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Nakiri Knife: All About This Must-Have Japanese Vegetable Knife

by Joost Nusselder | Updated:  January 11, 2023

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There are many types of Japanese knives out there but when it comes to chopping, slicing, and dicing vegetables, the Nakiri and Usuba are the top choices. 

But the nakiri is probably the most widely used Japanese vegetable knife out there – it’s used by professional chefs as well as home cooks to create delicious veggie-based dishes.

Nakiri cleaver for chopping vegetables

A Japanese nakiri knife is a type of cleaver-like kitchen knife that is designed for slicing vegetables. It has a straight blade and a blunt tip, making it ideal for chopping vegetables without worrying about piercing them.

In this blog post, we’ll discover what a nakiri knife is, why it’s so useful, and how it can be used in the kitchen to make delicious meals.

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What is a nakiri knife?

A nakiri knife is a type of Japanese kitchen knife. Nakiri is pronounced “nah-kee-ree.”

It’s typically made of high carbon stainless steel and has a thin, rectangular blade. This type of knife looks a lot like a cleaver but it’s not as heavy as meat cleaver. 

The Japanese appropriately refer to a Nakiri knife as a “Nakiri Bocho,” which translates to “knife for cutting greens” or “leaf cutter.” 

The nakiri is used for a variety of cutting tasks, including chopping vegetables, slicing fish, and mincing herbs.

The blade is usually double-beveled, meaning it’s sharpened on both sides. The handle is usually made of wood or plastic.

Nakiri knives are known for their sharpness and precision. They’re designed to make thin, even cuts, so they’re great for creating delicate dishes. 

The thin blade also makes it easier to chop through tough vegetables like carrots, potatoes, and squash.

The blade is also wide enough to make quick work of larger items like onions and cabbage.

The nakiri’s flat edge creates more thorough contact with a cutting board, leading to clean cuts and the vegetables are not damaged.

Since the knife has a double bevel blade to suit non-Japanese users and preferences, the ones you’ll see for sale most frequently are “Western Style” Nakiri knives.

The typical length of a blade is 5 to 7 inches. The blade has a flat, blunted-off tip and is straight-edged with a rectangular form.

Nakiri knives are great for everyday use in the kitchen. They’re lightweight and easy to maneuver, so they’re great for beginners.

They’re also easy to clean and maintain. They don’t require a lot of special care, so they’re a great choice for busy cooks.

The nakiri can require some getting used to.

Chefs recommend sliding the knife forward or back rather than rocking because it worlds much better when chopping:

Because there is more steel in the front of the knife than there is in the back, nakiris are slightly heavier and have a more forward balance. 

Overall, nakiri knives are a great choice for anyone looking for a reliable kitchen knife. They’re sharp, precise, and easy to use.

They’re also affordable and easy to maintain, making them a great choice for home cooks.

What is nakiri in Japanese?

The Japanese word ‘Nakiri bōchō (菜切り包丁)’ translates to something like ‘knife for cutting greens‘ in English.

So, basically, it just refers to its utility as a vegetable and leafy greens cutter.

Why is a nakiri knife important?

Nakiri knives are essential for any kitchen.

They’re incredibly versatile and can be used for a variety of tasks, from slicing and dicing vegetables to chopping herbs.

The blade is thin and sharp, making it perfect for precision work.

Plus, the flat blade makes it easy to scoop up cut vegetables and transfer them to a pot or pan.

The handle is also designed for comfort, so you can work for longer without getting tired.

Nakiri knives are also great for meal prep.

Their thin blade makes it easy to cut vegetables into thin slices or julienne strips, and the flat blade is perfect for chopping herbs and other small ingredients. 

This makes meal prep a breeze, as you can quickly and easily cut up all your ingredients in one go.

Nakiri knives are also incredibly safe to use.

The flat blade prevents accidental cuts, and the handle is designed to fit comfortably in your hand. 

Many naikiri knives are double-bevel, meaning both sides of the blade are sharpened.

This type of bevel is easier to use than a single-bevel Japanese knife because there’s less risk of accidents and even lefties can use double-edged knives.

The nakiri cleaver is easy to control the knife and prevents slips and cuts. Plus, the blade is made from high-quality materials, so it won’t dull quickly and will last for years.

In short, nakiri knives are an essential tool for any kitchen.

They’re versatile, safe, and easy to use, making them perfect for meal prep, slicing, dicing, and chopping.

Plus, they’re durable and won’t dull quickly, so you can rely on them for years to come.

What is the history of the nakiri knife?

The nakiri knife has a long and storied history.

Nakiris have a history dating back to the seventeenth century, when they were frequently seen in Japanese home kitchens and were known as “knife for cutting greens”. 

During that period, Japanese people, especially farmers and peasants rarely had access to meat so they ate more vegetables.

Therefore, the sword evolved into vegetable knives like the nakiri that the general population commonly used.

The nakiri knife was designed to be used for cutting vegetables, and its blade was made from a single piece of steel.

