For chefs and foodies, a cutting board is the canvas where the majority of food prep happens. Thus, choosing a cutting board can be quite the decision.
In this Woodshop blog, we’re looking at the advantages and disadvantages of plastic and wooden cutting boards. Between preserving knives, preventing bacterial growth, and standing up to wear and tear, the different materials can make a big difference.
Wear and Tear
Just about every foodie can picture what an old plastic cutting board looks like. Between knife marks, stains, and mold, plastic cutting boards can degrade pretty quickly.
On the contrary, wooden surfaces, particularly edge grain cutting boards, can stand up to decades of food preparation and can actually look better with age. As knives sink in to end grain cutting boards, the wood fibers naturally separate and mend, and while deep knife marks may show, the fibers tend to repair themselves over time.
This is quite different than damage to plastic cutting boards, which cannot be undone and typically gets worse over time. As more knife marks are made in plastic cutting boards, they become uneven, tend to be harder to clean, and increasingly harbor more bacteria.
Thus, when it comes to wear and tear, hardwood end grain cutting boards have the clear advantage.
Knife and Cutlery Protection
Due to end grain wood fibers naturally separating when working with knives, butcher blocks and hardwood cutting boards are much easier on cutlery than their plastic counterparts.
Though plastic is easier on knives than materials like glass, the material still doesn’t give way to sharp knives. That means that knives will become dull over time with prolonged use on plastic, and the cutting board itself is also going to take damage,
Hygiene and prevention of bacterial growth is one of the biggest areas of dispute for plastic and wooden cutting boards. While wooden cutting boards tend to be a little more difficult to clean than plastic, wood’s natural characteristics make it harder for bacteria to linger.
According to a 1993 study conducted at the University of California, Davis by Ph.D Dean O. Cliver, wood cutting boards were less than half as likely to harbor salmonella than plastic or glass.
“It revealed that those using wooden cutting boards in their home kitchens were less than half as likely as average to contract salmonellosis than those using synthetic (plastic or glass) cutting boards were about twice as likely as average to contract salmonellosis,” the study stated.
While the reasons why wooden cutting boards are less prone to contract bacteria are somewhat unclear, it may be due to wood’s water absorbency and the ability to dry faster, meaning less time for bacteria survival. Some have speculated that wood also contains natural antibiotic agents that prevent bacterial growth.
“We regard it as the best epidemiological evidence available to date that wooden cutting boards are not a hazard to human health, but plastic cutting boards may be,” the UC Davis study concluded.
When it comes to average life of plastic and wooden cutting boards, hardwood wins without question. As plastic cutting boards become scarred with cutlery marks, they become increasingly difficult to clean. Additionally, plastic boards tend to stain and harbor mold over time, making the boards prone to bacteria and unsightly.
Wooden cutting boards can last for decades with proper maintenance, and end grain patterns can actually become more striking after years of use. See McClure’s guide on how to properly maintain butcher block or cutting boards to learn how you can get the most out of a hardwood cutting board.
Image courtesy of 86 Lemons
To add on to the advantages of wooden cutting boards, wood is much more visually appealing than the average plastic cutting board. While the looks of a butcher block cutting board aren’t going to make the food taste any better, it’s all about the presentation.
Plastic cutting boards are typically much cheaper than wooden boards, though with plastic’s short life expectancy, pricing is somewhat of a moot point. While most plastic cutting boards go for around $20, McClure’s premium handcrafted cutting boards start at around $50-60. With a significantly longer expected lifespan for wooden cutting boards, the long-term investment typically goes in favor of wood products.
Image courtesy of The First Mess
With all of these factors taken into consideration, it’s fairly clear that wood cutting boards offer more long-term value than the average plastic board. If you want to preserve expensive knives and cutlery while preventing bacteria, a hardwood cutting board or chopping block is a must-have item for chefs and amateur foodies alike. However, it never hurts to have multiple types of cutting boards for multiple uses.
Looking to put that moldy plastic cutting board to rest and score on a premium, handcrafted hardwood cutting board or chopping block? Check out McClure’s butcher block listings online, or contact us today to learn more about our custom-made cutting board line.
*Header image courtesy of Naturally Ella