A Guide to Japanese Cooking Knives and Why They Are the Best

These days, highly appreciated and beloved Japanese cooking knives have spread across the world, and even the best chefs from other countries use them in regular cooking. Chefs and enthusiastic cooks all around the world have developed a cult following for these knives. You could be fantasizing about getting one or two for yourself given its well-known reputation for superb and artisanal craftsmanship!

Why is it so crucial that Japanese cuisine be cooked with Japanese knives when there is such a broad selection of knives available that range in price from affordable to expensive? There are numerous reasons why Japanese people are so picky about their kitchen knives, but one of the main ones is that well-made Japanese kitchen knives provide a lot of advantages.

Learn about the many kinds of knives used in Japanese cuisine and how they are created if you’re interested in why they are thought of as the best kitchen implements. The article below has all of these! We hope you’ll find the knife that best suits you after reading this article’s conclusion!

Difference between Japanese and Western knives

Whether you prepare Japanese food or not, a well-made knife may greatly improve your cutting abilities and the quality of your meal. Finding the knife that matches you, though, might seem like a difficult endeavor given the variety of brands and price points available. Let’s examine the little-known benefits and mysteries of utilizing Japanese kitchen knives in more detail.

Japanese and Western knives

Material

Hagane (鋼), a form of carbon steel that is typically used to make Japanese knives. The blades are forged in stages, starting with a hard carbon steel core and ending with a softer iron steel coating. This combination results in a very sharp Japanese-style sword-like edge. Hagane is less durable than stainless steel and is susceptible to chipping from hard fish bones and rusting from leftover food particles or water droplets on the blade. Therefore, to prevent rust and dulling, expert cooks maintain their knives meticulously.

Sharpness

Japanese kitchen knives have the sharpest blades in the entire globe. When a soft sponge is used to wash a well-honed Japanese kitchen knife, the sponge may be sliced through with just a light touch of the blade. Japanese kitchen knives are that sharp. Regular maintenance is crucial because the longer you use the knife, the more rapidly the blade will start to wear down and get dull. If you treat your knives well, they will undoubtedly become some of the most cherished kitchen accessories that you will cherish for a very long time.

Bevel

Traditional Japanese knives have a single-bevel blade with a sharpened edge on one side and a fully straight side on the blade surface. This edge makes it suitable for precise slicing movements. You just sharpen one side of the blade when you sharpen it. However, since single-beveled blades are designed for right-handed users only, left-handed people have to use specialized left-handed knives, which can be costly.

Western knives, in contrast, have two bevels. The edge of double-beveled blades is typically V-shaped. Although not intended for extremely precise cuts, it is considerably simpler to sharpen.

The taste of the food

In many cultures, cutting food involves pulling the knife away from your body. The situation is the exact reverse in Japan. Food is frequently sliced by pulling the knife in your direction. When you cut food this way and with the grain, it will have a smooth texture, however when you cut food against the grain, the flavor will be diminished. The sharpness of a knife may drastically alter the flavor depending on how it is handled, which is a very intriguing observation.

The appearance of the food

As was already said, one of the qualities of a sharp knife is its ability to cut food with grain without significantly altering the flavor, which also results in a very attractive cross-sectional look. For instance, every Japanese meal offered at upscale Japanese restaurants looks beautiful. One of the reasons for this is that the chefs employed by these upscale restaurants utilize sharp, high-quality blades to create a smooth, pleasing cross-section of the meal. In this way, Japanese cuisine is aesthetically beautiful as well to the palate.

Japanese and Western kitchen knives are both composed of stainless steel, which is a lot more robust and easy to keep. They are appropriate for people who like to avoid the routine maintenance of a Hagane knife and are resistant to rust and corrosion. Keep in mind that stainless steel knives have advantages over Hagane, such as maintaining their sharp edge and being simpler to sharpen.

The various kinds of Japanese cooking knives

1. Nakiri bocho (菜切り包丁)

Nakiri bocho

Vegetable peeling, chopping, and slicing. The blade is double-beveled, straight and thin. Knives from Kanto are rectangular, whereas those from Kansai have rounded tips. Its blade measures 240-300 mm in length. It costs less and is less difficult to sharpen than an Usuba.

