There are thousands of species of trees in the world, of which, hundreds of them are useful to extract wood. So why only a few are considered the best ones to use in the kitchen? The maple, cherry, bamboo, walnut or olive is usually the most common. What makes them so special? The answer goes beyond the quality or hardness of the wood and includes several factors. Today we address the main conditioning factors, putting as a sample a daily tool: the butcher block kitchen table. The kitchen is an intensive work space. This implies a wear, so the best woods for cooking should be hard and with a compact grain. In general, these have a higher density, so they are also more durable and resistant to water.
This makes them an ideal material to work with as it is much easier to remove plate-shaped pieces. Even so, it’s not that simple. Scratches or cuts from a knife can open veins in the wood, allowing the entry of water or bacteria. For this reason, a strategy that is usually used is to make blocks of soft woods. The head of these woods, placed face up, prevents the fibers from separating when the knife passes. By the way, avoid the ugly cuts or “scars” that we would have on the horizontal surface. Therefore, they are a widely used alternative to hardwood tables, especially in kitchen and butchers.
If you like noble woods, such as oak, you should know that they are not always the best. As we have seen, how important the pore is small and the grain very fine. In the case of oak, for example, we have a hard but very porous wood. At the microscopic level, water accumulates in these pores, which generates bacteria in a short time. For this reason, wood such as maple, cherry or walnut is recommended, with a finer grain once the surface is polished.
In short, all these factors make the most commonly used kitchen woods are walnut, maple, cherry or bamboo. In the Mediterranean area we can also add the olive tree, a wood with excellent properties and beauty. They may be more expensive materials, but our health and our day to day will appreciate it. Currently, there are very inspiring projects that produce cutting boards and butcher blocks at a good price and with certificates from sustainable or renewable suppliers. In Spain you can find a multitude of artisans, with a long tradition in the preparation of kitchen cutting boards.