Have vegetable that need knocked down to size? Get chopping with the Nakiri.
The Japanese people have historically produced excellent knives specialized for dedicated tasks. The culture of the region did not put a heavy emphasis on speed and slop, but rather precision and the utmost perfection of a given craft. Following this ethos came a specialized knife dedicated to culinary artistry.
The Nakiri (also Nakiri Bōchō) was developed specially for cutting vegetable and not much of anything else. The blades on these knives are thin, sharp and, surprisingly, not as ancient as we understand many Japanese blades.
In this article, we’ll explore the history of this dedicated tool, its modern uses and look as some of the best nakiri available. So, chop, chop… let’s get cooking.
History Of The Nakiri
Many blade styles we associate with Feudal Japan came into use after Western contact was established. The Nakiri was one such product and it came at a time of significant modernization in the country.
Traditional feudal culture in Japan would come to an end over the course of the 1800s, culminating in a tremendous shift from a medieval society to a completely industrialized nation. These culinary tools became a feature of Japanese blade makers, and eventually, they arrived at a point of heavy specialization.
The Nakiri is a vegetable knife, plain and simple, in fact, the name translates to ‘knife for cutting greens’. It was made over time to excel at this one task. As a result, it isn’t ideal for much else.
Despite its round, tipless shape it is not a cleaver. The blades on these knives are very thin, sometimes to the point of being fragile. They should not be used against bone or even used on meat for the most part. The entire concept is that the Nakiri makes clean cuts in veggies, as opposed to the more coarse, crushing cuts found on chef knives.
Nakiri Vs Western Chef’s Knife
Looking at the Nakiri next to common Western chef knives isn’t exactly a fair comparison. The chef knife is meant as a multipurpose blade that cuts virtually anything in a kitchen without missing a beat.
Most Western chef knives are derived from our own historical camp knives, seax blades, and Central European ‘messer’ knives. These are structurally far more robust and usually taper down to a fine tip with a thicker spine at the handle. Not so with the Nakiri.
Its shape is slim and has a straight edge, meaning in one motion it can be made flat against the cutting board. The height of the blade from the spine to the edge is also greater, enabling the hand to come to rest above the cutting surface. Contrast this to the Western chef knife, which works in a back-and-forth rocking motion. The Western chef knife is in theory not as efficient for motion, but how much this matters is subjective to the user.
The Nakiri Edge
While the knife is commonly available on the commercial market with a standard, double-beveled edge, many traditional Nakiri boast a chisel-beveled. In short, as previously mentioned, one side of the blade is completely flat. Depending on if you are right- or left-handed determines which side your blade is beveled. Advanced users can take advantage of this feature for enhanced cosmetic presentation of food, such as spiral peeling, ornamental julienned strips, and more.
Advantages Of The Nakiri
Honestly, one-on-one against a standard chef knife in your own kitchen you may not notice the difference at of an Nakiri. The exception being, in the overall style of your food presentation. Furthermore, if cooking is part of your livelihood, you will like the shape, style, and ease of use of the Nakiri. It is a tool that can be used to step up the cosmetic end of delicacies
In short, if you spend time with this knife style in a professional setting, where aesthetics are equal to edibility, you might find the Nakiri an excellent companion. Home chef’s, on the other hand, might discover there cuisine doesn’t gain much with one at hand.
Disadvantages Of The Nakiri
The elephant in the room, you need more knives to accomplish a given task if you use a Nakiri for its intended role. This doesn’t jib with many pro or amateur chefs in the west.
Most Western cooks appreciate the flexibility and ease of the Western-style chef’s knife, a dedicated vegetable chopper seems redundant. In turn, it’s a great leap to investing in a specialized tool such as a Nakiri.
Best Nakiri Options At Every Price Point
Toshu Hammer Finished
Made in Japan, the Toshu knife is made to work without compromise. The knife is not traditionally constructed, rather it is made of all stainless steel and is dishwasher safe. This is an important consideration for the home chef short on time. The knife features the beveled “Edo-Togi” grind, meaning that it isn’t double-beveled like most Western knives. It is very easy to keep clean, and sharp choice for everyday vegetable chopping vegetables duty.
