A couple of days ago, I was chatting with my buddy about the kitchen stuff. And from one thing to another, the conversation went to the topic of cutting boards. My friend dabbles with wood, occasionally taking orders from clients. And, one of his recent orders came for a cutting board. The client specifically asked for an African mahogany cutting board but my friend wasn’t feeling sure about the wood choice.
Because African mahogany is not the best wood for making a cutting board. Sure, mahogany has admirable strength and hardness, but knife marks and scratches will be more visible on a board made with it. Plus, mahogany is an open-grained wood with large pores which makes it exposed to bacteria, moisture, and stains rooting in the cutting board and resulting in food contamination.
Now, let us dig into the most relevant question of this article, Is African Mahogany Good for Cutting Board?
African mahogany may not be the best choice of wood, but you can still make beautiful cutting boards equal to statement pieces. However, there are better and cheaper alternatives for regular use in your kitchen.Is African Mahogany Good for Cutting Board?
As we were debating the pros and cons of African mahogany, I started to search what others said on this topic, and it took me down a rabbit hole. Because you see, there is a lot of contradictory information about African mahogany cutting boards. Some are in favor of it, some think mahogany isn’t a good choice for cutting board while some agree that it can be made but won’t be functional for long.
That’s why I decided to tackle this problem by putting together all info I found on this subject. So, the next poor soul searching for this question can get a comprehensive answer. But before learning about African mahogany’s potency as a cutting board, let’s look at what to look for in a good cutting board.
What to Look for in Wood for a Cutting Board
Whether you’re making a cutting board or buying one, there are some factors you should be careful about:
Hardwood vs. Softwood
How well the cutting board functions depends largely on the type of wood. Different types of wood have different properties each with its own charm.
Naturally, hardwoods are harder with a higher density grain, whereas softwoods are softer and have more room between their wood fibers. Because of their higher density, hardwoods are more durable than softwoods and don’t get scratched or dented easily. This is why most cutting boards are made from hardwoods, not softwoods.
Some examples of hardwoods:
Some examples of softwoods:
- Red cedar
Choosing a cutting board made of hardwood isn’t enough, you also need to make sure how hard it is. The higher the hardness of the wood, the more it is resistant to scratches, dents, and knicks from knives.
But how do determine the hardness of the wood?
The hardness of a wood is measured by pounds force on the Janka scale. It measures how much pressure it takes to push a metal ball into the wood, and the more resistant the wood, the higher it ranks on the Janka scale. You can just check the Janka hardness rating of the wood to determine its hardness.
Also remember, extremely hardwood can be a bit of a problem. For instance, using Brazilian walnut for a cutting board can actually dull your knife as this is an ultra-hard wood. Plus, it’ll be really expensive for a cutting board as well.
The porosity of wood can have a major impact on food hygiene. How?
Well before discussing kitchen sanitation, let’s talk about porous woods first. There are mainly three types of hardwood:
- Ring porous
- Semi-diffuse porous
- Diffuse porous
Normally hardwoods are mentioned simply as open-grain (ring porous) and closed-grain (diffuse-porous). Open-grained woods have visibly large pores and they soak up moisture easily and harbor bacteria and can cause water-logging. On the other hand, closed-grain woods have small pores that keep liquid or bacteria from entering the cutting surface and cause mold growth, wood warping, or stains. In fact, the smaller the pores, the better for hygiene.
Because certain types of hardwood are more porous than others, not all hardwoods are suitable for cutting boards. For example, oak as hardwood is popular for its use in construction. But you won’t find many cutting boards made from it. It’s because oak is an open-grained wood and more susceptible to bacteria and mold than others. Similarly, maple, cherry, walnut, teak, etc are all greatly used in making cutting boards as they are closed-grain woods.
You have to also consider the toxicity level of certain woods. It is not a concern if you’re buying your board, but if you’re making one yourself you need to make sure it’s food-safe. oils and resin can leech into the food you’re making and wood toxicity can lead to irritation, sensitization, and even poisoning.
Therefore, you should opt for woods that produce edible fruits, nuts, leaves, etc. And avoid rare or exotic woods while constructing a cutting board. Rosewood and purpleheart are good examples of this. Both kinds of wood have a dark attractive color with a hard surface, but there’s a chance of toxins leaching out of the wood and into the food placed on the cutting surface.
Another thing to consider is you shouldn’t use reclaimed lumber as it may not be safe to use. Sometimes timbers are sourced from old barns, factories, fences, warehouses, etc, and reused for a different purpose. But that leaves a chance of toxicity as it’s hard to know if the wood has been exposed to dangerous chemicals or toxins. That’s why don’t make cutting boards from reclaimed lumber.
Food-grade mineral oil can be applied to wood cutting boards to lessen the risk of food contamination. Plus, conditioning also helps to suppress wood’s natural tendency to shrink and warp or split with change in the climate.
In a survey, the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) found that 18% of cutting boards they sampled had harmful bacteria like Salmonella and E. coli. And you definitely don’t want that! You should properly sanitize and care for your cutting board to avoid contamination and also condition it quarterly after cleaning the wooden board, so it can stay functional for a longer time.
End Grain vs. Edge Grain
This is more of an issue you need to consider during the construction process. Typically, there are two types of cutting board construction:
- Edge grain
- End grain
In edge grain construction, the wood is cut lengthwise and the cutting board has a simple design. As they are cheaper than end grain cutting boards, most people use edge grain boards for regular kitchen use. Even though they can dull your knife faster than using end grain boards.
