There’s a knife for every task in the kitchen. But, when you use such a glorious and prestigious Japanese knife, you seem to look for as many tasks to use for that one knife!
Upgrading your kitchen arsenal with a top quality Japanese knife is one of the best investments you can make to lift your cooking game. But, when you are looking at a top quality you want to be sure you’re getting your money’s worth and get something that you actually enjoy using.
Here we take you through which Japanese knife to use for cutting vegetables, what to look for, and what the best Japanese knife is for cutting fruit you can find in the market.
In A Hurry?
It’s no secret that you can use just about any knife for just about any task. But, using the right knife for the job makes all the difference for comfort, efficiency, safety, and of course to make the right cuts.
When it comes to choosing your Japanese knife to cut your vegetables, there are several that out-perform at various tasks, and some that are more versatile in their use.
The Santoku knife is a mid-20th century updated version of a Nakiri knife, which was typically a traditional Japanese vegetable cleaver. The Santoku knife originated in Japan, made to be a more versatile and easier to use knife than the Nakiri knife.
It’s very similar in its use to the everyday western chef’s knife and is just versatile and useful in the kitchen. When it comes to cutting vegetables, the santoku knife offers a wide, slightly weighted blade, and is an easy-to-use option for any size vegetable. This is a good substitute for a Gyuto chef knife or western chef knife.
The Nakiri knife or Nakiri bōchō literally translates to knife for cutting greens, or ‘leaf-cutter’. It’s the traditional version of the Santoku knife and is often mistaken for a Chinese cleaver as it’s similar in shape but with a shorter width.
However, It’s very different from a typical meat cleaver. The Japanese Nakiri knife has a uniquely thin, sharp, and straight blade that helps cut straight, without the need for any rocking motions or pull or pushing motions. Its thin sharp blade is perfect for making precise and clean cuts on your vegetables allowing them to stay fresher and crisper for salads or while cooking. Unlike a cleaver, you shouldn’t use the Nakiri knife to cut through any small bones as you may risk chipping the blade.
Overall, it’s an excellent Japanese knife for cutting all vegetables and is the preferred choice for those that want a more traditional but comfortable feel, with the added bonus of being very versatile. For the full details, check out what a Nakiri knife is used for.
The Bunka knife, or Bunka bōchō, is a western-style Japanese knife. It’s similar to the Santoku knife in its use as it’s versatile and made for general purposes. Its stylish, thin, and shorter blade helps make precise cuts on small-to-medium vegetables, fruit, and herbs.
It also has the unique ‘reverse tanto’ angled tip, which helps make very intricate cuts, punctures, and scoring on vegetables.
The Bunka knife is most suitable in the kitchen for efficient cutting of small-to-medium vegetables, as a stylish and lightweight alternative to a typical western steel knife.
For more information on knives check out this ultimate guide to kitchen knives.
Top 5 Best Japanese Knives For Cutting Vegetables
Kyoku Damascus Santoku Knife
- Reasonably Priced
- Real Japanese Damascus Steel
- Extremely Sharp At 8-12°
- Lifetime Warranty
- Made Outside Of Japan
- Sheath Could Be More Protective
The Kyoku Damascus Santoku Knife is no doubt one of the best real VG-10 Japanese Damascus steel knives you can find at such a reasonable price. It’s at the very top end of sharpness, and the blade measures up to a typical Japanese hardness of 58-60 Rockwell Hardness (HRC) for blade durability.
The handle is more modern than the traditional octagonal designs but is completely comfortable and just as beautiful as the blade itself. Kyoku has made an extra effort to ensure it’s a well-balanced blade and the shape of the blade allows you to choose your chopping style depending on the type of vegetable, i.e. chopping straight down, or rocking it back and forth using the curvature of the blade.
Although the steel is real Japanese Damascus, it is apparent that the knife is assembled outside of Japan. This means it’s not as authentic as having an artisan in Japan forge the blade, but it does mean it keeps the production costs down, which is why the Kyoku Damascus Santoku Knife is so reasonably priced.
Nonetheless, this is still an incredibly highly rated Japanese kitchen knife, incredibly sharp, durable, and attractive — and with a lifetime warranty to back up its prowess.
Yoshihiro Hammered Damascus Santoku Knife
- Stunning Design and Performance
- Proudly Hand Crafted Real Japanese VG-10 Damascus Steel
- Authentic and Traditional
- Optimally Sharp
- More Expensive
- 70/30 Bevel Less Suitable For Left Handed
The Yoshihiro Hammered Damascus Santoku Knife is hands-down one of the highest quality traditional Japanese-made Santoku knives on the market. Hand-crafted in Japan to the top scale of 60 Rockwell Hardness, with a Nickel VG-10 Gold Core & 46 layers of Damascus steel you’ll find it hard to get a more durable knife at this price.
