The novice kitchen knives buyer is faced with a bewildering array of choice when it comes to buying a set or even a single knife.
One of the most important choices you can make is what material the blade is made from. Your decision here will influence not only the performance of the knife and its suitability for certain tasks but also how long it’ll last and how much you can expect to pay.
So what is the best kitchen knife blade material? And how exactly does this choice matter? Fortunately, it’s not as bewildering a situation as it looks, and with a little bit of know-how beforehand, you can find the perfect knife to give you joy and satisfaction for years to come.
Stainless Steel is the primary component of the blades of most knives and the process of making it helped kick-start the Industrial Revolution.
It’s an alloy of mostly iron, a pinch of carbon, some chromium and occasionally nickel. Typical knives are made from 420 stainless steel, an alloy high in chromium but low in carbon. Softer than Carbon Steel knives, they need sharpening more frequently, though it’s rare that corrosion presents a problem.
Carbon Steel is a mix of iron and carbon. The mixture commonly found in knives can vary considerably, but is typically around 0.5% carbon. The knives are cheap and remain sharp for some time. Indeed, they are quite easy to get sharpened, but are more vulnerable to rust and stains. Until they have been cleaned a few times, new carbon steel knives can add a metallic flavour to some foods.
High Carbon Stainless Steel
Upping the carbon content to around 1% results in a blade that combines the best of the above two types. These blades retain their colour and sharp edges for quite some time. The alloys are higher quality than stainless knives, and are designed with strength and cutting in hand. And, as you might imagine, they’re slightly more expensive.
These blades are made out of layers of different types of steel, rather than one homogenous material throughout the blade. It’s a centuries-old process, and was designed to allow the blade to be hard and sharp only where it mattered: at the edges. Japan has traditionally been a stronghold of laminated blade-making, though nowadays other countries also use the lamination method.
The special forces of the knives world, they are made from a tough ceramic, often zirconium dioxide. They retain their sharp edge for a long time, are light, won’t ruin the taste of food and do not corrode. They’re also available in wonderful colours, like those pictured at the top of this post. With that sort of reference, it seems that the world should be fighting for them. Regretfully, despite their hard reputation, they’re also brittle and subject to breakage when dropped. Regrettably, the kitchen is the sort of place where utensils are dropped on a regular basis. But if you’re the type of person who knows they can take good care of a ceramic knife, it may be the choice for you.
The new kid on the block, Titanium is a case of they could, rather than waiting to see if they should. The metal is lighter and wear-resistant, but not the hardest. It’s more flexible than steel, but is rather expensive and not good for cutlery. But by gosh, it looks the part, so if you have the sort of kitchen you want to look good but not actually use for kitchen-type activities, then Titanium is definitely the material for you.