Last Updated on January 3, 2023 by Claire
Cutting boards are essential tools in kitchens. No kitchen is complete without a cutting board. However, you need to know what wood not to use for cutting boards.
Wooden cutting boards are made with natural wood that has been crafted to perfection with intricate designs. But you must know that when it comes to wooden cutting boards, not all wood is the same, some are unsafe to use as kitchen tools, so it is important to know what types of wood not to use for cutting boards and those that can be used.
Woods not to use for cutting boards
Avoid and do not use woods that are soft, highly porous, or toxic for cutting boards.
- Softwood: juniper pine, balsa, cedar, Douglas fir, and redwood spruce.
- Porous wood: black walnut, mahogany, butternut, oak, and ash.
- Toxic wood: western red cedar, pine, birch, American mahogany, and rosewoods.
Cedar contains oils that can be toxic when ingested, so it is not a safe choice for cutting boards.
While oak is a hard and durable wood, it has a rough surface that can dull knives and is not ideal for cutting boards.
It is generally best to choose a hard, dense wood for a cutting board, such as hard maple, cherry, or walnut. These woods are less likely to be damaged and will hold up well over time.
How to choose the best wood for cutting boards
Here are a few things to consider when choosing the right wood for your cutting board:
1. Softness of the wood
Softwoods should be completely avoided from being used as a raw material for cutting boards. This is because they’re considered low-density and non-durable woods since they are prone to warping and chipping. This means knife marks all over your board, resulting in divots from pounding meat and stains from the gaps and crevices due to the degradation of the wood surface’s integrity. It is not durable and visually unappealing for use as a cutting board.
Here are some softwoods to avoid:
- Juniper pine
- Douglas Fir
- Redwood Spruce
The aforementioned softwoods have a low density when compared to their hardwood counterparts. For a cutting board, this means they give way to lots of scratching, knicking, warping, and chipping even use used minimally.
2. Durability of the wood
When selecting the durability of the wood for your cutting board, there is a certain standard for wood called the Janka hardness rating.
The Janka hardness rating (1,350 lbf (5,990 N) indicates the resistance of the wood to scratches, dents, and knife marks. The higher the resulting rating is, the better the wood is in terms of durability and how well it can stand up to frequent use and abuse.
3. Porosity of wood
Porosity is an important factor to consider when purchasing or choosing wood to use for cutting boards.
High porosity in wood weakens the surface leading to mold and bacterial build-up, warping, and stains. Thus making highly porous wood completely unsuitable to use as a cutting board
A quick glance at a block of wood will let you know if it has many pores or not. Look for those tiny pores to avoid having a cutting board that creates more bacteria and mold build-up than delicious recipes. If there are little to no noticeable pores on the surface, then you are good to go.
Here are a few porous kinds of wood to avoid for cutting boards:
- Ash wood
- Black walnut
- Butternut wood
These wood types will retain bacteria, mold, and stains in them rather than wicking them away. They also do not stand up well to excess washing and tend to retain past food smells that have been cut on their surfaces. Both of the aforementioned demerits combine to make them poor choices for your cutting boards.
4. Toxicity level of the wood
There are plenty of wood types out there that are appealing and stunningly beautiful, but they can introduce toxins when they come in contact with our food in a way that would be very unpleasant for human consumption.
Here’s the rule of thumb amongst most people, “if the tree produces food that we can eat, then that means the wood is suitable for making cutting boards”. Now, this might seem completely logical, but you still need to be careful when choosing wood.
Here are some of the common toxic woods to avoid:
- American Mahogany
- Western Red Cedar
Although there are various types of toxic woods, these are the most common and easily recognizable types generally.
These woods have been known to produce high levels of toxicity which can be potentially dangerous to humans when consumed and therefore cannot be used as a cutting board.
Other factors that make wood unsuitable for use as a cutting board:
Asides from the softness, durability, porosity, and toxicity level of the wood, the following factors also determine the type of wood not to use for cutting boards:
- Wood that is difficult to clean
- Wood that is not resistant to heat
- Slippery wood
- Woods easily warp, shrink or change shape
Best woods to use for cutting boards
Five of the best types of wood for cutting boards include Bamboo, Cherry, Maple, Walnut, and Beech. These types of wood are common, easily available, durable, non-porous, non-toxic, and affordable, making them suitable to use for cutting boards.
