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A Sharp Kitchen Knife Just Doesn’t Give a Good Cut
When my sous chef kids were younger a duller knife meant less chance of a finger cut. But now I keep the knives sharp and spend more time to perfect the right cut. Here is why.
Four Cool Factoids on Veggies: The Right Knife and Cut
Did you know that vegetables stay ‘alive’ after harvest? Have you ever seen a garlic sprout a green stem, a potato grow eyes, or celery make new leaves while it sits on your kitchen counter or in your refrigerator?
Vegetables are ‘alive’, in the sense that they live and breath until we eat them. Yes, veggies ‘respire‘, the cells of vegetables grow until they are cut. And when they are cut, this brings a type of stress on the plant. Cutting “wounds the cells of plants and triggers injury based responses by plant cells.” Poor veggie babes. It sounds sad to put ‘stress’ on a vegetable, but even as we chew into a raw vegetable we injure plant cells, so it is all normal in the process of consuming food.
This is cool factoid number one: vegetables are ‘alive.’
The second fun fact is that the sharpness of the blade used to cut up vegetables affects the taste. The sharper the knife, the less stress on the vegetable. A dull knife brings unwanted damage to the plant when cutting. From The World’s Healthiest Foods, “With a blunt blade, you are likely to increase the amount of electrolyte leakage from your vegetables (including leakage of potassium and calcium) and the amount of off-odors.” (Yikes-I don’t want any excess electrolyte leakage~!)
Second cool factoid: sharper knives cut the ‘alive’ vegetables cleaner, causing less stress on the vegetable.
The size of the pieces from cut up vegetables changes the final taste (chopped, minced or sliced) because of the change in surface area. The smaller the pieces of vegetables cut, the higher risk of nutrient loss, texture loss, flavor loss and discoloration, but also the higher taste intensity. The higher surface area of vegetable, (the more the inside of the vegetable is exposed) the more we taste it. As an example, a minced garlic clove has a higher surface area because more garlic is opened. Thus minced garlic will have a ‘stronger’ taste. An even stronger (sometimes overpowering) taste comes from grated garlic on a microplane. In this method, the garlic’s surface area is at its highest and the taste of garlic can even be overwhelming to the nose and mouth in its raw form, but taste delicious cooked in the right dish.
Note: As soon as vegetables are cut, they start losing nutrients. This is why cut vegetables should be eaten or used in cooking as soon as possible after cutting.
And for a good review on the difference between ceramic and steel knives, read this article.
Third cool factoid: the smaller the pieces of vegetables cut, the higher surface area and changes in taste
The last interesting fact is that cutting a vegetable with or against the grain affects its taste. Studies have shown that cutting onions along the grain (pole to pole) makes the onion taste less pungent and strong. If you need a stronger tasting onion or to make onion rings, cut it against the grain.
Fourth Cool Factoid: cutting a vegetable with or against the grain changes its taste
Time To Follow the Recipe
A good chef who develops and writes a good recipe will indicate how the vegetables and other ingredients need to be cut. These directions are typically ‘thinly sliced, grated, minced, chopped, diced.’ Following the recipe correctly (I like to improvise so this is sometimes hard!) can be critical for some dishes, especially those recipes which call for stronger tasting ingredients, such as minced garlic.
In addition to taste, a cut influences texture, color and homogeneity. Now onto the cooking!
Cutting fruit, meat and other foods
A sharp cut is not only reserved for vegetables. Fruits, meats and other foods benefit from a different taste because of way they are cut. As examples, for the best taste and chewing ease, cooked meat needs to be cut against the grain, and fruit can taste better when it is cut cleanly.
When a food looks appetizing our eyes help us taste just how good it is! Think sharp cut, shape and color.
A sharp knife, but what about the fork and spoon?
A sharp cut is important to taste, appearance and flavor of the dish, but the type of cutlery used for eating also affects the taste in the mouth. Taste is different whether you eat with plastic utensils, stainless steel or antique silver. Which cutlery material makes the food tastiest? Tune back in to the blog, because I am going to find out.
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