dishwasher (wood cannot), leading most to believe that it is a more sanitary cutting surface. Wrong! Less commonly known is that wood is naturally antibacterial. A study by UC-Davis researched the difference between plastic and wood, specifically measuring how long bacteria persists on either surface once “scarred.” Scarred surfaces are areas where cleaving, chopping, or serrating has created a marred surface. Interestingly, they found that bacteria would die on or under scarred wood surfaces. However bacteria on or under scarred plastic surfaces would persist. This means that no amount of scrubbing, sanitizing, or dish washing is enough to rid plastic of deep infections such as bacteria. The impetus for UC-Davis’s research was that The US Department of Agriculture had no scientific evidence to support their claim that plastic is more sanitary than wood. But, alas, we have scientific proof! So the next time someone tells you plastic is more sanitary than wood, call their BS! High five skeptics, we were right all along: Wood is king!

Besides the cleanliness, wood is an ideal hardness to cut on. An ideal harness is something like the local Pacific Northwest claro walnut, big leaf maple, or oak we use, where it’s hard enough to resists knife marks, but soft enough to retain your knife’s edge. Some woods, like ironwood, are just too hard for that. Regardless, scarred wood is re-surfaceable. Scarring can be managed and kept to a minimum by regular wet-sanding, or all together eliminated by complete resurfacing – plastic cannot.

Additionally, the end grain of wood, which features as the surface of all of our Deoria Made Blocks, actually heals itself. It is “self-healing.” Imagine for a moment a paint brush pointing up, with the bristles held up vertical. Then take a knife and cut down into the bristles. When you pull your knife out, those bristles spring back together. They self-heal so to speak. That is how the end grain of wood is oriented, and that is something plastic simply does not do. Thanks to “The Wood Whisperer” for that great paint brush analogy by the way.

Okay, but what about conditioning. Certainly a convenient benefit to plastic is that you don’t have to treat it. Well, to that I say, conditioning is much easier than you think, and it’s like anything, like, say a pair of leather boots – the more you condition them, the better they’ll be and the longer they’ll last. A properly conditioned and cared for wooden cutting board can last a lifetime, whereas a plastic board you simply throw into the landfill when it’s done. A simple coating of mineral oil, and a top coat of the Deoria Made Cure-All is all you need once in a while to keep yours in tip top shape. Conditioning it this way actually helps it resist smells, flavors, and colors of the food your chopping, so it’s all around a good thing.

To conclude, wooden cutting boards are the best! My Mother had it right, and so did your Mother’s Mother’s Mother’s Mother (I could go further but won’t). It’s not only been tested that wood is a more sanitary surface than plastic, but it’s also more durable, ideal for your knife’s sharp edge, and also just straight up awesome. I mean, it grew from a tree, a lumber mill salvaged that tree (did I mention we use salvaged wood at Deoria Made), and now it’s sitting atop your countertop looking beautiful. What more could you want?

References: If you’d like to read more about UC –Davis’s research, publications include “Cutting boards of plastic and wood contaminated experimentally with bacteria,” “Decontamination of plastic and wooden cutting boards for kitchen use,” and “Cutting Boards up Close,” by Dean O. Cliver, Ph.D.