On the contrary, end grain construction has horizontally cut different woods fused together. As the end grain is exposed, the knives run against the end of the fibers instead of across. This way, there’s less chance of splitting and scarring from repeated use.
End grain boards look pretty attractive as they somewhat resemble checkerboards. But this process of fusing pieces of wood together needs glue or other binding agents which may not be food safe. Plus, you’ll need to make an extra investment if you want to use only the best woods for your end grain cutting board.
How Good Is African Mahogany for a Cutting Board
Generally, mahogany is considered one of the strongest woods on earth. Here see the factors which show how strong it is:
As you can see, the comprehensive and bending strength of mahogany is pretty higher than most woods. Plus, its hardness shows a superior level of strength and durability. The wood is easy to cut and sand and even after gluing, the pieces hardly warp.
However, in terms of hardness, mahogany has 830 lbf while Maple shows a hardness of 1,450 lbf. That means knife marks will be more visible on a mahogany cutting board than on a maple one.
Also, Mahogany is an open grain wood with a porous structure. The pores of mahogany are way bigger compared to other hardwoods and there’s a chance of bacteria and allergy occurrence. But there’s hardly any chance of mahogany emitting toxins, so you can rest assured your food will be safe.
For great strength and aesthetic purposes, African mahogany is the ideal wood for a cutting board. Of course, it’ll work fine for a time, but it won’t be much functional after regular use for long. So, my advice will be to look for other alternatives instead of spending time and effort on making a cutting board with African mahogany.
If you want to make a cutting board to see if you can and only use it as decoration, then African mahogany will work splendidly! You’ll hardly find another cutting board with such a hard exterior and deep reddish-brown color.
Best Wood for Cutting Board
If you’re feeling less enthusiastic about African mahogany for a cutting board, why not look for other options? There are even some better alternatives available and some of the best woods are:
Maple, more specifically hard maple is very popular for making high-end cutting boards. It is a hard, closed-gain wood that is scratch and impact resistant. But not hard enough to dull any knife. The small pores make maple effective in blocking bacteria, moisture, and stains. As maple has decorative grain and is fairly neutral in color, it has produced beautiful cutting boards not to mention functional. But remember to avoid red maple wood as it is toxic, and go for super maple instead.
Cherry is on the opposite spectrum of color compared to maple. A cherry cutting board shows off a mature sophistication with its deep, rich reddish-brown color. It’s nearly as hard as maple but won’t dull knives. However, cherry is more of an exclusive wood and less commonly found. As a result, cherry for a cutting board makes for an expensive choice.
With 21 species found across the world, walnut as a hardwood comes available in a wide range of colors. It is softer than maple but hard enough to save the board from knives. Besides the closed-grain, medium pores of walnut offer more resistance to bacteria and moisture. As the wood doesn’t shrink that much, it doesn’t need constant conditioning as well. However, some woodworkers feel apprehensive to use walnut for making cutting boards, fearing the risk of allergic reactions. Although as long as the wood is properly sanded and finished, there’s no risk of allergy.
Teak has been popular for a long time for its durability and easy maintenance. The hardness of the teak is even better than a walnut and holds up well against scratches and impacts. As a hardwood, teak is closed-grain but has large pores which make it more vulnerable to moisture, bacteria, and stains compared to other woods. Still, the orange-brown to dark brown color of this wood hides stains better than maple and it is completely food safe to use. The only complaint about teak comes from environmental concerns. Too much use of this hardwood has reduced its number greatly and certain types, for instance, African teak has become an endangered species.
Cutting Boards and Kdramas
You’re probably wondering how can the cutting board be related to Korean dramas of all things! Have I lost my mind?
Well, see it’s a funny story. While searching for African mahogany cutting boards, I came across an interesting post.
Recently, South Korean actors Hyun Bin and Son Yejin (affectionately called the binjin couple) got married and it took over Twitter by storm! If you have Netflix, chances are you have watched their popular drama series Crash Landing on You or heard the name at least.
Anyway, as I said I was looking for cutting boards and I stumbled upon a post about it. Singapore fans of this couple gave them a cutting board as a wedding gift. And guess the wood they used for this gorgeous piece?
It’s African mahogany indeed!
Can you use African mahogany for a cutting board?
Yes, you can use African mahogany for a cutting board. The wood makes for a durable board with an aesthetically pleasing look which you’ll be happy to show off in your kitchen.
Is African mahogany food Safe?
African mahogany is an open-grain wood with large pores; therefore, food particles are at risk of getting trapped inside the board. However, as a hardwood, it doesn’t produce any toxins and is thus safe to use. As long as your cutting board with treated with 100% natural, food-safe materials, there’s hardly any chance of contamination occurring.
What do you use African mahogany for?
It’s used for all kinds of construction work, be it furniture, boat building, flooring, decorative work, veneer, window frames, musical instruments, etc. Traditionally it has been used to make dugout canoes, and the tree has medicinal properties so it’s valuable for traditional medicine practice.
Is African mahogany hardwood?
African mahogany is one type of mahogany wood. And mahogany falls under the hardwood tree category, so naturally, African mahogany is considered hardwood.
Hopefully, this carefully researched article can answer the question – is African mahogany food for cutting boards. Sure, you can make a nice-looking cutting board out of it. But if you’re concerned about the functionality and longevity of your board, you can just use any other type of suitable hardwood.