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These Japanese knives are both popular in the kitchen and are designed for chopping vegetables.
Both Nakiri and Usuba have a cleaver-like appearance, but the Nakiri is double-bevel, while the Usuba is a single-bevel knife. These Japanese knives are popular in the kitchen and are almost always used for chopping vegetables.
Read on to learn more about the differences between these two amazing knives and find out which one is right for you.
In this post, I’ll explain the differences between these two similar Japanese knives. After reading this post, you’ll know which knife is better suited for your needs.
In this post we'll cover:
- 1 Japanese vegetable cleavers and knives
- 2 The differences between an usuba knife and a nakiri knife
- 3 What is an usuba knife?
- 4 What is a nakiri knife?
- 5 How to Use a Usuba Knife and Nakiri Knife
- 6 FAQs
- 7 Conclusion
Japanese vegetable cleavers and knives
Some Japanese kitchen knives may be difficult to distinguish from one another at first glance since they appear to have similar functions and a similar appearance.
For instance, consider the Nakiri and Usuba knives.
Specialty Japanese vegetable knives like the Nakiri and Usuba exist, but how similar and distinct are they really? Well, each is better suited for a certain task.
The Japanese have a habit of slicing, dicing, and chopping vegetables into very thin or small pieces.
They use a variety of different knives to achieve this, including the usuba knife and nakiri knife.
Here’s the reason: in Japanese dining etiquette, food is eaten with chopsticks, and therefore, it’s important that the food is easy to pick up and eat.
This is why vegetables are often cut into thin or small pieces.
Japanese chefs all have special vegetable knives. Some prefer the usuba knife, while others prefer the nakiri knife.
You’ll likely see professional chefs working at a restaurant using the usuba, whereas home cooks use nakiri.
So, what’s the difference between these two knives?
Let’s go over each type and the differences between the two.
The differences between an usuba knife and a nakiri knife
Both of these vegetable knives have a straight edge blade, and they resemble the traditional Chinese cleaver, but they’re actually both designed differently.
I’m going to go over all of the differences between these two types of Japanese kitchen knives.
But first, here’s a table comparing the two knives:
|Double-bevel blade||Single-bevel blade|
|Easy to sharpen at home||Requires professional sharpening|
|Can cut and chop all vegetables and cut large volumes of food||Best for decorative and fine cutting|
|Lighter in weight||Heavier|
|Can be used be right and left-handed users||Best for right handed users, lefties must buy a specialized usuba|
|Has Western style hande or Wa handle||Has Wa (Japanese) handle|
|Blade length between 6.5-12.5 inches||Blade length between 6.5-12.5 inches|
|Hard blade||Softer blade|
The biggest difference between these two knives is the blade. The usuba knife has a single-bevel blade, while the nakiri knife has a double-bevel blade.
What this means is that the usuba knife is only sharpened on one side, while the nakiri knife is sharpened on both sides.
The usuba knife has a sharp blade and blunt back, which makes it easy to control the knife and make clean cuts.
The nakiri knife also has a sharp blade, but you’ll notice many nakiris have a pointed tip, which makes it easy to chop through tough vegetables.
A usuba is (almost always) a katana or single bevel blade, as opposed to a nakiri, which is invariably a double-bevel knife.
Both designs have flat blade profiles, and neither has much of a belly.
Their straight edges make them ideal for precise push-cutting, chopping, and fine hand and board cutting.
The usuba knife is designed for precision cutting, while the nakiri knife is designed for chopping vegetables.
The Usuba is a one-sided kitchen knife that is ideal for cutting very fine vegetable slices, whereas the Nakiri is more of a traditional Japanese-style vegetable knife.
Japanese chefs use an usuba knife in commercial kitchens when they need to make perfect decorative cuts for sushi or sashimi.
The usuba knife is also used to prepare vegetables for other Japanese dishes, such as tempura.
The Nakiri knife is used in the home kitchen for general vegetable prep, like chopping, slicing, and dicing.
