I was very excited this Christmas morning when I discovered that Santa (in the guise of my husband) brought me a brand-new bamboo cutting board! I love to cook (the from-scratch, box-abhorrent way), and one of my all-time favorite cooking activities (and I’m not kidding here) is to chop vegetables. For years we’ve been using two plastic cuttings boards we picked up at Ikea for a couple of bucks apiece—a pink one for meats and a blue one for veggies. They served their purpose, but I’ve never really become attached to using too much plastic around food, and over the last few years, they’ve started to become warped and have severe knife marks, which can really harbor the yuckies. So I have been coveting bamboo, and Santa came through!
I think Bamboo is superior to wood for cutting boards for a few excellent reasons—first and foremost it’s highly sustainable. Bamboo grows remarkably quickly, so turn around time from baby bamboo to something harvestable is around five years, as opposed to thirty to fifty years for hard wood trees. They also take up less land, and have millions of uses—besides cutting boards, bamboo can be turned into flooring, furniture, utensils, dishes, picture frames, planters, fiber (for clothes and goods) food (for pandas and people—young bamboo shoots are great in stir-fry!) and of course, they serve as nature habitat while they’re growing. In the form of the cutting board, bamboo panels (about an inch wide for my board) are pressed together sideways to form the flat surface, which is incredibly smooth and durable. No splinters from this board. Mine is also highly decorative—the main panel is a light-colored bamboo with darker colored bamboo on each end, with the ends rounded slightly. My board is approximately 14 x 9 inches, which for me is the perfect size, and it fits in my cupboard perfectly.
So now you want one too, don’t you? So once you go out and get (or are lucky to be given) your very own bamboo cutting board, caring for it and keeping the yuckies away (always a concern with cutting boards, it seems) it quite simple. First of all, if you don’t have space or the desire to own two cutting boards (one dedicated to meat, and one for veggies) I think it’s a good idea to dedicate one side for meat cutting and the other side for veggie cutting. Even though you’re going to be giving your board a good cleaning after every use, you can never be too careful keeping those icky meat juices (a bacteria vacation spot) separate from everything else. To help you remember which side is which, take a black permanent marker and make a discreet dot (or a tiny little ‘M’ with a fine tip) in the bottom corner of one side of the board—this is the meat side. So, you’ve chopped and diced away, and now your board needs a bath. Wash it well in hot water and your favorite natural soap (no petroleum products please—the bamboo is good for you, so be good to it!). Let it air dry real well by propping it in your dish rack on it’s side—don’t lay it flat so water can pool on it. Likewise, you should store it in your cupboard in a dry, not so hot environment (right next to the stove is probably not a good spot—I don’t know if excessive dry heat can warp and make bamboo brittle like it can hard wood, but why risk it?) When you stick it in the cupboard, prop it up on its side, to minimize the surface area that’s in contact with stuff—less chance of dings, scratches and germies this way. Once a month or so, you’ll want to rub down each side with a little walnut or mineral oil to keep the board lubricated and ready to use. Just put about a teaspoon of the oil onto a soft cloth and rub it in well so the board absorbs all the oil, and let it air dry. With use, your board will pick up light knife marks and dings, but the bamboo seems pretty impervious to deep cuts and major flaws, which makes a long-lasting quality board. And as an added bonus, these loving marks and dings are what antique dealers call ‘provenance’ because of course you’ll have all of the wonderful stories and memories of cooking excellent meals for your people to go along with them, which will make your bamboo cutting board a family heirloom that your grand-kids will be fighting over many years from now so they can pass it on and make the (insert dish here) just like you used to.