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Wooden Utensils 101

February 28, 2021 0 Comments

Wooden utensils laying on kitchen counter

Wooden Utensils 101

Some choose to do yoga and others knit to pass their time. Here at Earlywood, we have a penchant for the timeless art of woodworking. What started out as a hobby has now become our life’s work and we couldn’t be prouder! Whether you’re a fellow wood crafter or simply appreciate the beauty of wooden kitchenware, this guide is for you. We’ve carved our fair share of wooden utensils and picked up a thing or two along the way. We hope this post will be helpful to you, our dear readers, who want to learn about the best wooden utensils for your kitchen. So if you’re ready, let’s get started!

Which Wood is Superior: Softwoods or Hardwoods?

Wood shavings from crafting kitchenware

It’s crucial to have the right kind of wood for your kitchen utensils. Akin to selecting the perfect turkey for Thanksgiving, the right lumber makes a huge difference in the quality of your utensil. We can say a lot about wood selection and there are obviously thousands of choices out there. But we don’t have the space or the time to go through each one so let’s make it simple, shall we?

There are two main kinds of wood: softwoods and hardwoods. The softwoods are simply lumber from trees that typically produce seeds in cones (like pines or spruces). On the other hand, hardwoods are lumber from trees that produce seeds enclosed in fruits. There are other differences between the two but we won’t bore you with the specifics.

Here’s all you need to know: it’s very easy to find and grow softwoods but they are generally less durable and show wear and tear quite easily. Hardwoods are much more ideal for kitchen utensils because of their durability, density and resistance to scuffs and scratches. However, they aren’t as readily available like softwoods and are thus more expensive.

Best Kinds of Hardwoods for Utensils

Short handled wooden serving spoon for scooping rice

So we’ve established that hardwoods are the ideal timber for utensils. But then again, there are plenty of hardwoods out there… Which could possibly be the best choice? Well, first, you need to know what features to look for in a hardwood. Here’s what we’ve learned from all our years carving spoons, spatulas, and other utensils:

Qualities to Look for in Hardwood for Utensils

Pile of hardwoods for kitchenware

✓ Non-Toxic - The most toxic section of any type of wood is its dust. So for the most part, wood in solid form is unlikely to cause any problem. However, there are a few species that are known to cause more allergic reactions than others like cedar, wenge, etc. You can refer to this guide for more information about wood toxicity. 

✓ Durable - A wood’s durability is measured through its Janka hardness. The higher the Janka rating, the more durable it is. For reference, basswood has a Janka rating of 410 lbwhile hard maple has a Janka rating of 1,450 lbf . This simply means that hard maple is more likely to resist dents, scratches, wear and tear compared to basswood. 

✓ Neutral Flavor - It’s best to use woods that are odorless and flavorless. Generally, those with high tannins, such as oak and walnut, can impart flavors into food and change their taste. Fruit woods like apple, orange and olive can also impart flavors into food but to a lesser degree. It’s also important to note that some people actually enjoy the odor or taste of certain woods... so to each their own.

✓ Close-Grained - Hardwoods are further subdivided into open-grained (ring porous) and close-grained (porous diffuse). Hardwoods such as ash and oak are characterized by large, open pores in their rings. Open-grained hardwoods can soak up moisture, stains and bacteria quite easily due to their “tubular” characteristic. That’s why it’s best to use hardwoods with tight grains since their pores are “sealed” and less likely to harbor bacteria or show stains.

Who knew that wood selection can be this rigorous, right?! And we’re not done just yet! We’ve tested about 20 different types of hardwoods. Honestly, we saw a lot of differences and suffice to say, some woods just didn’t make the cut. Okay, enough with the puns and let’s get to the root of this topic (that’s the last one, promise):

Our Top 4 Hardwoods for Kitchen Utensils

Best hardwoods to use for wooden spoons, spatulas and ladles

1. Hard Maple - There are different varieties of maple but the sugar or rock maple is definitely a favorite here at Earlywood. It’s close grained, fairly strong and easy to work with. The lighter, brownish white (sometimes almost white) color comes from its sapwood and is therefore highly sought after. It also has a satin-like surface when finished which is quite beautiful especially for spoons and spatulas.

2. Jatoba - More commonly known as Brazilian Cherry, this hardwood has a very lovely deep, burgundy shade. It’s hard, durable and incredibly long lasting which are qualities that we really look for in our kitchen utensils. Another great thing about jatoba is that it’s highly resistant to stains. If you love cooking spaghetti or working with spices like turmeric or saffron, jatoba is a perfect match for you!