It’s not nearly as precise, and that’s why the usuba is better for decorative cutting. Sushi chefs use an usuba knife to make hiramasa, or white flounder, sashimi.
The fish is cut into very thin slices, almost transparent.
They also cut up cucumbers, daikon, and other vegetables for sushi rolls. The Nakiri knife is not used for sushi preparation because the blade is not as sharp and precise.
These knives either have a Wa or Yo handle.
Most usuba knives have a traditional Japanese Wa handle. This handle is made from wood and is attached to the blade with two rivets.
The Wa handle is comfortable to hold and provides a good grip.
This handle has a D-shape or octagonal shape and is usually made from rosewood, Ho wood, or magnolia.
The octagonal shape prevents the handle from rolling off your countertop when you set it down.
Nakiri knives can also have a Wa handle, but most models have a Western-style (Yo) handle that is made from synthetic materials, such as plastic or composite.
The Western-style handle is more comfortable for people with larger hands and provides a good grip.
The Western-style handle is easier to find in stores because it’s the more popular style.
Generally, the usuba knife has an octagonal or round wooden handle, while the nakiri knife has a rectangle or oval-shaped plastic handle.
High-quality nakiri knives can have good wood handles too, but they’re usually found on the more expensive end.
The reason why most nakiri knives have plastic handles is that they’re less expensive to produce.
As for the usuba knife, the wooden handle is more comfortable to hold, and it also provides a better grip.
The plastic handle on the nakiri knife is also comfortable to hold, but it’s not as good as the wooden handle on the usuba knife.
The Usuba knife is heavier than the Nakiri knife.
The Usuba knife is a one-sided blade, and the weight is distributed evenly throughout the blade.
In contrast, the Nakiri knife is a double-beveled blade, and the weight is distributed evenly throughout the blade.
The Nakiri is generally heavier because it’s used for volume vegetable chopping, whereas the Usuba is used for more delicate slicing.
What is an usuba knife?
An usuba knife is a traditional Japanese vegetable knife. It’s a single-bevel knife, which means that only one side of the blade is sharpened.
The word “Usui” means “thin” in English, and “ba,” which comes from the same root as hamono and translates to “blade” or edge instrument, so the usuba is a “thin blade.”
As a result of this super thin rectangular blade, the usuba is, therefore, more frequently employed as a sushi knife to cut the incredibly tiny slices of vegetables used in the sushi rolls.
Main features of Usuba knife
- Size: A usuba knife is quite large and weighty because of its cleaver shape. The average knife has a length between 165 -240 mm or 6.5 to 9.44 inches although many chefs like them even longer (12.5 inches). For comparison, it’s about the size of a chef’s knife.
- Shape: The Usuba has a cleaver shape, and it has a long, thin, and flat blade.
- Blade/edge: Usuba has a single-bevel blade, and there’s a mild concave shape on its flat side. The blade is very thin, and the edge is super sharp.
- Handle: Authentic made-in-Japan Usuba knives have the Wa-handle, which is D-shaped and octagonal. It’s rare to find an Usuba with a Western-style handle.
The Usuba knife is required to slice the veggies that will be served uncooked.
The one-sided, ultra-thin blade cuts the surfaces with very little cellular damage, preserving the flavor of the veggies while also extending the freshness of the cut vegetables.
Sure, the nakiri can make precise cuts, but it might cause a bit of cellular damage since it’s not as fine.
When you slice your veggies with a Usuba knife, the minimal cellular damage that occurs throughout the process helps prevent discoloration or a change in the flavor of the vegetable that could follow from oxidation after cellular damage.
Not only is the Usuba a flat vegetable knife, but it has a flexible middle portion that can be used for both ‘Katsuramuki’, or rotational peeling techniques:
It is also very suitable for thinly slicing vegetables.
When using Japanese knives in the kitchen, be sure to use them according to Japanese knife techniques.
The Usuba is frequently used to make those incredibly thin slices.
