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What is a Santoku Knife?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 07 December 2016
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The santoku knife is a Japanese-designed knife that is now produced in many different countries. It can be seen frequently on cooking shows in places like the US, and its popularity has led to increased demand. The santoku is often viewed as an alternative to the chef knife and particularly attractive for those with slightly smaller hands because it is usually a bit smaller than the chef’s knife.

In Japan and elsewhere, these knives may show a lot of variance in appearance and size. They typically have a smaller angle than a chef knife with the handle well above the bottom of the blade. Preference in materials tends toward various kinds of steel, which can produce strong cutting ability. Occasionally, ceramic is employed, but most often these knives are made of steel.

Size differences may be significant. A small santoku knife blade is typically no more than seven inches (17.78 cm) in length. Others may be longer and could be about nine inches (22.86 cm) long.

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One very noticeable difference between the traditional Japanese santoku knife and those made in other countries is the blade’s bottom. In western countries, this is often given a scalloped edge, and many assume that all knives of this type must feature scalloping. Actually, this is not true and a genuine Japanese santoku seldom has this feature. This doesn’t make the feature necessarily bad, and some cooks praise it because it makes it easier to avoid having food stick to the knife during cutting. On the other hand, it does make it less than authentic in style.

There are many different tasks for which a santoku knife can be employed. Usually people claim that the knife can mince, slice or dice with ease. Interestingly, the word santoku can mean "three virtues," and the Japanese recognize the knife for its triad of abilities or its three most common uses.

It is true of all knives that quality is not simply dependent on shape, size or design. Assessing the difference between a good and mediocre knife typically comes down to manufacture, materials and balance. For instance, it’s advised that anyone looking for a santoku knife choose one that has the tang of the knife (the part of steel extending into the handle) that runs the length of the handle. Choosing good steel quality is equally important.

Selecting a good quality knife, and there are many choices, is not enough. Knife care is important, too. Knives won’t remain sharp if they’re washed in the dishwasher or improperly stored in between uses. When people invest in a quality santoku knife, they should plan to care for it appropriately so that it continues to be functional and display its three virtues in the kitchen.

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