Nakiri vs Santoku

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Do you know the differences between these two knife types? Would you like to learn more about Japanese-type knives? Find out the differences between nakiri and santoku.

Japanese Cuisine

Japanese cuisine has been gaining popularity more and more as Japanese food is very appealing to many people. Moreover, this draws some attention to Japanese traditional kitchen culture. I am sure many of us have at least one person they know who tries to learn how to cook Japanese food.

When it comes to Japanese kitchen tradition, knife types take up a big space and as an isolated cuisine, the knives are also remote from Western-style knives. Here in this section, we are going to talk about nakiri and santoku knives.

Nakiri Knife

Mercer Culinary M22907 Millennia 7-Inch Nakiri Knife, Black

Nakiri knife or in Japanese “nakiri bocho” is a Japanese knife suitable for vegetable cutting. The name literally translates “cutting vegetables” into English.

History of Nakiri

When you take a look at the Japanese kitchen history, you will see something very unusual for Westerners. Japanese chefs used to use knives that looked like samurai swords. I mean I cannot imagine the Excalibur as a kitchen knife, gently cutting pork and eggplants but it was the case in medieval Japan.

The first known knives are from the eighth century Nara period up until the 17th century. However, something happened in the seventeenth century, maybe manufactories, maybe the abundance of steel. The triggering action was probably the Japanese emperor allowing foreign goods coming into the country. So, Japanese blacksmiths probably saw a competition in the market and in order to enter into the competition with the Western-style knives, they started to produce knives that Japanese home cooks would exactly need. Then, nakiri arose.

So, the 17th century is the birth century of nakiri knives. The main purpose of the design was to upgrade an older version of a vegetable knife. The edge tool makers of the time started to sharpen the knives to create better-quality, thinner and sharp as a razor. They not only produced nakiri but also other traditional Japanese types as well such as Yanagiba.

One thing to mention, at the time Nakiri came into existence, there was no sushi takeaways in downtown New York. I mean people had minor to zero interest in Japanese culture and cuisine. So, this knife was suitable for what a regular Japanese housewife needs. It has been almost four centuries after that and the design did not improve a bit.

If you want to learn more about Nikiri knives, check our full comparison between Nakiri and Usuba knives or our review of the best Nakiri knives

Nakiri Knife - imarku Nakiri Chef Knife 7 inch High Carbon German Stainless Steel Nakiri Vegetable Knife, Multipurpose Asian Nakiri Vegetable Cleaver Knife for Home and Kitchen with Ergonomic Handle

Why Nakiri is for vegetables?

This lies in its unique design. During the time of its invention, Japanese cuisine was more about vegetables. So, the design of it has a straight blade and thanks to this, nakiri supports you while you are trying to perform the same sort of cut on each and every vegetable regardless of their shapes, forms, and rigidity.

If you have a thick blade such as western-style cleaver, you will notice it is absolutely disastrous to cut vegetables because it simply breaks the veggie not cut it as thin as possible. Even though nakiri and cleaver look like long-lost brothers, their attitude to the food is the furthest from each other.

All right but I want to use it for meat purposes, can I?

Well, you probably could. If you want to give it a try, you can even crush a bone with a tiny utility knife as well. It will work until you break your knife, of course.

Nakiri is a vegan knife. However, it is also a knife that tries to make its owner happy. So, if you want to do it, poor Nakiri will just say “Yeah, sure” but you can be sure that it will cry hysterically at night when you do not look at it.

So, it has emotions, how should I take care of it?

Of course, it depends on what type, brand or model of nakiri you bought. If you bought a dishwasher-friendly, you are good to go. However, even with dishwasher-friendly knives, we recommend you wash it by hand with warm water. Then, you need to rinse it and dry it properly.

Santoku Knife

Mercer Culinary Genesis Forged Santoku Knife, 7 Inch

Santoku is probably the most popular knife type in Japanese households nowadays, even outdistancing nakiri. This is a combination of western-style chef’s knives and nakiri and it is even more multifunctional than both of them. So, let’s learn about its history before learning about its functions.

If you are interested to read more of our articles you can check our review of the 5 best Japanese knives or the 5 best knife sets

History of Santoku

Santoku knife is a relatively new type of knife that emerged in the post-World War II Japan as an alternative for nakiri. It has a similar size to nakiri and non-serrated edge just like nakiri. However, when you compare it with chef’s knives, the Japanese santoku is much shorter ranging from 5 to 8 inches.

As we said, nakiri in Japanese means “cutting vegetables” while santoku translates to “three virtues” and these virtues mean “chopping, slicing and dicing” prompting its three main functions.

Santoku Knife - MOSFiATA 7" Super Sharp Professional Kitchen Cooking Knife with Finger Guard and Knife Sharpener, German High Carbon Stainless Steel 4116 with Micarta Handle and Gift Box

What is santoku for?

When we talk about Japanese food, people automatically assume that it is only for sushi but this is not true at all. Indeed, you can prepare sushi ingredients for that too; however, this knife is much better when you use it for vegetables and softer type meats.

The blade is the unique part of the santoku knife just like nakiri. However, it is much thinner and lighter thanks to its high-carbon material. In addition to that, special heat treatment ensures that the blade will last longer and keep its resilience. Of course, it can change according to its brand but the original santoku needs to have an angle of 16 degrees which adds sharpness to the edge.

Understood, what type of santoku I should pick?

In general, there are three types of santoku as many brands outside Japan started to produce santoku. However, the original material of the blade is high-carbon stainless steel. Then there is the Damascus steel to have it layered and elegant-looking. The third type is something we would never recommend as we like it as pure as possible: Ceramic. Ceramic blades are easier to clean but are not hard enough to use it for different kitchen tasks.

When it comes to handles, we, again, recommend you pick one with a wooden handle. It can be any type of wood that is non-slippery so that it will be much safer and everlasting. Other handles can be, for example, polypropylene which is good for the non-slippery feature but does not provide a more comfortable and tighter grip.

If you want to know how to take care of it better, you can take a look at the recommendations we did for nakiri. It is the same.

Nakiri vs. Santoku. Which one is better?

We believe these two types have their own advantages and disadvantages. However, when we think of their variety and average quality, we think the santoku knife is a much better choice than nakiri.

To find out more about kitchen knives have a look at our reviews on Damascus chef knives or Calphalon self-sharpening knives.

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