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Santoku Knife Use and History


These days, the santoku knife has become a ubiquitous kitchen tool, common in all home appliance stores and TV cooking shows. You hear a TV chef rave about the santoku knife, and you wonder if it’s an ancient Japanese knife only recently brought to the West. After all, companies that forge santoku knives in Japan describe using authentic sword-making techniques to craft the steel.

In fact, the santoku knife’s history goes back only so far, to mid-1940s, when World War II was ending. Western and Japanese cultures blended together, in a way. The Japanese had discovered new styles of cooking popular in the West, so they developed the santoku knife as their own version of the chefs knife. So the santoku knife is a sort of hybrid of Eastern and Western cultures, unlike the sashimi knife, which is a true traditional Japanese knife.

How exactly does a santoku knife differ from a basic chefs knife? The answer lies in the oval indentations along the edge of the blade. This “hollow edge” allows air pockets to form between the knife and the food it’s slicing. You’ll notice when using a santoku knife that there’s less friction and struggling to cut through dense foods. Also, food slides right off the blade instead of sticking to it—something you’ll really appreciate when it comes to cheese.

The word santoku itself means “three virtues.” What those three virtues, or uses, are, no one can quite agree. Some theories include:

  • The knife is used primarily for chopping, mincing, and dicing.
  • The knife has three distinct sections: the tip, the edge, and the heel.
  • The knife can cut through anything: fish, meat, or vegetables.

Whichever theory you believe, you have to agree that the santoku knife is pretty unmatched when it comes to versatility.

The santoku knife has other distinct qualities that set it apart:

  • Typically smaller than the traditional chefs knife, it’s a preferred tool for many women and people with smaller hands.
  • Because it’s made of harder steel, the blade can be forged thinner without losing any of its cutting strength.
  • The blade is also wider than that of a chefs knife, making it a useful tool for scooping and transferring food.
  • It has a straighter edge than the rounded chefs knife, meaning it requires a different cutting motion. You push the tip forward slightly as you do a straight up-and-down chopping.

If you’re an aspiring chef in your kitchen at home, then you’ll appreciate a versatile knife like the santoku. Its lightweight and thin design belie its true power.

Brittany Rowland Brittany Rowland researches new developments in Appliances, Kitchen and CE products features with a vigor to which few would aspire… but someone has to do it. See more about Brittany

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