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With wooden chopping boards arguably being one of the hardest working tools in the kitchen, it’s vital that we provide the wood with as much protection as we can, thus keeping the surface as healthy and sanitary as can be. This makes choosing best food-safe oil to season your cutting boards, wooden spoons, servers etc with a crucial step in your daily kitchen routine.
When researching this very topic I scoured the internet and found so many different opinions regarding which oils are appropriate to safely maintain cutting boards and kitchen utensils, that I put together this summary to help others identify which are the best food-safe oils you should use to feed, sanitize and keep your wooden kitchen items.
Why use an Oil anyway?
Most woodworkers acknowledge that there are more durable wood finishes available on the market. However, many of these are either not food safe, appropriate for items that are being cut on, nor constantly exposed to heat and water.
Wood is porous, meaning it absorbs liquids. The oil will penetrate deep into the fibres of the wood, slow the absorption of water and flavours of the foods that you cut on it meaning any residue left on the surface is easily washed off. This also includes preventing bacteria from finding a home within the fibre too which leads to a hygienic surface on which to prepare food.
Repeated exposure to food and then subsequent soap and water will remove the natural oils from the wood causing it to dry, shrink and prematurely age. Regularly feeding the board restores the oil in the wood and keeps the wood “vibrant.”
But while the seasoning process itself is straightforward, choosing the right oil makes all the difference.
1) Popular oils, you should stay away from.
Let’s start by identifying some “never use these” options. Of course, we understand the temptation may be strong to use these as many of the oils are readily available and already in most household kitchens.
- Olive Oil
- Macadamia nut
These oils will never polymerize (harden), and are rich in fats that will eventually oxidize and go rancid after prolonged exposure to light and air (oxygen). If used it will ultimately leave you will a spoiled surface that can badly affect the wood with a nasty smell, a sticky surface which is not what we want.
There’s another drawback when it comes to the nut-based oils is, of course, serious nut allergies (Allergenicity of gourmet nut oils processed by different methods). While the research suggests “highly refined” (not cold-pressed nor virgin etc), virtually eliminates their allergenicity making them safe/r for human consumption.
2) What about natural polemizing oils?
Polymerizing oils like 100% Pure Tung, Raw Linseed and Walnut Oil will be absorbed by the wood and harden as they dry, thus creating a more durable finish. They can take a while to cure (up to 2-3 weeks) and can cause your board to darken in colour, but once you’ve got a solid foundation, they’re easy to maintain.
Others (eg: Boiled Linseed which you’ll find at your local hardware store) undergo a manufacturing process that renders them toxic for food contact surfaces. When you weigh the benefits up against the potential risks, it may be safer to err on the side of caution.
The main drawback to these oils is the cost.
This leaves us with 2 main opions when considering a food safe oil finish.
- Food Grade Mineral Oil
- Fractionated Coconut Oil (Natural)
Fractionated coconut oil is virgin coconut oil that has been distilled, allowing long-chain fatty acids to separate and solidify for removal. What remains is an ultralight, odorless coconut oil that stays liquid at cooler temps. It will not become rancid, unlike unrefined oils, ensuring it has a very long shelf life.
The best oil to use on your cutting board is food grade mineral oil (HRBO) which is very affordable and has no colour, odour, or taste and is resistant to oxidation. Studies have been conducted on the potential negative health effects and found that highly refined white oils, like food-grade mineral oil, are not carcinogenic.
Also, never use standard mineral oil (Liquid Paraffin, Technical Oils) from a pharmacy or hardware store that are not rated as food safe, as these are meant for machine lubrication or as carrier oils in cosmetics and are not safe for contact with food.
The safest route is to buy a mineral oil specifically blended for use in cutting boards such as our own brand of Food Grade Mineral Oil, which has been specially developed with food safety in mind. TophamKnifeCo wood finishes are meant to be rubbed into wood, not consumed internally.