Bamboo is actually a type of grass species, but it’s included on this list due to its wood-like properties.
It is a type of exotic wood known for being sturdy, durable, hard, and does not absorb or retain water. The only downside to using Bamboo is that your knives will take a lot of beating when using them as a cutting board.
Cherry wood is a sturdy, durable, and close-grained hardwood that is a great choice for use as a cutting board. It possesses a distinct reddish-brown color that darkens with age, giving a timeless and classic feel to your kitchen.
Maple is one of the most common types of wood used in the cutting board industry. We have hard and soft maple wood, and both are highly resistant to scratches, stains, and bacteria. The best part is that they are not so hard that they will cause your knives to become dull over time.
Walnut has a dark color that is visually appealing, is durable hardwood, has low porosity, and is non-toxic. It is an excellent choice to consider for your cutting board. The only downside to Walnut wood is that it tends to shrink but this problem can be easily taken care of by conditioning the wood.
Beechwood is only second to Maple when it comes to the best wood for making cutting boards as it has tiny pores and does not allow the growth of bacterial colonies on the wood surface.
It is very durable and resistant to scratches and dents and will cause your knives to become dull.
Can you use any wood for a cutting board?
Dense hardwood lumber with a closed grain like maple, walnut, and cherry are among the best choices for cutting boards. The choice of wood should have a flat surface, and be free of warps, blemishes, or excessive knots on the surface. The ideal thickness of the cutting board should be 1 1/4 to 2 inches.
That said, Are wood cutting boards risk-free? A cutting board is an essential tool that should be hygienic, safe, and risk-free. However, this is not the case sometimes, especially when you’re using the wrong types of wood.
To be safe make sure you:
- Regularly clean your cutting board to prevent the build-up and growth of germs, bacteria, and mold.
- Wash cutting boards with soap and rinse under running water.
- Use cutting boards with oils, beeswax, and food-grade mineral oils, as their finishes are safe to use.
Why should we not use wood cutting boards?
No matter which wood you choose, the biggest problem with most wooden cutting boards is they absorb juices from meats which can result in dangerous bacteria growth.
This is why food safety organizations usually recommend using a nonporous cutting board such as plastic, for cutting raw meat.
So why do I need to avoid plastic cutting boards? Plastic cutting boards may contain potentially dangerous chemicals like phthalates, DEHA and Bisphenols, all of which are unsafe for human consumption. All of these chemicals are often used in the production of plastic items.
Meanwhile, Consumer Reports claims that any cutting board (plastic or wood) can develop deep scratches or grooves that may trap bacteria, which could then spread to your food.
What kind of cutting board is the healthiest?
Hardwood cutting boards are the healthiest as they are better at resisting bacteria.
According to food safety researchers, hardwoods like maple are fine-grained, and the capillary action of those grains pulls down fluid, trapping the bacteria which are then killed off as the board dries after cleaning.
How do you sterilize a wooden cutting board?
- Soak a clean, white cloth with either pure white vinegar or 3% hydrogen peroxide.
- Wipe down the board thoroughly and let it sit for a few minutes.
- If there are stains or odors, sprinkle kosher salt or baking soda onto the board, and rub with the cut side of a lemon to clean and deodorize.
Is wood naturally antibacterial? Wood has been proven to be naturally antibacterial.
Via a recent study, scientists at the University of Wisconsin have discovered that 99.9% of bacteria placed on a wooden chopping board begin to die completely within minutes.
After being left at room temperature overnight, no living bacteria remains on the wooden boards the next day.
Do professional chefs use wooden cutting boards?
Yes, wood and bamboo cutting boards are used and generally preferred by both chefs and home cooks alike because they are easy to clean, and maintain and easy on knife blades.
Can you use Pine Wood for cutting boards?
Yes, Pinewood can be used as a raw material for wood cutting boards as it is known to be hard and durable. This timber is quite popular and easily available in hardware shops and lumber yards. Pinewood is easy to maintain, durable, and available in different sizes, making it an ideal cutting board material.
In a nutshell…
A cutting board is an absolutely ‘must-have’ item for use in your kitchen, but it’s imperative that you’re using the right type of wood.
This article has already told you about the types of wood you can use for cutting boards and those you need to avoid completely.
The most important thing is to make sure you choose one that’s durable, healthy, and safe to use for you in the kitchen.