The Japanese people are known for their meticulousness in every aspect of their lives and true enough they have just about every kitchen tool for a specific purpose like the Japanese kitchen knives.
These kitchen tools are used to make food preparation efficient and artistic.
They come in multiple varieties and are usually made with ancient blacksmithing methods that were also used by the samurais and Japanese noblemen.
My favorite knives are these two, if you’re looking for a top one or more of a budget knife:
|Budget Mukimono knife||Best Mukimono knife|
The traditional Mukimono kitchen knives are made of either stainless steel or the traditional metal used to make samurai swords called hagane.
Most knives are referred to as hōchō, or sometimes -bōchō (due to rendaku), but can also be called by other names including – kiri, which literally means “cutter.”
Japanese knives are distinguished into 4 general categories and they are:
- Handle (Western vs. Japanese)
- Blade Grind (single bevel vs. double bevel)
- Steel Type (stainless vs. carbon)
- Construction (laminated vs. mono steel)
The Mukimono specialized Japanese kitchen knife single-beveled thin blade is designed for chopping and carving vegetables called Mukimono (creating decorative garnishes) and Kazari-giri (decorative vegetable carving).
However, its versatility made chefs prefer to use this kitchen knife for general-purpose peeling and cutting fruits and vegetables as it is very efficient in performing these tasks.
This is what decorative fruit carving looks like:
The Mukimono Hōchō has blade geometry similar to the Usuba, but it is ground much thinner and is smaller in size. Meanwhile, the Mukimono knife has a clipped point (reverse tanto tip) which is similar to the Kiritsuke.
It is placed there by the blacksmith to fulfill its intended purpose which is to make the decorative cuts mentioned above.
Mukimono kiri blades are made to have blade lengths measuring between 75mm – 210mm (typically recommended are blade lengths of 150mm – 180mm for chefs).
The design feature of this knife is best suited for peeling vegetables intricately, thus enabling even some to make aesthetically pleasing cuts on fruits and vegetables to accompany the main dish.
Similar to an Usuba knife the blade is flat and quite useful with vegetables, except the Mukimono’s pointed tip is designed for precision carving and peeling.
The single-beveled edge of the blade which is also thin and lightweight is perfect for chopping fruits and vegetables even though its original purpose is for carving.
Since ancient times knives have been known as auspicious gifts with sufficient luck to cultivate fortune, which is why some people keep it as family heirlooms.
In this post we'll cover:
History of Mukimono
Japanese kitchen knives have origins in the tradition of katana-making in samurai-era Japan.
During the early years of the 14th century, Japan decided to do away with its isolationist mentality and started trading with its neighbor, China, which also resulted in a boom in Japanese blade crafting as their blade quality is highly sought-after.
Western countries including the United States didn’t see the potential of international trade until much later in the 1850s and demanded Japan to trade with them as well.
After WWII when General MacArthur saw how troublesome the samurais can become he banned katanas in Japan.
When swordsmiths and samurais learned that the Emperor has dissolved the samurais, they turned their knowledge in swordsmithing into crafting smaller blades and quality kitchen knives.
Lucky for them the kitchen knives market was becoming a lucrative business.
Just after 7 years of General MacArthur’s ban on katanas, the Japanese government revoked it and allowed people to own swords once again; however, the tradition of high-caliber carving utensils has been steamrolling into the future.
Guide to Present-Day Knives
Today, there is a whole gamut of Japanese knives with various styles and made for every kind of purpose imaginable. Sub-categories denote the materials and methods used in their construction.
Swordsmiths craft Honyaki blades that are made from a single material of high-carbon steel covered with clay, while the Kasumi blades are an amalgamation of several metals or alloys. And there are also various shapes of knives with specific names assigned to them, so you would know how to use them.
Knife Types (Western vs. Japanese)
There are many kinds of knives for different culinary purposes. From small almost insignificant ones to long Sashimi knives that are important in sushi and sashimi restaurants.
These Japanese kitchen knives symbolize Japanese food culture in terms of their proper use, the correct knife type, and the correct purpose.
Non-Japanese knives are double-beveled and V-shaped with asymmetrical blade cross-section. Meanwhile, a lot of Japanese knives have single-beveled edge design which makes it unique from other knives.