You may use this vegetable knife on larger components like cabbage because of its long, comparatively tall blade.
However, since the Usuba’s small, fragile blades are more likely to be harmed than a Nakiri knife’s, you shouldn’t use it on veggies with harder skin.
Similar to the Nakiri, the Usuba’s tall blade gives you ample knuckle space for your supporting hand, lowering the possibility of injuries when you execute those rapid chops.
When you wish to use the Usuba to cut your vegetables with a regular thickness, this will also be useful.
Who is the usuba knife for?
The Usuba is ideal for slicing vegetables that are presented raw because of its precise cutting action and the fact that it causes the vegetables’ cells the least amount of harm.
The Usuba is a single-bevel kitchen knife, which means it requires more skill to handle efficiently than the double-bevel Nakiri.
On the other hand, almost everyone can use the Nakiri knife.
Usuba is one of the three primary knives used in a Japanese commercial kitchen, along with deba and yanagiba.
Therefore, you’re more likely to see one in the hands of a professional chef in Japan than in regular domestic use.
The usuba knife is a great choice for experienced cooks and chefs who want to create beautiful, precise cuts. The sharp blade and blunt back make it easy to control the knife and make clean cuts.
It’s mostly used for vegetables, but it can also be used for meat and fish.
What is a nakiri knife?
A nakiri knife is a Japanese vegetable knife. It’s a double-bevel knife, which means that both sides of the blade are sharpened.
The shape is like a cleaver with a rectangular, thin blade.
Main features of Nakiri knife
- Size: A nakiri knife is quite big and hefty due to its cleaver shape. The average knife has a length between 165 -320 mm or 6.4 to 12.5 inches. Its size is comparable to chef knives and the length of a yanagiba knife.
- Shape: The Nakiri has a cleaver shape, and it has a long, thin, and flat blade.
- Blade/edge: Nakiri has a double-bevel blade. The shape is also thin and rectangular, like the Usuba. However, it might be less sharp, but it’s very strong.
- Handle: Most Nakiri knives have a Western-style handle which is usually made of composite or plastic. Authentic made-in-Japan Nakiri knives have the Wa-handle, which is D-shaped and octagonal.
Usually, the nakiri knife is a traditional Japanese knife used for cutting at home, and it’s the preferred choice of home chefs.
The name is self-explanatory: “na” stands for “leaf” and “kiri’ for cut – so it’s a leaf cutter, referring to cutting up salads and vegetables.
The nakiri knife is designed for chopping vegetables. The sharp blade makes it easy to chop through tough vegetables.
That’s why the nakiri knife is a great choice for home cooks who want to chop vegetables quickly.
The tip of the Nakiri knife is either flat or completely absent. The Nakiri knife is only ever used vertically to chop vegetables due to its shape.
The knife does not move back and forth or pull and push, so the best way to use it is to chop rapidly.
The knife’s rectangular design also makes cutting simpler because it gives you plenty of room to protect your knuckles.
There are plenty of nakiri knives you can buy, but the best nakiri knife should be double-edged and made of high-carbon stainless steel, which is extremely sharp and easy to work with.
Carbon steel is frequently used in its construction. You can chop veggies with ease and little effort, thanks to the weight of the blade.
In terms of features, you should know Nakiri knives typically have a length of 165mm to about 240mm, although there are some as long as 320 mm intended for professional chefs.
Authentic Japanese Nakiri knives usually have a wooden handle. This is not only for tradition but also because wood is comfortable to grip and doesn’t get as hot as metal.
The balance point or tip is more angled towards the tip, and this means the knife is going to be extra precise and agile.
Who is the Nakiri knife for?
Although nakari knives make good all-purpose kitchen tools, they are not designed for demanding cutting tasks like chopping meat or cutting through bones – it’s best to use a nakiri for its intended purpose, which is cutting vegetables.
The nakiri knife is crafted for home cooks who want a simple and straightforward vegetable knife that is easy to use.
