Kickstart your knife knowledge: 10 fun facts about kitchen knives

Posted by Steven Tuckey on

Kitchen knives are the most common tool you can find in all homes but very few people know much about them. Most people know what knife to choose and how to use it, so it’s easy to assume that’s all there is to it. This couldn’t be further from the truth. There’s a lot to learn when it comes to kitchen knives; facts that will allow you to use them properly and more effectively.

To make sure you’re well informed about your trusty sidekick in the kitchen, we have curated ten fun facts about kitchen knives. 

1. Use your sharpest knife to cut onions

Dealing with cutting onions is always a stressful endeavour as it often leads to crying. However, this doesn’t have to be the case if you use your sharpest knife around, it's much easier to cut them!

This is possible because when you slice an onion, a previously undiscovered enzyme known as Lachrymatory-factor synthase, gets released into the air. This then becomes a Propanethial S-oxide, which is an irritant that comes into contact with eyes, so tears become a reflex. In order to avoid this, sharper knives can lessen the damage that occurs in the cell walls of an onion, making it possible for you to cut through onions as much as you want without crying!

Bonus Tip: Always cut onions root to stem to avoid releasing more tear-inducing enzymes. Onion cells are bundled together in groups that run lengthways along the onion, so slicing along these bundles disrupts less cells, meaning less tears!

Onion chopping, avoid the tears!

2. Sharper knives are safer

While it might sound counter-intuitive, the truth is that sharper knives are safer to use than knives with dull blades. This is primarily because the knife operates as you expect, allowing you to get the job done quickly and with precision. When you have dull blades, you might have to apply more pressure to get the slice you want or you might have to repeat cuts because it simply will not cut as you want it to. Continuing to do this at any length of time becomes a dangerous practice that might cause injuries you wouldn’t see coming. In short, make sure you only have sharp knives in the kitchen.

3. Corralling your knives can damage it

A common practice after slicing all ingredients is to use the knife to sweep the chopped pieces onto a plate, frying pan, or container. It’s a technique that most people do, otherwise known as corralling. However, using your knives as a means to transport ingredients on your cutting board will only damage it—either by making the blade dull or causing small fractures in the blade that in time can lead to bigger cracks. This is caused by curling the blade edge as it drags across the surface of the chopping board. Repeated uses in this way will lead to greater damage over time.

The best move you can do is to not use your knives at all to sweep your ingredients since this lessens the possibility of damaging the knife. Instead use a pastry card, spatula or dough scrape to scoop the ingredients. If you’ve already used your knife in this way though, check for possible damage and make sure to avoid using it again to corral ingredients.

4. Dishwashers and knives aren't friends

A kitchen knife is a fine-tuned instrument made up of high-quality materials and parts that, if they are taken care of, will last a lifetime. Dishwashers use harsh chemicals and bleaches to remove stains and food scraps from plates, keeping them in a high temperature, humid environment for extended periods of time. The combination of high temperature and chemicals will swell your knife handle and ruin the temper of the blade steel. Continual trips through the dishwasher is sure to leave your knife dull, difficult to sharpen, and with handles that often fall off.  

It might already be common knowledge that putting knives in your dishwasher is a surefire way of damaging it. While this is true, it’s also not good for your dishwasher since a knife is sharp making it possible to cut into the plastic racking or pierce the plastic coating on wireframe dishwasher baskets. Considering that dishwashers are not cheap, the best practice you can do for it as well as your knife, is to never put these two together. Following this line of thought, make sure to not place anything sharp in your dishwasher as well.

5. Soaking your knife for long is never a good idea

When people cook, it’s always easier to leave kitchen equipment lying around rather than washing them and quickly putting them away. While some people have good reasons to do this, like soaking the difficult to remove ingredients, leaving a few tools like a knife in the water for long might do more to ruin them than clean. Knives and any metal equipment you have that are prone to rusting should be cleaned first thing and not be left to soak, otherwise you’re only hastening the rust process.

Like dishwashers, they can also swell the handle if prolonged soaking occurs. This can can also cause bacteria build-up in wooden or composite handles, leading to cross-contamination.

6. Choose the right knife set

When buying knives, it can be very easy to buy knife sets with a whole range of knives you are unlikely to use. If you are wanting to buy just one knife, that knife needs to be able to complete a whole range of tasks, but a knife set can suit a range of tasks with different shapes and sizes. Look for knives that compliment other knives you already own. For instance, if you have a longer chefs knife than a shorter petty knife will make a great sidekick. If you have a light and nimble santoku, you might want to pair that with a heavier, thicker cleaver. 

When buying a new knife set, pay attention to blade lengths, shapes and thicknesses, choosing a range of styles and shapes that suit the type of food you like to cook. Our best suggestion for someone just starting out? Buy a 18-21cm chefs knife, a 12-15cm petty knife and heavier cleaver or Bunka Bocho in between these sizes. Collectively, you will get a lot of versatility from this set.

7. Serrated knives can’t be used like saws

The thing about serrated knives that most people do is they use it like they would a saw, simply because the blades are jagged. However, this is something you shouldn’t do because sharpened serrated knives will cut through your ingredients in one clean slice. Using a sawing motion will cause jagged cuts, torn crusts and a tonne of crumbs (that somehow get everywhere). 

Sawing through bread with grace and elegance

8. Cutting techniques are your partner in the kitchen

When you’re a beginner in the kitchen, the most common mistake is to assume that there’s only one way to use a knife. This can mean using only one knife for everything or slicing your ingredients in one way which can ruin the way you prepare food. Considering there are a lot of cutting techniques out there, you need to make sure to find the right one that will work for what you’ll be doing and make it easier for your wrists to cook.

There are three main ways to grip a knife; pinch-grip, hammer-grip and finger-on-spine method. Pinch-grip is gripping the blade with index finger and thumb and using the other three fingers to grip the handle. Hammer-grip is gripping the handle of the knife as you would a hammer, closed fist with thumb locked over your index and middle finger. The finger-on-spine method is similar to hammer grip, but the wrist is rotated slightly so the back of the hand is facing upwards, and your index finger rests on the spine of the knife.

We suggest pinch-grip if you are wanting to improve your speed and cutting performance. For one, you have more control over the knife. It is less likely to slip to either side because it is anchored with the thumb and index. Secondly, it moves your hand further up the length of the knife, giving you greater control of your technique.

9. There’s a perfect cutting board for your knives

The perfect partner for your knife is a cutting board, but not all cutting boards will work. This is because the materials for some boards like glass, bamboo, and marble might damage your knife more than help you cut through your ingredients. When you’re choosing your cutting board, it’s best to pick one made from either rubber, plastic or end-grain wood since their sturdiness will work with your knife, and will not destroy your sharp edge.

10. There’s a right knife for you

Similar to not all cuisines are suited for everyone, not all knives will work for you. This is the case because knives have different lengths, widths, and even weight that might prove to become a hindrance when you use them. If you try to use a knife that’s not a good fit for you, it might lead to improper slices of your ingredients and even accidents. Your favourite knife is the one that feels comfortable in your hands with nice balance and weight.

If you prefer European foods like pastas, soups and stews, choose a knife with more weight towards the handle and a decent curve at its tip. If you prefer stir fries and asian cuisine, choose a cleaver with decent weight and thick spine for chopping. If you love Japanese cuisine, choose a blade with long length and straighter edge that will be best suited to slicing ingredients.

Choose the right knife for you!

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