5-10th May we are on BEEF WEEK Stand R76, R. Schwartz Indoor Centre, Rockhampton
BEEF WEEK
Generic selectors
Exact matches only
Search in title
Search in content
Post Type Selectors
Search in posts
Search in pages

Japanese vs. Western Kitchen Knives: A Culinary Showdown

January 26, 2024

If you love cooking as a hobby, then your kitchen cannot be complete without top-quality cutlery. However, did you know that chef’s knives and kitchen knives come in different styles, and each knife type has some advantages?

This article will compare and contrast two of the most popular styles:

Japanese and Western.

We will look at:

  • Their History
  • Their Design
  • Their Performance
  • Maintenance Requirements

Once we have gone through all these factors you may be closer to deciding which is the best.

History

While the question of where did a chef’s knife come from may not have a clear answer, it is generally believed that whatever its origin was attributed to those knives used by butchers and hunters many centuries ago. 

The Western-style chef’s knife, also called the French or German knife, is thought to come from post-revolutionary France – at some point when restaurant cooking and haute cuisine required a multipurpose sharp blade that does chopping as well as dicing in addition to swift and even slicing. 

The German knife-making tradition contributed to the creation of a chef’s knife in a Western style. They produced robust, heavy blades across curved edges and pointed ends. Some of the most popular Western knife brands include Victorinox and Geisser, both vastly experienced with hundreds of years of craftsmanship behind them. 

The Japanese chef’s knife, which is also called the Gyuto or Santoku in Japan, is a rather new development that came about sometime around the late 19th century when Western trade allowed some of their culinary practices and ingredients—beef—to enter Southeast Asia. 

Derived from a Western profile but modified according to the Japanese tradition of weapon manufacturing, the Japanese-style chief´s knives have thin, light blades with only straight edges and pointed tips. 

The Japanese knife was made to be used by a cook who could cut and slice accurately, thus best when cutting fish and vegetables. Shun, Global and Misono are some of the most popular Japanese knife brands.

Design

The main differences between Japanese and Western kitchen knives are hidden in the configuration of their blade, angle, hardness as well as handle.

• Blade Shape: The Western-style knife has a blade that is thicker and bulkier than the Santoku variety, but its curve emanates from the heel to tip with an unnoticeable sweep. 

This style of knife has a rocking motion in it which the blade is picked off from the cutting board and rocked back and forth to chop or even dice food substances. 

The difference between the Japanese-style knife and its Western counterpart is that it has a straight-edge blade that ends sharply, while Western types have thicker and heavier blades with curved points. 

This shape of blade is suitable for making a slicing stroke, which means drawing the knife across food in one single sweeping action, cutting into or mincing up.

• Blade Angle: The angle of the blade for a Western-style knife is wider, from 20 to 25 degrees on each side. This means that the blade edge will be slightly less sharper, but less weak and not fragile or prone to chipping. 

The blade angle of a Japanese-style knife is thinner, usually about 10 to 15 degrees on either side. This causes an increased sharpness of its blade edge as well, but on the flip side, it’s less durable in the long-term.

• Blade Hardness: The chef’s knife for use in the Western design is soft on the blade and made from stainless or carbon steel, with a hardness rating falling between 55 to 60 points per Rockwell scale. This means the blade is relatively softer and hence sharpenable but vulnerable to bending or warping. 

The Japanese-style chef’s blade is harder and commonly made of high carbon or Damascus steel with a Rockwell hardness rating from 60HRC to 65HRC. This means that the blade is rigid and has a hard time sharpening; however, it does retain its edge well maintaining little deformation.

• Handle: For instance, the handle of a Western-style  knife is thicker and weightier; it often represents wood, plastic or metal that has a full-width butt end. 

The full tang of the knife guarantees that the blade runs through its entire length so as to provide better balance and stability. The bolster is a heavy metal collar that separates the blade from the hilt, which in turn provides protection and balance. 