Over the years, the design of the nakiri knife has evolved, with some models featuring a double-edged blade and others featuring a single-edged blade.

The nakiri knife quickly became popular in Japan, and it was used in many kitchens for preparing vegetables.

Its popularity spread to other parts of the world, and it eventually became a staple in many professional kitchens.

The nakiri knife was also used in some traditional Japanese ceremonies, such as the tea ceremony.

In the early 20th century, the nakiri knife was adopted by sushi chefs, who used it to prepare sushi rolls.

The nakiri knife was also used by some chefs to prepare sashimi, which is thinly sliced raw fish.

Today, the nakiri knife is still widely used in professional kitchens and in some traditional ceremonies.

It has become a popular tool for home cooks as well, as it is easy to use and can be used to prepare a variety of vegetables.

The nakiri knife has become an essential tool in many kitchens, and it is sure to remain a staple for years to come.

What is a nakiri knife made of?

Real Japanese nakiris are made of high-carbon steel. Carbon steel contains a high amount of carbon, making it harder and more durable than other types of steel. 

Carbon steel is often used in the making of nakiri knives because it is strong and can hold an edge well.

It is also relatively easy to sharpen, making it a popular choice for those looking for a sharp, long-lasting blade.

Another popular choice is Damascus steel. Damascus steel is a type of steel that is made by folding and hammering layers of steel together. 

This process creates a unique steel pattern, often referred to as a “Damascus pattern”.

Damascus steel is often used in the making of nakiri knives because it is strong and can hold an edge well.

It also has a unique aesthetic that many knife enthusiasts enjoy.

Some nakiri knives are also made of stainless steel.

Hammered stainless steel is particularly popular because it’s more affordable and ensures food doesn’t stick to the sides of the blade.

What is the handle of a nakiri knife made of?

The handle of a nakiri knife is typically made from either wood or synthetic materials. 

Magnolia or rosewood handles are often chosen for their natural beauty and durability, while synthetic materials are chosen for their lightweight and easy-to-clean properties. 

Composite handles like G-10 are also used because they’re non-slip and moisture-proof. The handle of a nakiri knife should be comfortable to hold and provide a secure grip.

Learn about the difference between Japanese “Wa” knife handles and Western knife handles here

What finish does a nakiri knife have?

Kurouchi is a type of Japanese knife finish that is applied to the blade of a nakiri knife.

It is a traditional Japanese technique that involves coating the blade with a layer of carbonized clay. 

This layer helps to protect the blade from corrosion and gives it a unique, rustic look. 

Kurouchi is often used on nakiri knives because it adds a unique aesthetic to the blade and helps to protect it from corrosion.

Many nakiri knives also have a hammered finish because this creates a dimple pattern on the blade.

Air pockets prevent the vegetable bits from sticking to the sides of the knife’s blade while cutting. 

This means cleaner cuts and less food waste. Many chefs enjoy using hammered nakiri knives because of this.

Nakiri vs Usuba knife

Nakiri and usuba are two Japanese vegetable knives that look nearly identical.

The main difference lies in the blade. The cutting edge shape is a bit different.

First, the nakiri is sharpened on both sides of the blade, while the usuba is only sharpened on one.

  • nakiri is a double bevel knife
  • usuba is usually a single bevel knife

The usuba is even thinner, and since it has a single bevel blade, it’s a bit harder to use.

Most chefs prefer an usuba for cutting vegetables, whereas home cooks like the ease and comfort of the nakiri.

Unlike the double-bevel Nakiri, which can be sharpened more simply, a Usuba kitchen knife requires specialized skill to sharpen since it has just one side.

The nakiri has a blunt tip, while the usuba has a sharp tip. Also, the nakiri is also slightly thicker than the usuba.

Even though the Usuba knife is thinner, it is generally heavier and mostly used by professional Japanese chefs.

Both of these vegetable cleavers are designed to cut vegetables.

Not only is the Usuba a flat vegetable knife, it also has a flexible middle portion that can be used for both ‘Katsuramuki’ or rotational peeling techniques as well as for thinly slicing vegetables.

Whereas the Nakiri is a more general-purpose vegetable knife, the Usuaba can be used for decorative and specialty cuts by professionals. 

Overall, the Usuba knife is better suitable for fine and ornamental vegetable cutting work, notably in the production of sushi.

The Nakiri knife is a terrific volume processor for your vegetables and can be used for quick chopping of large amounts of fruit and veggies. 

Just a side note, many people also confuse the nakiri knife with a santoku, which is an all-purpose Japanese knife and not designed for cutting veggies only.

Nakiri vs Chinese cleaver

The Chinese cleaver is a versatile knife that can be used for a variety of tasks. It has a rectangular blade, similar to the nakiri, but it is much thicker. 

The Chinese cleaver is designed for cutting through bones, while the nakiri and usuba are not.

So, with a Chinese cleaver, one can cut through meat, vegetables, and seafood easily without worrying too much about the blade chipping.