The backside of the blade is flat and only the front side is an oblique grinding surface. It almost looks like the hull of a boat that’s been cut perfectly half when you look at it from the front with the tip of the blade facing towards you.
The double-beveled knives which are common in Western designs often make it difficult to quickly remove the blade from the food when you slice or cut it.
The single-beveled knife design, by comparison, is easy to work with any food types (i.e. meat, vegetables, seafood, etc.).
This allows the chef to perform kitchen preparation operations like carving and stripping rather quickly.
The general consensus among Japanese chefs and food experts when using a Japanese kitchen knife is to cut/slice/chop food in a diagonal sliding motion, instead of vertically pushing the knife blade downwards.
This helps chefs and cooks to use the blade’s sharpness to its maximum efficiency.
Low-grade kitchen knives create rough surfaces on items they cut. Unfortunately, when you use inefficient kitchen knives to cut food they cut cells and it starts to oxidize very fast.
In contrast, a high-grade Japanese kitchen knife rarely cuts into cells which results in the improvement of the food’s taste and texture. And when the food’s taste and texture are well preserved, then the food lasts longer and won’t spoil easily.
Additionally, the quality of the materials used in making these Japanese kitchen knives are so dependable that no matter how many times you’ll use them, their sharpness will remain in pristine condition.
The following are a few of the most common styles of Japanese kitchen knives based on their intended purpose:
While this knife is included in this list, it is actually not a traditional Japanese knife but rather just a common kitchen knife or its Western analog the all-purpose chef’s knife. Its thin blade is perfect for cutting meat, fish, or vegetables.
You could say that this knife’s closest Western analog would be the cleaver, except that the deba has a sharper blade compared to the cleaver.
If used properly (e.g. cutting the fish in a slicing motion), rather than chopping down the fish meat with a vertical downward hacking motion, it can prevent damaging the fish’s flesh and preserve the texture of the meat.
If you want a knife that’s perfect for slicing and chopping vegetables, then you should get the usuba knife.
Its specially designed thin and sharp blade ensures that with each slice almost no cell walls of the vegetables are damaged, which can discolor ingredients and change their flavor.
Yanagi knives originated in the Kansai region of Japan and are designed to slice the flesh of the fish off of its bones effortlessly.
Sushi and sashimi chefs prefer this knife over any other knives when preparing sushi and sashimi because the sharpness, length, and design of the knife allows chefs to only have to use slight pressure on the flesh of the fish.
This style of knife is designed to allow for intricate peeling of vegetables and it is mostly used when there is a need for designing peeled artwork on vegetables for aesthetic purposes to serve as a side dish.
The blade is made smaller than other Japanese kitchen knives. It’s also thin and lightweight with the added feature of the pointed tip, which not only makes peeling and carving easy but also precise.
Also read: Kiritsuke, the knife for the head chef
Why Vegetable Cutting is Important in Japanese Cuisines
It’s in the Japanese nature to be meticulous in their everyday life, in fact, they even have specific names for Japanese Cutting Techniques.
The look, flavor, and texture of vegetables accentuate if it is cut in a certain way – apparently the way a vegetable appears and taste changes a person’s perception about it when he consumes it.
It’s such a shame that we can’t differentiate the way we cut tomatoes and slice cucumbers like the Japanese people do. So what’s so unique about Japanese cutting techniques?
There exist a range of food cutting techniques that are unique to the Japanese food tradition. However, looking closely at the cutting methods most of them seem similar to the way you and I cut vegetables.
But one thing I realized about the name that is given for each cutting techniques in Japanese cooking is that they are not descriptive words like Westerners would often do in their vocabulary.
You’ll notice that the name they give for a cutting technique does not describe a specific instruction on how to cut the vegetables, but rather it described the precise cutting style.
For instance, the Usugiri (薄切り) – “thin” cut technique refers to the style of thinly cutting or chopping of the cucumber, ginger, onion, eggplant, garlic, negi (green onion) for the purpose of stir-frying and cooking these vegetables with a crispy texture.
It isn’t like the “cut into small chunks roughly” instructional term that Western people use to describe how a certain food is cut.
Vegetable cutting and peeling are very important in Japanese food preparation because it helps the chef to designate specific ingredients to each dish, especially since Japanese cuisines depend on a lot of things like the seasons and other stuff.
Also read: these are the best sushi knives you can get