The handles, found in a Japanese-style chef’s knife, are lighter and slimmer than their counterparts but are made from materials like wood instead of bolstered metal with only a partial tang. 

Partial tang is also a feature of the knife, and this means that it does not penetrate fully through the handle compartment; therefore, its weight will reduce considerably, enhancing agility.

NOTE: – One of the major advantages caused by the lack of bolster is that a blade and handle are aligned, which leads to a better grip on a knife.

Performance

The performance of the knives used by Japanese and Western chefs is largely dependent on food materials as well as cutting techniques. 

To cut everything in general, a Western-style knife is preferable while calculating the chopping and dicing of hard and dense foods like carrots, potatoes or nuts; however, Japanese knives are actually meant for slicing as well as mincing soft–delicate foods by for example – tomatoes fish or herbs

This does not imply that the Western-style chef’s knife cannot chop or makes the Japanese incapable of slicing. It only implies that they have various pros and cons so as to need distinct levels of skill in handling them.

Beginners

The Western chef’s knife is more user-friendly for learners because it also has a forgiving edge and comfortable handle. It is also durable and can withstand harshness, hence less prone to chisels or rust. But its downside is that it needs more constant sharpening and honing because that kind of knife-edge usually dulls very quickly. 

The Japanese chef’s knife is a bit tougher for beginners due to the sharper edge and thin handle. It can also be costlier and harder to preserve as it is prone to chipping or rusting. 

But at the same time, it does not need much sharpening and honing because its edge character is retained for a longer period of time.

Maintenance

Cleaning, sharpening, honing, and storage are the methods of maintaining Japanese and Western chefs’ knives. The fundamentals are the same for both styles, but there is some variance in terms of approach and regularity.

• Cleaning: Both knives will need cleaning with warm water and mild soap after every use. They should be hand-washed. 

They must be wiped dry completely using a microfiber cloth or paper towel and should not be allowed to air-dry, which can lead to rusting stains. 

They must also be periodically sanitised, especially when they come in contact with raw meat, fish or chicken, and the revolving could just involve wiping them down using a mixture of bleach combined with a water-alcohol wipe.

• Sharpening: Either of the two types should be sharpened on a regular basis depending on one’s degree and frequency of use, as well as attention paid to needed servicing when it becomes too dull. 

They should be honed using a whetstone, sharpening steel or an electric sharpener according to the manufacturer’s guide and correct blade angles. 

The Western-style chef’s knife requires sharpening on a regular basis when compared to the Japanese one because it comes with a softer blade and broader angle. 

Since the Japanese-style chef’s knife has a blade made from harder steel and thus sharpened at a narrower angle, it may often be necessary to hone this type of blade less frequently than in the case with European or American counterparts.

• Honing: It is necessary to hone both kinds of kitchen knives on a regular basis, every time possible, before each use so as to realign the edge and eliminate visible burrs or nicks. 

They should be sharpened using a honing steel, ceramic rod or leather strop as outlined by the manufacturer and at an appropriate blade angle. 

The Western-style chef’s knife, wearing this sharp edge and being a bit more flexible in blade composition than the Japanese blades, is honed much more often. 

However, one should typically require less frequent honing for the Japanese-style chef’s knife in comparison with a Western-style Kitchen Knives blade due to sharper angle and stiffer construction.

• Storing: Both the two types of knives should be stored appropriately to prevent them from damage due to moisture. They should be safely stored in a knife block, magnetic strip on the wall, sheath or drawer divider that keeps them separate from other utensils and away from contact with metal or wood. 

They must also be kept in a cool and dry place, protected from the heat source as well as moisture.

SUMMARY

Japanese and Western chef’s knives and kitchen knives are arguably the two most common types of kitchen blades due to their differences in terms of history, design as well as performance characteristics, and maintenance. Based on personal choice, cooking method and budget, there are no straight answers to which one is superior.

However, to determine which one suits you best, the most practical thing is to try using them and feel what is in your hands. You may also want to purchase one of both, as they are able to support and satisfy different requirements. Just take care of your knife, and it will do you well.