The Chinese cleaver also has a sharp tip, unlike the nakiri. The Chinese cleaver is also much heavier than the nakiri and usuba.

Generally, the Chinese cleaver is a much more heavy-duty knife compared to the Nakiri because it has a slightly taller and thicker blade. 

Both kinds of knives can serve as effective all-purpose substitutes for chefs’ knives.

Nakiri knives are ideal for Japanese cuisine, whereas Chinese cleavers excel at making denser cuts.

Also learn about the 3 main differences between Chinese food and Japanese food

FAQs

Can a Nakiri knife cut meat?

Yes, a Nakiri can cut meat, but it is not ideal for this purpose. 

The blade is designed for cutting vegetables, so it is not as sharp as a knife designed for cutting meat.

Using the Nakiri knife to cut meat can actually damage the blade and cause it to chip or break.

Meat is tougher than many vegetables and the rectangular shape of the Nakiri’s blade is not ideal for cutting meat.

The Nakiri’s flat blade allows you to cut without rocking all the way through to the cutting board. 

The Nakiri should not be used for harsher cuts, such as butchering meat or slicing through very solid vegetables, because it has a thinner blade.

A nakiri blade is not as sharp as a knife designed for cutting meat, so it may not be able to cut through the bone and cartilage.

Is a Nakiri knife worth it?

Nakiri knives are worth it if you are looking for a knife specifically designed for cutting vegetables. They are lightweight and easy to use, and they make precise cuts.

Generally, nakiri knives are very useful in the kitchen and can be especially useful for vegetarians and vegans who are always making dishes full of vegetables. 

One good nakiri knife (review here) (my favorite is the Dalstrong nakiri) can replace many other knives, especially if you don’t eat meat.

One good nakiri knife can replace many knives Dalstrong review

(view more images)

If you cook at home regularly or work as a chef, then you need to have a nakiri knife in your collection.

Vegetarians and vegans, listen up too; you NEED a nakiri because it makes chopping fruits and vegetables quick and easy.

It’s hard to find other knives with such a thin blade and razor-sharp edges, so this is the type of cutlery you need if you want to make cutting effortless.

Besides, the nakiri’s versatility will help you out in the kitchen, and it is definitely worth the money.

Finally, I just want to remind you that a nakiri knife is less delicate than some other Japanese ones, so this one can last for years to come.

Can you rock a Nakiri knife?

Yes, you can rock a Nakiri knife. This is a technique used to make thin, precise cuts. 

To rock a Nakiri knife, you hold the handle with one hand and the blade with the other. Then, you move the blade back and forth in a rocking motion.

What’s the best way to use a Nakiri knife?

One of the main advantages of Nakiri knives is that they are versatile. Also, they are lightweight compared to many other knives of similar blade length.

Since the blade is thinner, you get a much more precise slice every time.

The way to use the knife is to make up and down motions gently. There’s no need to move the blade horizontally or change direction.

The up-and-down motion against the cutting board ensures a clean cut.

It’s easy to cut up leafy greens really quickly or dice onions with a few up-and-down motions.

What can I cut with a nakiri?

The nakiri is a vegetable knife. So you use it to cut up all kinds of veggies, salad greens, and fruit.

If you want to cut and chop vegetables for a tasty soup or stir-fry, you can do it. Also, you can slice up cabbage and other ingredients into very thin strips and slices for coleslaws.

But overall, this versatile knife can cut hard legumes, root vegetables, leafy greens, and everything in-between.

Do not use it to cut meat because it can damage and even break the blade.

What size nakiri is best?

The standard size for nakiri knives is between 5-7 inches.

A 6 or 7-inch blade is the best choice because this length doesn’t require using more chopping and cutting motions. 

In fact, the 7-inch blade reduces how many cutting motions you have to make, so you get the chopping done faster.

Is a nakiri a cleaver?

Sure it looks like a thinner type of meat cleaver but is it really?

Yes, the nakiri is a small type of Japanese vegetable cleaver.

However, what sets it apart is that it’s much more lightweight, and the blade is thinner than other Western cleavers.

Don’t mistake it for a large butcher clever because it’s definitely not the knife for cutting through cartilage and bone.

Even compared to Chinese cleavers, the nakiri is more fragile and lighter. But the benefit is that it doesn’t tire out your hand.

Conclusion

In conclusion, a nakiri knife is a great tool to have in the kitchen. I

t’s a great all-purpose knife that can be used for chopping, slicing, and dicing. It’s a must-have for any home cook! 

The nakiri has a cleaver-like rectangular blade shape which cuts sharply through almost any vegetable. 

If you’re looking for a reliable and versatile knife, the nakiri is the one for you. Don’t forget to keep it sharp and clean to get the most out of it!

Now, let’s use your nakiri knife to cook this delicious vegetable mushroom Toban Yaki recipe!

Check out our new cookbook

Bitemybun's family recipes with complete meal planner and recipe guide.

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Joost Nusselder, the founder of Bite My Bun is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with Japanese food at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.