Food-Safe Oils. Which Type Should You Be Using?

March 05, 2015 6 Comments

 “What is the best oil to treat wooden utensils and cutting boards with?”

It’s a question we get every time we are out selling Earlywood products and it’s easy to see where the confusion comes from. There are old-fashioned treatments and modern oil blends that all claim to be the best way to preserve wood used in the kitchen.  So let’s take a look at your options for treating wood, and clear up the confusion.

There are essentially two kinds of oil used for treating wood, oils that harden, and oils that don’t harden.

Oils that harden, including polyurethane and varnish are basically what you’ve got on your furniture. Based on smell alone, it should be obvious why they are not good for anything that comes into contact with food, yet we do occasionally see people use it. It creates a shell around the utensil that, with use, will eventually crack and chip off in your food. Not good, friends. Not recommended.

Oils that don’t harden, include food-based oils, linseed oil, tung oil, and petroleum-based oils. These all offer safer protection, but they’re not all equal.

Food based oils like olive, corn, vegetable, and canola oils will never dry and chip off into your food like hardening oils, but they can discolor your utensils, thicken, and go rancid, giving your spoons and cutting boards a rotten smell. Have you ever see an old cutting board that someone is selling at a garage sale that is yellow and sticky on the surface? It is that way because they most likely treated the board for years with one of these food-based oils. These oils are especially troublesome when used on counter top cutting boards that don’t get a thorough washing very often.

An exception to the typical food-based oils, is walnut oil. It’s widely recommended because it doesn’t go rancid. It dries, unlike the other oils in your kitchen. However, it can still get a tacky feel. If you’re a believer in walnut oil, be sure to apply it only to utensils you use – and wash – often. That should help keep it from developing a thick, sticky coating.

Another option is tung oil. It does a good job. It will dry, which will keep it from going rancid, and it shouldn’t create a sticky buildup, but to get a proper coating you’ll need to spend 7-10 days coating and drying.

We should also mention beeswax. It’s a safe option. It will give you a shiny smooth surface and be essentially waterproof. This sounds like a good thing, but the problem is that it is hard at room temperature, and as soon as you dip that treated spoon into a hot dish, the wax immediately melts into your food, thus losing most of its protection. Beeswax is often blended with mineral or other oils and is dubbed as “spoon oil”. We have found that the addition of wax to mineral oil only thickens the oil, makes it harder to apply and restricts the depth to which it can soak in. Therefore, we’re not huge fans.

So, we’re down to petroleum based oils, and within that category is our recommendation for treating your utensils, mineral oil. Mineral oil gets a bad rap from time to time because it is petroleum based. If you are anti petroleum products, that’s your thing and that’s just fine. We’re not here to convince you otherwise, we’re just here to tell you what works best for oiling wooden spoons!

Mineral oil has a lot of great qualities when it comes to treating wood that will be in contact with food. Here are a few of its benefits:

 - It’s 100% food safe
 - It quickly penetrates the tight grain of the hardest hardwoods
 - It will never go rancid like food-based oils
 - It never dries or leaves a sticky residue
 - It is odorless
 - It has a decades-long shelf life
 - It enhances but does not change the natural color of the wood
 - It can be used for utensils, cutting boards, knife handles (even if they are plastic)!

    We specifically recommend a low-viscosity mineral oil for the task. Viscosity refers to the thickness of a liquid. On one end of the spectrum you have high viscosity liquids like hydraulic fluid and the other end of the spectrum you have very low viscosity oils like WD-40. The mineral oil that we use and sell on our website is lighter than water and penetrates deeper into the wood than thicker oils. We add a little lemon peel oil, which has antimicrobial properties and you get to enjoy the refreshing lemon scent while you oil your spoons.

    We hope that clears things up for you a bit. Now, go oil your utensils and cook something great!


    6 Responses

    Amanda
    Amanda

    August 01, 2017

    I’ve read that mineral oil is a known carcinogen (produces cancer). I just use coconut oil instead.

    Mike
    Mike

    April 14, 2017

    I use Grapeseed oil on my woodturnings, as this has been recommended to me by a couple of old woodturners from our club, your thoughts.

    Chris Blemaster
    Chris Blemaster

    April 12, 2017

    Do you have any positive and negative information on hydrogenated coconut oil for cutting boards?

    nadia
    nadia

    March 26, 2017

    hello, do you know where can i get a food-grade lacquer applied to the coconut bowls that i make?

    CHARLES HUNT
    CHARLES HUNT

    February 28, 2016

    I USE BUTCHER BLOCK WAX FOR ALL MINE AND SO FAR THEY ARE ALL WORKING GREAT AND NOT STICKY AND HAS NOT CHANGED COLOR ON ME

    Loran | Old World Kitchen
    Loran | Old World Kitchen

    March 09, 2015

    Great article! I need to take blog post writing lessons from you :-) We’ve definitely found the same about the food oils… it seems the major issue is with pieces of wood that are oiled and oiled and seldom used and washed. And naturally, cutting boards get the brunt of the issue. Your brand is so inspiring :-)

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