3. Bloodwood - This hardwood has a gorgeous, reddish pink to reddish brown shade. Bloodwood is a great option for kitchen utensils because it’s very dense and strong. It also ages well like fine wine and the beautiful red hue stays intense over time. From a wood worker’s perspective, it’s really challenging to work with bloodwood because it’s hard (like a stone) but the results are definitely worth it. 

4. Mexican Ebony - Sometimes referred to as Katalox, Mexican Ebony doesn’t actually belong to the true ebony species. It was named so because of its great density and its black color (with hints of purple) that turns darker over time. Just like bloodwood, Mexican Ebony is somewhat tricky to work with but worth all the troubles because of its exotic beauty. 

Technically, any close-grained, non-toxic and durable hardwood can be used for utensils like spoons, spatulas, chopping boards and bowls. After testing out various species though, these four hardwoods put the others in the shade especially in terms of durability, uniqueness and beauty. You’ll find Earlywood products in any of these variants!

What Else to Consider in a Wooden Utensil?

Wooden ladle and cutting board

Now that we have all the basics figured out, what else is there to know? Here are a couple more things you might want to take into consideration before purchasing your own set of wooden kitchenware:

Functional Design

The first question you need to ask is, “Does it do what it’s supposed to do?” Sure it’s a stunning, aesthetic set of wooden utensils and it has all the bells and whistles… but does it work? A wooden utensil (be it a spoon or spatula) has primarily one or more of these functions:

① Stirring - Stirring is more than just mixing the ingredients together. With the right stirring tool, you can easily distribute mixtures to avoid clumps or even prevent food from sticking to the bottom of your favorite pan. For this task, you’ll want a versatile wooden utensil, preferably with a broad head area so you can mix a large amount of food with ease or reach the corners of the pan without much effort.

👍 Recommended: Earlywood’s Large Flat Sauté Tool

Stir frying using wooden flat saute tool

② Tasting - Ever heard of taste as you go? Perfecting any recipe means having to taste it a couple times or more… sounds reasonable, yes? For serious tasting, you’ll need a good wooden spoon, one that’s just perfectly shaped. The bowl has to be large enough to scoop liquids (like soups, sauces, etc.) or little amounts of solids but not too large that it’s awkward to fit in your mouth. Let’s not forget about the handle - it has to be long enough to reach particularly deep pots or for scooping that last bit of peanut butter. 

👍 Recommended: Earlywood’s Wooden Tasting Spoon

Man using a wooden spoon to taste food

③ Scraping - This is done to remove food stuck at the bottom of pots and pans for purposes like deglazing or cleaning off stubborn residues. Definitely a tough job! But you know what? Our ideal wooden scraper is quite simple - it has to be flat, with a slightly angled head and feels really comfortable to hold. On top of all that, it has to be tough as nails! 

👍 Recommended: Earlywood’s Tera Scraper

Using the wooden Tera Scraper to serve brownies

④ Flipping - While we’re still working on our pan-flipping skill, a good flat sauté tool is our current go-to. It’s perfect for turning burgers, pancakes, eggs and a lot more. So what makes a perfect flipper? It has to be lightweight, thin and with a sturdy, slightly long yet easy to grip handle.

👍 Recommended: Earlywood’s Large Flat Sauté Tool

Grilling burgers using Large Flat Wooden Spatula

⑤ Scooping - Of course you’ve got to have a versatile ladle for all your stews, soups, curries, gravies and all other saucy dishes. You can find ladles in every shape, size and design. You can’t go wrong with a wooden ladle that has a nice, deep bowl for scooping liquids. The handle has to be very sturdy and solid so you can easily grip it when transferring hot sauces and broths from one pot to another. 

👍 Recommended: Earlywood’s Classic Ladle

Classic wooden ladle for soups

Comfortable Handle 

Ah, the handle! We’ve mentioned it quite a few times when we talked about functional design.. But let’s dig a bit deeper because we feel like this is a very important feature. Two things make for a great handle: overall length and shape. We prefer utensils with slightly longer handles so as to avoid frying splatters or getting too close to a hot pan. For us, after several tests, the ideal length is between 8 inches to 13 inches. Finally, we like our handles plain, without all the extra notches and ridges, yet ergonomic. This makes it easier to grab, hold or grip whenever we’re cooking or serving food.

Long serving spoon with great handle

Easy to Clean

As a rule of thumb, wooden utensils are best washed by hand. It’s not recommended to use a dishwasher nor let them soak in water for a long time or else you’ll risk damaging them. However, only high quality wooden utensils can resist stains, grimes and odors. And only the best of the best can hold up to repeated use and wash, and will look as great as the day you bought them.