2. Usuba bocho (薄刃包丁)

Usuba bocho

Usuba bocho is Nakiri-like, but with only one bevel. The Nakiri’s blade edge is substantially thicker, making it ideal for cutting ornamental shapes and paper-thin slices. Chefs favor the Usuba over the Nakiri because of its accuracy, although it might be difficult for beginners to sharpen the blade.

3. Deba bocho (出刃包丁)

Deba bocho

It is used for breaking down, descaling and gutting fish. To handle cutting heavy fish bones, it features a thicker blade. For various fish sizes, it is available in 3 sizes. Kodeba (子出刃) has a blade length between 90 and 120 mm, Hondeba (本出刃) is a normal size of around 210 mm, and Miokoshi Deba (身卸し出刃包丁) is between 180 and 270 mm.

4. Santoku bocho (三徳包丁)

Santoku bocho

Its name, which translates to “three virtues,” refers to the fact that it works well with meat, fish and vegetables. This multipurpose knife was developed during the Meiji period, a time when western food became increasingly popular among Japanese consumers and the lines between western and Japanese cuisine began to blur. They work well for extended cutting strokes and chopping. Most Japanese households now just use one Santoku knife instead of the Deba and Usuba.

5. Yanagiba bocho (柳刃包丁)

Yanagiba bocho

This knife, which is a “willow blade,” is used to slice raw fish blocks for sashimi. The blade is long and thin, and the tip is curled. It is mainly used in the Kansai area and more commonly known as Sashimi-bocho (刺身包丁; “sashimi knife”).

6. Takohiki bocho (蛸引き包丁)

Takohiki bocho

Takohiki bocho is also employed for sashimi slicing but is rectangular in shape. It is mostly utilized in the Kanto area and more often known as Sashimi-bocho.

7. Fugu hiki (河豚引き)

With a blade that is comparably thinner and narrower than a Yanagiba, Fugu hiki is exclusively used for slicing Fugu.

8. Honekiri bocho (骨切り包丁)

It is used to slice through the plump greenling and pike conger’s long, sharp bones without going through the skin. Its weight and straight edges allow for precision cutting and bone-crushing.

9. Menkiri bocho (麺切り包丁)

Menkiri bocho

Menkiri bocho serves for slicing soba and udon noodles. It resembles a cleaver since the blade extends beyond all the handles and is heavy with a straight edge.

10. Unagisaki bocho (鰻裂き庖丁)

Unagisaki bocho

For slicing the slick Unagi (freshwater eel), a delicacy consumed in the muggy months. Based on the geography and the types of preparation, Unagisaki knives come in 5 distinct styles. They are Edo saki (江戸裂き), Nagoya saki (名古屋裂き), Osaka saki (大阪裂き), Kyo saki (京裂き) and Kyushu saki (九州裂き). The sharp tip is used to pierce through the thick skin, then used to filet the long fish.

How to choose a proper Japanese knife?

It may be useful to think about the following issues when you browse knives at a store:

  • Grip: How does holding it feel in your hands? Is it big enough for your hands to get lost in, or is it so thin or thick that your fingers bump into one another awkwardly when you grab the handle?
  • Weight: Is the blade too hefty or too light for you? Will your hands and arm become fatigued from carrying the knife for a period of 10 to 15 minutes? Or do you like a knife that is a little heavier?
  • Length: Is the blade too long or too short? Knives with smaller blades, for example, should be used by those with smaller hands.
  • Material: Do you favor blades made of stainless steel or Hagane? As was already noted, stainless steel maintains its sharpness and is less work to maintain than Hagane.
  • Craftsmanship: Do you trust workmanship in general? While most knives created in Japan are hand-forged, more affordable blades are mass-produced in China.

Overall: Do you like the way the knife is made and how it looks? Would you want a blade engraving? Even if appearances alone won’t improve your knife abilities, you should choose the one you enjoy!


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