Everyone needs to eat their veggies: they help you grow up big and strong! They contain vitamins, nutrients, and all the basic building blocks your body needs to continue not being dead. I don’t know about you, but I hate being dead. It’s literally the worst. Every meal you prepare for yourself (or have someone else prepare for you) should have plenty of delicious vegetables in the mix. Prepping veggies without the right tool, however, can be a real chore. If your kitchen is full of dull knives, you’re going to end up smashing and squishing all your precious life-sustaining fuel into a pile of mulch. If you need to reach for your serrated knife every time you need to slice tomatoes, they’re going to get torn up and brutalized with each jagged stroke. Oh, the humanity!
If only there were a perfect knife for chopping vegetables. That would really be something! Just imagine - a knife specifically designed for chopping, slicing, peeling, and generally asserting dominance over the most commonly used ingredients in the kitchen. Well, as luck would have it, there are actually TWO different Japanese kitchen knife shapes for just that. Neato!
Nakiri v.s. Usuba, which one's right for you?
The Nakiri, the Ultimate Japanese Vegetable Knife
The nakiriis a very simple and effective tool. It’s highly versatile and easy to use. The word“Nakiri”roughly translates into“Leaf Cutter”, which gives you a pretty solid clue as to what they’re designed for. The blade is quite tall (from edge to spine), and the edge is very flat. This means that the whole blade makes contact against the cutting board without the need for follow-through, and you’re not whacking your knuckles against the cutting board with each chop. With only a few minutes of practice, anyone can become a pro with this knife. Learn more about using a nakiri here.
A nakiri is a double-bevelled knife - that means it’s ground and sharpened symmetrically, like most knives in North American or European kitchens. This makes them both easier to use and easier to sharpen than their single beveled counterpart…
Usubas excel at fine vegetable work, perfect for knife nerds!
Usuba, the Master of Fine Vegetable Garnish
Usuba knives are fantastic! The word “usuba” translates into “thin blade”, and that thin edge is what makes them so great. These guys are only ground and sharpened on one side - we call that a “single bevel” knife. This means half the angle at the edge leading to a sharper knife, but because of this unusual grind, you may notice that the knife wants to pull a bit to the left while cutting straight down (on a single-bevel knife made for right-handers. Left-handed single bevels would pull to the right). It takes a little bit of practice to learn to control it.
Professional Japanese chefs often favour this shape due to its extraordinary performance. The edge on this guy is insanely sharp, making it the tool of choice for slicing veggies very thinly and with great precision. That said, you’ll want to keep this fine blade away from very hard veggies like Kabocha squash; hard, thin steel can be dulled or even chipped more easily by hard foods. They’re also favoured by some Japanese chefs for “rotary peeling”, which you can see in this awesome video:
So what does all this mean to you? The nakiri is very easy to use and get the most out of. If you’re a relatively casual cook who wants a thoughtfully designed yet simple tool for blasting through onions, parsley, and other everyday veggies, this is the knife for you! On the other hand, if you’re looking for a more refined edge for paper thin slices, decorative vegetable carving, or if you’re just a huge knife nerd, the usuba is king. At home, I like to hop between the two. If I want to mince up a big mountain of garlic and cilantro for my salsa verde, I’ll grab a nakiri. When it comes time to shave my delicate little radishes to garnish my tacos, the Usuba is the best tool for the job.