Washed and cleaned wooden cooking tools

Price 

Naturally, a high quality wooden utensil comes at a cost. While you’ll spend more upfront, the craftsmanship and high quality wood means the product will last a lifetime if taken care of. A handcrafted wooden utensil from Earlywood is backed up by a lifetime warranty as well, so you’re assured that if anything happens, we’ve got your back!

Why You Absolutely Need Wooden Utensils

Beautiful kitchen utensils made from wood

If it’s not yet obvious, we’re huge fans of wooden utensils. But we’re not biased, swear!! Aside from their beauty, these characteristics make any wooden utensil a staple and necessity in every kitchen:

1. Won’t melt like plastic - We’re skeptic about plastic utensils primarily because they don’t do so well in heat (and for many other reasons… but that’s for another blog post!). You never have to worry about your utensil melting when you have a ladle or spoon that’s made from wood.  Here’s something to ponder on: If your utensil isn’t still the exact size and shape as it was the day you bought it… then the missing parts are likely in your food or body (eek)!

Wooden spatulas left on hot pan

2. Antibacterial - Move over, steel and plastic! Wood will save the day with its germ-killing power. Don’t believe us? According to this research, plastic cutting boards harbor more bacteria than wooden ones. More importantly, it has been found that wood prevents bacteria from multiplying and actually kills them once they reach the inner surface! Of course, don’t skip on washing your utensils after every use with hot water and soap. This is still best practice to avoid contamination. 

3. Won’t scratch your non-stick pans - Give your non-stick and enameled cast-iron pans some extra TLC by pairing them up with any wooden utensil. This ensures that you won’t accidentally scratch your coated pans and thus, prolong their life.

4. Stays cool as a cucumber - Ever got burned by a metal spoon left for a few seconds on a hot pan? A wooden utensil doesn’t conduct heat as quickly as metal and should be your go to when cooking meals that require high heat like stir frying. However, wooden utensils might still get discolored or burned when you’re cooking at very high temperatures. You might also want to consider using a spoon rest in between cooking to prevent burning your utensils.

5. Not noisy - Unless you’re into that ASMR trend, it can be quite annoying listening to the repeated clinks and clanks of metal utensils smashing at each other. If you live in an apartment or dorm, this can be a huge problem… well, not anymore if you switch to wooden utensils!

Cooking eggs using wooden flippers

6. Makes cooking fun and simple - A wooden utensil isn’t just beautiful or sturdy, it comes with a personality too! It feels natural to hold and you’ll find yourself reaching for it more than any other utensil. You’ll find that cooking becomes more enjoyable and you might be even inspired to whip up delicious meals more often!

7. Gets better with age - There’s just something comforting, even nostalgic, about an old wooden spoon or spatula. Yes, any wooden utensil will show wear, its color will probably darken over time, it will get stained eventually. All of these things can add to the rustic beauty and history of your wooden utensil which makes for our next point!

8. Can be passed down throughout the generations - Each piece is wonderfully unique and handcrafted, making it the perfect heirloom to pass down to your kids and grandkids. That’s something you definitely cannot do with a beat-up plastic spatula or a worn-out stainless steel ladle.

Wooden spoons as heirlooms

9. Can do it all - A versatile wooden utensil like the Large Flat Saute Tool is a must have in every kitchen. Is it a spatula? Is it a flipper? Is it a scraper? It’s all of the above and more! It’s safe enough to use for any type of pot or pan, even Teflon ones. You can even use a wooden utensil to check if your frying oil is hot enough.

10. It’s perfect for kids - Wooden utensils are great for chubby little hands because they’re sturdy and won’t transfer heat. This Small Wooden Spatula is just the perfect size for your little aspiring chefs. Pair it with this cute Wooden Feeding Spoon and you’ll make meal time more fun for the young ones!

Kids using wooden spoons for eating

We could give you more reasons but you probably get the point already! The bottomline is that a high quality wooden utensil, be it a spoon, a spatula or a ladle, is a great addition to any kitchen. Cooking utensils made from wood are versatile pieces that will work for any type of cookware and should be in every chef’s kitchen.

Okay, we’ll have to be honest, there’s a minor catch. You can’t expect all wooden utensils to have the same level of craftsmanship or quality of materials used. You’re already one step ahead because you’ve got this guide as a starting point! So what’s next? Check out some great quality wooden utensils from Earlywood here!

Did we miss anything? Any other questions in your mind? Share them in the comments section below!

- The Earlywood Team



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