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Santoku and Nakiri: What's the Difference?

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Santoku and Nakiri: What's the Difference?

Which one should I buy?

Hi everyone! This week, we’ll be discussing the differences between two distinct styles of Japanese knife: the santoku and the nakiri, pictured below. 

 

A Santoku (left) and a nakiri (right).

 

To put it simply, the santoku is an all-purpose kitchen knife, while the nakiri is specifically made for chopping vegetables. A good way to distinguish between the two is to simply look at their profiles; a santoku is shaped more like how most people expect a “knife” to look. Its spine curves down and meets the semi-flat edge to form the tip. A nakiri, on the other hand, is rectangular, with a spine that runs parallel to the knife’s edge, and has no pointed tip.

Those are the cursory differences in a nutshell, but there are far more to these knives than meets the eye. Let’s take a more detailed look at them, shall we? Let’s start with the all-purpose knife: the santoku.

Santoku

First things first: the name santoku. As you might have guessed, santoku is a Japanese word, meaning “three virtues” or “three uses,” referring to its multitude of applications: cutting, slicing, and chopping, or alternatively, meat, fish, and vegetables.


To the untrained eye, a santoku knife is identical to another similar knife: the gyuto. As they are both all-purpose kitchen knives, the two are understandably mixed up.

 

Can you spot the difference at a glance?

 

As you can see, the spine of a santoku descends at a steeper angle towards the tip, forming what’s called a “sheep’s foot” tip. The edge is also a bit straighter than the gyuto’s, making it better suited for vertical push-cut motions.

But enough about the gyuto! Between the santoku and the nakiri, which should you get? Well, that depends on what your intended uses are. If your sole focus is on chopping vegetables with increased ease and precision, a nakiri may be a better choice. But if you want a general-purpose knife that can cut all sorts of things, including vegetables, a santoku is a better investment.

Nakiri

Like santoku, nakiri is also a Japanese word, meaning “greens cutter.” In the olden days of Japan, this knife was commonly found in household kitchens. To this day, it’s still held in high regard, especially by professionals.


The most striking feature of the nakiri is its rectangular profile, which of course has a function. The flat edge is suitable for repetitive chopping motions that will make full, parallel contact with the cutting board, providing a clean and consistent cutting rhythm as you work through those greens.

 

Nakiri knives come in a wide variety of different aesthetic styles.


As I mentioned, if your goal is to cut vegetables specifically, a nakiri is the more effective option. For the same reason you might buy running shoes if you plan on doing a lot of running, buying the right knife for the right cutting goal in mind will help you work more effectively.

A similar knife to the nakiri is called an usuba. Like the nakiri, it is also highly suited to cutting vegetables. The main differences are that while the nakiri is double-bevel (meaning the edge has been sharpened from both sides), the usuba is generally single-bevel (one side remains flat/concave). The single bevel and hence thinner edge of the usuba allows for slicing veggies like a cucumber or daikon into more precise, fine sheets.

By now, I’ve hopefully helped you identify key differences between the santoku and nakiri. To sum it all up, a santoku will work for general cutting in addition to veggies, while a nakiri, being specifically designed for greens, will maximize your veggie-cutting ability.

That’s it for this one!

-Jun

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  • Jun Del Rio
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