by Michael Smith (Veshengro)
For as long as the gods only know wooding cutting and chopping boards have been in use in domestic kitchens, the kitchens of the big houses and palaces, and in food business.
In the latter part of the 20th century, however, hygiene people insisted that wood was bad and that plastic cutting and chopping board and blocks must be used instead, especially in food businesses. All butchers' blocks and wooden boards – in commercial catering and food environments – were, by legislation, basically, replaced with plastic ones.
Great claims of hygiene benefits, etc. were made until some food scientist decided to conduct a test using salmonella cultures on plastic – cleaned with disinfectant – and on wood – just scrubbed the old-fashioned way – and found the next morning that the bacteria on the wooden board were dead while the ones on the plastic one had gone forth and multiplied and were very much alive. It was then wooden boards and blocks were exonerated and deemed safe (again).
Some hardwoods – conifer softwoods are not suitable for use in the kitchen in any case because of their resin content – have higher anti-bacterial properties than others while some are not suitable at all due to tannins or saponins or other toxins.
Sycamore (Acer pseudoplantanus) – yes, the wood of the often as “non-native” maligned tree in Britain – is one of the best woods – if not indeed the best wood – for chopping and cutting boards, and other kitchen utensils in general, as it has the highest anti-bacterial properties. Also sycamore is extremely taste-neutral, as it lacks tannins.
Maple then follows in the list – in fact sycamore is in the maple (Acer) family – and then beech (Fagus sylvatica) and then Ash and Birch. This is at least the case in Northern and Central Europe. Woods in other countries and areas will be different ones, for sure, but wood will always be the best choice over plastic and that also with regards to the environmental footprint.
Hazel is also a good choice for treen products in the kitchen but, as predominately worked – or should be worked – in rotation coppice may not produce pieces of trunk large enough for chopping boards.
For thousands of years we have used wood in the kitchen and it is doubtful that anyone ever got sick from the use of it. From chopping and cutting boards over utensils for cooking to serving spoons and eating utensils everything was made of wood. Everyone used to, once upon a time, have his or her own personal wooden eating spoon. That was before the arrival of cheap metal utensils and the latter caused more grief than wood, especially the metals the use of which is not that good for us.
When you see the grooves you create by cutting on plastic and the depth of them you will realize how they can and will harbor all manner of nasties. This does not happen in the same way with good hardwood. Considering then that wood kills the germs more than likely with its anti-bacterial properties without the need of impregnating it with, as done with some many plastics, Microban, which is but Triclosan under another name. A chemical which is not all that good for us and in fact has been linked to the emergence of the super bugs.
Thus, chose wood over anything else for chopping and cutting boards, as well as for breakfast boards, in the kitchen. It is a safe and healthier choice than plastic. Ensure, however, that the surface is not lacquered, varnished or painted. It should be oiled only. You would not want bits of PU varnish or paint ending up in your food.