Hinokuni Shirogami #1 Tall
A custom Nakiri from a smaller maker, the Tall Nakiri might be the perfect large-format vegetable knife. If you are making salads, working on squash or melons, or trying to dice up a large quantity of veggies, this knife will knock them down to size. The knife is a labor of love, the maker of this brand is a young blacksmith that is well-versed in traditional methods. Interestingly, the knife is made of an uncommon (in America) type of carbon steel, Shirogami #1. This is a blade steel favored by the best Japanese smiths. However, neglected it can easily corrode. Like many traditional items, regular care is necessary to maintained it, but do so and the blade should last a lifetime.
Shun Cutlery Classic
This Japanese knife is popular, well-constructed, and made in… China? No surprise, the broad Western market sees just about everything made in China these days. While not exactly up to the quality or authenticity of a true Japanese Nakiri, Shun Cutlery does a great job with this knife for the price. Chef among these assets includs using a novel layering method. The blade itself is not entirely Damascus, rather it is a stainless core sandwiched in layer of Damascus. It is a great starting point for getting into Nakiri but is priced in such a way that it may be your only one for years.
Kai Seki Magoroku Watakake
This Kai knife is a genuine Japanese-made Nakiri, fully sized in every way but price. Retailing at under $20, this is a great knife to add to your drawer if you want the function of a Nakiri but don’t do enough dedicated veggie chopping to warrant a several hundred-dollar in expense. Many people are just casual cooks and can certainly appreciate the utility a Nakiri brings, though just not enough to make a hobby of fleshing out an entire Japanese kitchen set. This knife is not of the same quality as the others on this list in terms of the overall construction but is certainly capable of most uses. Considering chopping veggies are the end use, you should do just fine, except perhaps in some of the most advanced techniques that require the features of a custom knife.
Shun Cutlery Dual Core
Another great product from Shun, the Dual Core Nakiri is a dull Damascus blade of 72 layers of VG10 and VG2 steels. As far as production Nakiri knives go, this is probably as good as it gets before you start to look at custom options. The knife here is priced higher, more than double that of the other Shun listing in this article. The manufacturing process results in a blade holds its edge longer and remain in service for extended periods of time, especially in a high-production restaurant setting. As a production knife, this product is great for showy use in a hibachi, but also easily replaced should it become damaged. The styling on this knife isn’t quite traditional Japanese, though patrons and guests will likely not notice that minor detail.
Masamoto FH Japanese
Masamoto’s product is a reasonably priced, high-performance traditional Nakiri made in Japan. This knife is just about as good as it gets from the standpoint of function and traditional appearance. Made of modern steel and reasonably corrosion-resistant, it’s a forgiving knife. But you still need to care for it after every use. The handle is made in traditional style out of buffalo horn and magnolia wood, both of which add to its already incredible appearance. It is not the most costly Nakiri here by far, though when combined with the extra maintenance needed to keep it ship-shape, isn’t for someone who will just throw it in the dishwasher.
Last on this list is certainly not the least. The Yoshihiro Hayate is a handcrafted, high-end Nakiri that is for use by the most discerning culinary aficionado. The knife is made of extremely hard and difficult-to-work with ZDP-189 steel. Not only is it beautiful, but the knife is also NSF-approved for use in commercial kitchens, making it one of the most expensive single-use products in a restaurant. However, thanks to its superior steel and impressive edge retention, the knife will ultimately save the chef effort on high-volume cutting and other laborious tasks. This Nakiri is made with excellent materials in the handle as well, including premium ebony with a sterling silver ring. Completing this knife is a lacquered cover for storage. Of note, this knife is double-beveled, making it great for use with both hands as opposed to specializing to left or right. If you decided to spend the money on something like this, you will never need to seek out a replacement. Short of a completely custom knife made to your hand and style of cutting, this is as good as it gets.
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