The super-hard steel will mean your knife will stay sharper for much longer than German counterparts & even other Japanese knives. It’s completely stain and rust-resistant and comes with a beautiful traditional handcrafted Shitan Rosewood handle with a double bolster.
Everything from the steel, the sharpness, the handle to the protective magnolia wooden sheath is all excellent, providing the highest quality Japanese Santoku knife. Aside from being optimal for cutting all types of vegetables, its versatility in the kitchen for cutting meats, vegetables, fish, fruit, and just about anything will mean you’ll get more bang for your buck.
The Yoshihiro Santoku Knife is really hard to fault. But, it does have a 70/30 micro-bevel (between a single and double bevel). This means it’s slightly sharper on one side and does make it less suitable for left-handed people. However, If you want a stunning Japanese knife that will last a lifetime then look no further.
Findking Dynasty Santoku knife
- Tough, Durable, 60 Rockwell Hardness Alloy Steel
- Traditional Rosewood handle
- High Quality At A Lower Price
- Suitable For The Everyday Chef
- Quality Steel, But Knives Are Made In China
- Heavier Blade Makes Less Balanced
Generally, the difference between mid-priced and high-range knives comes down to steel quality and craftsmanship. The Findking Dynasty Santoku knife has tough durable steel at 60 HRC, plus Its authentic rosewood handle and beautifully forged blade make it appear traditional. But, because of how the steel is manufactured it still won’t measure up to VG-10 Damascus which you’ll find in the top-end knives.
But, the Findking Dynasty Santoku knife does have all the features of a traditional Japanese Santoku knife, complete with a beautiful design. It’s certainly sharp, and stays sharp, only requiring the odd sharpening. Its slightly heavier blade does feel off and makes the knife seem a bit unbalanced.
Still, considering the price point it’s definitely a great contender for the everyday chef. Whether it’s for someone who wants to upgrade their knife arsenal on a budget or replace their standard chef’s knife with something a little more prestigious.
Best Small (Bunka)
Enso HD Bunka Knife
- Top-quality, 37-layered VG10 Damascus Steel, 61° HRC
- Handcrafted By Enso, An Expert In Crafting Japanese Knives Since 1932
- Well Balanced
- Comfortable and nimble
- More Pricey
The Enso HD Bunka Knife has a good balance between top quality and affordability. The original Kanji writing on the blade reads “Harmony, Made In Japan”. Really if you want a Bunka knife that will last a lifetime and provide a seamless experience for you when you cut vegetables every time then this is it.
Enso has been hand-crafting knives since 1932 and is as close to an expert in Japanese knives as you can get. Being well balanced, comfortable, having a razor-sharp, double-beveled edge at 12-14°, and durable steel with a 61° RHC.
Although it is on the pricey side, you are paying for quality and it’s worth every penny. If you want the pinnacle of Bunka Knives, you can also check out Enso’s SG2 Bunka Knife, 101 Layered Damascus with an SG2 core, which is 63° RHC, one of the toughest knives you can get. Plus its hand-engraved, and has one of the finest handles.
But, luckily you don’t need to go this far, as the Enso HD already provides the experience of a flawless Bunka knife.
The Tuo Nakiri Knife
- Unaltered, Traditional Nakiri Shape
- Tough 60 HRC Steel & Authentic Rosewood Handle
- Lightweight And Easy To Hold
- Menacing Design
- Quality Japanese Steel, But Knife Is Manufactured In China
- Handle Is Not Pure Pakkawood
The Tuo Nakiri Knife is all matte black and appears stunning. The blade is much thinner than a typical meat cleaver or Chinese cleaver, making it much more lightweight. Its superior sharpness and lightweight make it excel at cutting vegetables seamlessly. The tough 60 HRC will also mean you can use it time after time before needing to sharpen it.
Although the blade is made from Japanese AUS-8 Stainless Steel, the knife itself is made in China. This keeps their overheads down, which means we can enjoy the lesser price for a still quality-made knife.
The handle is comfortable, which adds to the seamless experience, but although Tuo claims its Pakkawood, it appears that it has been treated, or had resin added to keep its shape and feel. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, just an observation.
However, if you are looking for an expert, artisan-made knife then there are others out there, But, the Tuo Nakiri Knife, brings you 90% of the action for less than half the price you would expect to pay for Japanese steel, traditionally made Nakiri Vegetable Knife.
Why Use A Japanese Knife For Cutting Vegetables
Japanese knives are at the pinnacle of design, performance, and durability. When comparing Japanese knives to their German steel counterparts, there are a few key differences that make them preferable for cutting vegetables.
Hardness, measured by the Rockwell Hardness Scale (HRC). The steel used in Japanese knives is much tougher, measuring usually between 58-62, compared to 55-58 in german steel-made knives.
In general, tougher steel will hold its sharpness for longer, and softer steel will be easier to sharpen. When you’re chopping a lot of vegetables, particularly those with tough exteriors like in larger vegetables, the tougher steel of Japanese knives will keep it at its sharpest for much longer periods of time.
