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At the time of writing this, I had recently been commissioned to make a unique 21st birthday present for a client and we decided on a 250mm K-tip gyuto chef knife. Japanese gyuto’s themselves have a rich history but I wondered if the same was true for K-tips. Were they truly just the current trend or, was there historical significance behind the design as well?
The K-tip or “Kiritsuke” is derived from the Japanese word for cut, (according to the English-Japanese online dictionary Denshi Jisho, kiritsukeru translates as “to cut at / to slash at”) is a style of knife, whose meaning has transformed in recent years.
The traditional Kiritsuke or “K-tip” (nickname) are single-bevel knives with a sharp-pointed tip that are meant to combine the function of an Usuba and Yanagiba. Usuba’s are dedicated vegetable knives (think single-bevelled Nakiri) while yanagiba’s (think sushi knife) are used to slice raw fish for sushi, as a consequence the kiritsuke is intended as a general-purpose knife for use in preparing traditional Japanese cuisine.
It should cover the tasks of these two knives, such as slicing fish for sashimi and sushi or peeling vegetables into wafer-thin long strips ( Katsuramuki technique), which are shortened to rectangular sheets and then cut into fine strips with or against the grain ( Yoyoken or Tateken ).
Because it represents a compromise between two specialized knife shapes, it is more difficult to achieve a very clean implementation of the classic Japanese cutting techniques with a Kiritsuke than with an Usuba or a Yanagiba. Therefore, the Kiritsuke is reserved for veteran chefs in Japanese restaurants and thus has something of a status symbol.
Recently, there has been a trend for custom knifemakers (no doubt based on increased demand) to combine the reverse tanto tip with other knife designs, knives such as Kiritsuke Gyuto (Wa-Kiritsuke) or Kiritsuke Yanagiba, Bunka, etc.
The truncated tip not only has striking aesthetics but drops the point, making it easy to perform detailed/fine cuts with the tip, the flatter profile lends itself well to chopping and push cuts.
So there you have it. K-tip knives have a history all their own and in recent times, experiencing a re-evolution to suit western aesthetics. It is essentially a chef’s knife with a twist. It serves the same function as an all-purpose knife and mostly offers an aesthetic power boost or cool-factor.