The Nakiri is an excellent choice for those who are new to Japanese knives or are looking for an upgrade from a standard chef’s knife.
That’s why a nakiri is helpful for those who enjoy soups, salads, and vegetables in any cuisine. Vegans and vegetarians will find the nakiri knife indispensable in the kitchen.
How to Use a Usuba Knife and Nakiri Knife
Both Nakiri and Usuba have a cleaver-like appearance, but the Nakiri is double-bevel, while the Usuba is a single-bevel knife.
These Japanese knives are popular in the kitchen and are mostly used for chopping vegetables.
To use an Usuba knife, hold the knife in your dominant hand with the cutting edge facing down.
Due to the Usuba’s razor-thin blade, you can easily remove too much material by grinding.
Keep control of the blade with your right hand’s thumb while placing your left hand’s two fingers on the edge of the blade.
To use a Nakiri knife, hold the knife in your dominant hand with the cutting edge facing down.
You have to use the up-and-down chopping motion with this knife.
There are various ways to hold your Nakiri knife. Both the pointed grip and the pinch grip are acceptable.
It all depends on the method that feels most natural to you.
To hold your knife with a pinch grip, use your thumb and index finger for improved control.
This indicates that the additional fingers on your hand should be tucked under or around the handle. This approach is the most effective overall since a Nakiri knife has a smooth-edged, straight blade.
The method including the pointed finger grip can be used for improved control and precision.
You must place your index finger on the Nakiri knife’s spine in order to use this technique. You should encircle the handle with the remaining fingers.
Is nakiri or usuba better?
This solely depends on the opinion of the cook and what you’re using the knife for.
Some people may find that the Nakiri is better because it’s a double-bevel knife, which means it can be used for both right-handed and left-handed individuals.
The Usuba, on the other hand, is a single-bevel knife, which can be more difficult to use if you’re not used to it.
However, for those fine, delicate cuts and ornamental cutting tasks in your kitchen, the Usuba is a more delicate and fine vegetable knife.
The Nakiri knife is a great choice if you cook at home and can handle voluminous cutting tasks.
However, if you work as a sushi chef professionally, you will require the Usuba.
Can you use nakiri knife for meat?
Although Nakiri knives are technically safe to use on meat, it is not recommended.
If you use an up-and-down motion to cut through meat right into the chopping board, this will damage and potentially break your Nakiri knife.
A Nakiri knife is not meant to withstand the tough cutting motions that are necessary when chopping through meat and bones.
For that reason, it’s best to use a Nakiri knife for its intended purpose, which is cutting vegetables
Can you use usuba knife for meat?
Definitely not. An Usuba knife has a delicate, single-bevel blade that is only meant for cutting vegetables.
The Usuba is not a versatile knife like the Nakiri, which can sometimes handle meat like poultry.
If you were to use an Usuba knife on meat, the blade would likely chip or break. It’s best only to use this for veggies and already-sliced fish.
How to sharpen nakiri and usuba knife?
The best way to sharpen your Nakiri or Usuba knife is with a honing rod and a sharpening stone.
The Japanese use a special whetstone called a Nakato, but any sharpening stone will do.
Both the Usuba and Nakiri knife have their own unique purpose. The Usuba knife is perfect for making precision cuts, while the Nakiri knife is perfect for chopping vegetables.
If you’re looking for a general-purpose Japanese kitchen knife, then the Nakiri knife is the way to go.
But if you’re looking for a knife that can make precision cuts, then the Usuba knife is the better option.
Don’t be intimidated by the cleaver-like appearance of these knives. With a little practice, you’ll be slicing and dicing like a pro in no time!
I have to keep mentioning a nakiri or usuba knife is ideal for vegans and vegetarians – it’s the most important knife to have in your kitchen!
Check out our new cookbook
Bitemybun's family recipes with complete meal planner and recipe guide.
Try it out for free with Kindle Unlimited:Read for free
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.