Cutting boards are one of the most used kitchen tools. We use ours multiple times a day for many different items. Choosing the right kind of board can make all the difference. Similarly, how you care for your well-loved cutting boards will affect how long they continue to serve you well on a daily basis.
Types of Cutting Boards
Plastic, glass, marble, stone, bamboo, and wood are the main types of cutting boards. The “cuts” that the knives make on plastic become little bacteria breeding grounds and leave it looking old fast. Glass, marble, and stone are so noisy to cut on. Using them is not an enjoyable experience in preparing food in my opinion. Bamboo is harder than wood and therefore a little tougher on your knives. My preference is natural wood. They stand the test of time with proper care and “feel” better when using. Wood boards are safer to use, gentler to your knives, and let’s face it - they are simply beautiful. They require a bit of care to keep them in pristine condition for years.
Care of Wood Cutting Boards
I love wooden cutting boards. There’s a “story” ingrained into every one. The hours chopping and preparing food, standing around the kitchen bench or sitting at the table with family around as we chat in anticipation of the meal being prepared is familiar in our homes. The wood grain in each is unique, the marks and worn spots they collect in time carve character into them. I even have one that was passed down in my family that is sweetly stained with fond memories. After awhile they start to look a little tired and worn. They get neglected and need to be cleaned and conditioned once in awhile to bring back the life in them and keep them at the center of usefulness and family connections for years to come.
Wood cutting boards should never go in the dishwasher as the moisture will cause them to warp and crack. Those little cracks end up becoming breeding grounds for bacteria and potentially causing foodborne illness. Hot soapy water and handwashing or gentle scrubbing is the best. Using a dishwashing detergent is fine. I prefer castille soaps and add my essential oils which is more natural. One important thing I had to teach my kids - clean and scrub both sides of the board! Even if you only used one side to cut on - meat juices can dribble and contaminate the other side. Dry your cutting board so the moisture doesn’t have a chance to seep into the wood. After hand drying the board with a clean towel, let it air dry for a few hours. I don’t recommend stacking boards on top of each other or with other things. Give it a chance to breathe so mold and bacteria don’t form - another thing I had to teach my kids.
Bacteria and Odors
Bacteria can accumulate whenever food is prepared. Your boards need to be “refreshed” and oiled regularly. If you have wood bowls and utensils you can do same with them.
Study shows wood cutting boards are safer to use in terms of bacteria. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16640304
The surface of the wood tends to absorb bacteria. It will sink down to the bottom layers of the wood and die, rather than sit on the surface or in knife grooves whilst multiplying.
Your boards may also absorb odors from onions, herbs, spices, fish, and other strong smelling foods.
Due to the fact that wood boards absorb bacteria and odors, you’ll need to deep clean them occasionally. Start by sprinkling some coarse salt mixed with a few drops of lemon essential oil on your wood cutting board and massage it in, letting it sit for minute. Do one side at a time. Meanwhile, cut a lemon in half. Use one half to “scrub” each side. Lemon is antibacterial, a natural cleaner, and smells sooo good! Let the salt and lemon solution sit for approximately five minutes after “scrubbing”. Finally, clean off the board with a soft sponge or cloth, rinse, and dry well. Once thoroughly dry, your board is ready to be “conditioned and oiled”.
Cutting Board Conditioning Balm
This is a simple recipe to keep your boards in prime condition. Use Fractionated Coconut Oil (or food grade mineral oil). Do not use olive, vegetable or corn oil that goes rancid - it leaves a bad smell and affects the taste of your food. Conditioning and oiling your boards will not remove all knife marks completely but beeswax will help fill them in. If you haven’t conditioned your boards in a long while or never - start by applying 3 coats. Then reapply 1 coat every month or when the board looks “thirsty” and dry.
1 TBS beeswax - grated or pellets
4 TBS Fractionated Coconut Oil
1-2 drops Lemon essential oil
Combine beeswax and oil in a small glass mason jar or pyrex dish. I like to use my pyrex measuring cup. Place this in a saucepan filled with a couple inches of water. Slowly heat on stovetop on low to melt beeswax. Once it has cooled enough, it will have a gel-like consistency. Dip a soft, clean cloth into your balm and rub into wood - moving in direction of the wood grain on one side ( or pour a bit on the board and massage in with your hands). Repeat for other side and edges of your board. Leave it stand overnight to fully absorb the oil, wipe off excess next day.
Every week, spruce up your cutting boards with a spray made with natural, non-toxic cleansing spray that is effective in keeping bacteria at bay. Let your boards dry overnight. Your cutting boards will be refreshed and ready to use in the next day. Mix up your spritzer in a glass or aluminum spray bottle. My oils of choice would be any of these by doTERRA - Clove, Wild Orange, Grapefruit, Lemon, Lime, Tea Tree, Bergamot, Peppermint or Onguard blend.
1 cup distilled or purified water
10 drops oil or oil blend
In conclusion, with regular tender care, your wood cutting boards will serve you well for many years. They will provide you the platform for preparing nourishing food while nurturing many colorful conversations around the kitchen table.