Sharpness or how thin the edge of the knife is is measured by at what degree the knife is sharpened at. The smaller angle, the sharper the knife. Japanese knives are well established as having some of the sharpest angles. This is partially due to the toughness of the steel being able to become thinner without breaking or chipping.
Japanese knives are sharpened at around the 15-degree mark compared to German or other steel origin knives being at the 20-degree angle. When it comes to cutting or chopping vegetables, it means the knife will be met with less resistance and cut more easily.
Tang & Weight
The weight of the knife is usually caused by two main variables. These are the tang of the knife, or how far the steel runs into the handle, and the thickness of the steel.
Depending on which knife you are using, and what main action you’ll be performing when your cutting vegetables will change how heavy you want your knife to be. A lighter weighted knife is better for making more precise cuts and use on smaller vegetables, whereas a heavy knife is better for cutting and chopping larger vegetables.
Japanese knives are normally on the lighter side compared to German steel knives, mainly because they have only a partial tang, where the steel will only run partially into the handle making it lighter than a full tang counterpart. This helps them be on the lighter side and are better suited for versatile use, rather than excelling at cutting tough and large, or soft and small vegetables.
What To Look For In A Japanese Vegetable Knife
Consider What Vegetables You Mainly Cut
Depending on what vegetables you go through in your household you may want to look at different knives and knife sizes.
If you want a general-purpose and very versatile knife that can handle 90% of the tasks when preparing vegetables then a Santoku Knife will provide you with the best experience.
If you want a quick, nimble, and smaller knife for the preparation of soft or small to medium-sized vegetables then you’ll enjoy using a Bunka knife.
If you want the most traditional Japanese knife for cutting vegetables then check out Nakiri knives. These are truly beautiful, and because of the design of the blade the feel is so traditional.
Weight is a very important feature to consider. After all, it impacts the way you use it and the overall ease of use depending on what vegetable you are preparing.
If you do a lot of preparation and don’t deal with many large tough vegetables like melons or pumpkins, then a lighter knife will feel much more nimble and reduce the strain on your muscles. The end result, a much nicer experience time after time.
If you do need to slice through large or much tougher vegetables, then it pays to have a medium-to-heavy knife that will take away some of the power required, and allow you to press on the slightly thicker heel of the knife with your other hand if you need to.
The handle is incredibly important and makes a huge difference in the experience of using a knife. When it comes to Japanese knives, you will typically see two types of handles. The most traditional is the classic octagonal wooden handle. This is particularly nice as it has 8 surfaces to catch your fingers and grip your palm. The other is a western-style handle that has a typical cylindrical intended grip.
Before deciding on which new Japanese knife to add to your kitchen, it’s best to try out both the handle types to work out which one you find more comfortable for yourself. However, both can be equally as useful and you will be able to adjust to each type over time.
How To Keep Your Japanese Knives Maintained For Vegetable Cutting?
Keep It Sharp
Keeping your knife sharp is essential. After all, a sharp knife is much safer than a blunt one. Plus, it will help reduce physical strain and provide you with much cleaner cuts.
A standard automatic knife sharpener will be able to sharpen to 15°, but if you want to bring it down closer to the 12° you can use a whetstone. Either way, just with any other knives, it’s recommended to regularly sharpen them. This could be between every 20th use to every few uses, depending on how pedantic you want to be!
If you are using a single bevel blade like the Yanagiba knife, then make sure to only sharpen the one side to keep it working as intended!
Keep It Straight by Honing
One thing that’s overlooked too often in knife maintenance is keeping it straight by using a honing steel. Because of the beautiful design and craftsmanship of Japanese Knives, you want to take extra care when honing your knives.
In every circumstance, you should try to use a ceramic fine-grit honing rod over a typical stainless steel one. These ceramic rods are the best honing steels for Japanese knives, as they won’t damage or scratch your prestige knife in the process.
Cut On The Right Surfaces
When cutting with fine quality-made Japanese knives you want to do it on a surface that’s hard enough to withstand the strength, but it’s got to absorb some of the force to maintain the knife’s sharp edge.
Always avoid cutting on stone or glass cutting boards for your knife’s safety, and steer away from plastic or silicone if at all possible.
The best cutting boards for Japanese knives are either Bamboo, End-grain wood, or synthetic rubber. These are able to absorb the strength of the Japanese knives which help keep the blade sharp, but the cuts in the board are able to take the abuse and ‘heal’ the scratch marks.
Clean & Store It Properly
Just like any knife you want to maintain the quality of, always hand wash it with warm soapy water and dry it separately than other cutlery to avoid any unnecessary tarnishes, scratches, or chips in your Japanese knives.
Once it’s dry, always store it in its original case or a sheath. Over time, exposure to any conditions, even what is in the air can cause unnecessary ware to the knife.