The Rise of Teak Wood
If you've paid any attention to culinary magazines or shows in the last few years, you’ll know that teak cutting boards have made their way onto many a kitchen aficionado’s “must have” list. Known as being a durable natural wood, teak has commonly been used in wet environments such as boat fixtures, outdoor furniture or spa benches. What gives teak its water restive properties is a combination of natural wood oils, tight wood grain and tensile strength. Whereas even other hardwoods such as cherry, maple and walnut need to have oils applied to keep water out, teak is one (if not the only) wood that retains its natural oils even after being processed.
As a home chef though, there are important factors for a cutting board besides simply being water resistant, such as: the visual appeal, durability, knife scarring, maintenance and sustainability. After all, if we just wanted a board that would repel water, we would get a NSF plastic board or even (cringe) glass cutting board and be done with it.
How Does Teak Look?
Visually, teak is quite beautiful, with a medium brown color tinged with gold and orange hues. The grain is sharp, fitted and uniform in texture, making it very appealing for modern applications or design. As with most woods though, depending on the segment or board used, a teak cutting board can either look uniform or have a knotty texture like traditional boards. So the answer is, if you like natural woods, teak will suit your tastes just fine.
Browse our selection of teak cutting boards here at CuttingBoard.com
How Durable is Teak?
Teak has it’s roots (no pun intended) in tropical South-East Asia, where it is grown in regions such as India, Indonesia, Myanmar (Burma), Malaysia and other nearby countries. Historically, it was a prized tree as it naturally resisted rain, termites, rot, fungus and warping, making it an excellent material for the region. For this reason, teak has been coveted by marine ship builders for over the past century. In fact, ship hands often wash their teak decks with salt water and don’t treat the wood, which is a true testament to the natural attributes of teak.
As for durability in the kitchen, Cooks Illustrated recommended teak wood after putting a variety of cutting boards through the series of chopping, washing and durability tests.
Teak and Scarring
In addition to it’s natural tectoquinones oils, teak also is dense in silica, which is the material glass is made out of. While glass is often used for cutting boards due to it’s durability, it’s hardness also has a bad habit of turning your sharp chef’s knife into a dull butter knife after a few uses. So having just a small fraction of silica inside teak gives it a natural boost in hardness that still doesn’t destroy your knife edge. The other bonus is that teak is generally more resistant to scarring the other woods, but will still scar with regular use or heavy butchering.
Maintaining Teak Wood
The greatest beauty of teak wood is that it is virtually maintenance free. While outdoor teak will patina and turn a silvery gray color, left inside out of the UV exposure, your cutting board should have no issues preserving its color. Obviously, you should always wash and disinfect your cutting board after each use, but as far as wiping down with oils, it is unnecessary. While we at CuttingBoard.com haven’t tried the dreaded washing machine experiment with our teak boards, we definitely do NOT recommend you put your cutting board in dishwasher ( read here for more information).
The Sustainability Question
With all the advantages listed so far, you were probably wondering what is the downside? Unfortunately, the teak trade is a source of both political and sustainability issues. On the political side, some of the world’s largest remaining natural teak forests are located within the borders of Burma, a country that has history of human rights abuses that exploited people and resources to fund their brutal regime. It did not help that teak from Burma (known as “Burmese Teak”), was often touted as having superior qualities versus renewable, plantation grown teak; though studies showed these claims to be invalid for the most part. As a result, teak exports from Burma were banned under sanctions from the US government until just recently, when some sanctions were lifted due to a change in the regime.
Outside of Burma, Indonesia is one of the largest producers of teak. Perum Perhutani, an Indonesian state run company, oversees the countries forest with a well managed sustainability program that replants each teak tree that is harvested. The demand in teak has also created teak plantations in Mexico, Central and South America, many of which are sustainable and have certifications from the Forest Stewardship Council.
At CuttingBoard.com, we only sell teak cutting boards that were plantation harvested and are environmentally responsible.
Don’t Be Confused or Misled
Due to teak’s surging demand and popularity, like many other industries, there’s been a trend toward marketing other woods as “teak” even when they aren’t. Some examples are “Rhodesian Teak”, “African Teak”, “Brazillian Teak”, all of which are not of the Tectona grandis species or even close.
All in all, are teak cutting boards worth the hype? They certainly have many positives and few drawbacks. The sticking point with teak products may be the price, a large board can run upwards of $100, though smaller cutting boards can be had for a mere $20. With a teak board, you can rest well knowing you will have a beautiful kitchen piece that will last for years!