The Complete Guide to What Kind of Wood is Food Safe - thumbnail

The Complete Guide to What Kind of Wood is Food Safe


Wood has been used to make cookware and kitchen tools for centuries.
Chefs, for example, prefer to use wooden cutting boards because they last longer, are easier to clean, and do not dull knives in the same way that plastic or glass cutting boards do.

However, not any wood should come into contact with food. Some woods, however, can be toxic, so it is essential to know what kind of wood is food safe.

Many people still prefer to use wood for its appearance rather than functional properties. The widespread use of walnut, despite its toxicity, is a prime example.

Maple, linden, birch, and beech are all food safe woods. They’re ideal cutting board material, or to make wooden spoons, and other food-contact items. Because they inhibit bacterial growth, maple trees are the best choice. Avoid open-structured wood and wood that emits toxic chemicals.

This post will answer some of the most frequently asked questions about food safe woods and provide some ideas for using wood for your next cutting board or other food-contact object.

You will understand what wood is safe for food use and which woods you can and cannot use to make items that come into contact with wood after carefully reading this article.

What to watch out for in wood that comes into contact with food

If you want to know what kind of wood is food safe so it can comes into contact with food, such as a cutting board, there are a few important features to keep in mind.

Make sure you can find all of these features in the piece of wood you will be using in your project, and you can be pretty sure that it is food safe wood.

Toxicity

Stick to woods that produce edible fruit, nuts, leaves, or sap. Except for walnut, which produces the poisonous juglone, these are considered food safe woods.

Exotic woods may be attractive, but should be avoided. These woods often contain toxins that can leach out of the wood and get into food placed on the cutting surface.

The hardness classification

The higher the hardness classification (janka rating) of wood, the harder it is and more resistant to scratches caused by tools such as knives. Rather, choose hardwoods like maple over softwoods like pine.

Wood with a higher hardness is less prone to damage, resulting in fewer openings for bacteria and fungi to nest.

Porosity

Select closed-grain wood to avoid liquid or bacteria entering the cut surface and causing mold growth, warping, or staining. The fewer pores there are, the better.

Open-grain woods, such as oak and ash, absorb moisture like a sponge and quickly become a breeding ground for bacteria. If you do want to use these types of wood, you can use it to make an end grain cutting board.

Cost

When making items that come into contact with food, like the cutting board I made in this article and video, use high-quality wood that is food safe. The disadvantage is that high-quality wood is also more expensive.

Avoid low-quality wood, which can warp, crack, and become unusable over time. Later in this article, you will discover why this is so important.

Nourish the Wood

Apply food-grade mineral oil to wood cutting boards and butcher’s blocks to suppress wood’s natural tendency to shrink, warp, or split as humidity levels fall.

Normally, you should condition it after cleaning wooden cutting boards every three months, but some woods shrink more than others, so you should oil these woods more frequently.

What kind of wood is food safe

If you consider the above criteria when deciding which type of wood to use for your project, you can be confident that it is food safe wood.

I’ve compiled a list of the best wood for cutting boards or other items that come into contact with food to assist you in determining what type of wood is food safe. Next to these types of wood, Alder and cherry are also great wood types who are food safe.

Discover which wood is food safe and inspire yourself below. Also, continue reading to learn which types of wood you should not use.

Maple

The Complete Guide to What Kind of Wood is Food Safe - Maple
The Complete Guide to What Kind of Wood is Food SafeMaple

Common Name(s): Hard maple, sugar maple, rock maple
Scientific Name: Acer saccharum
Distribution: Northeastern North America
Tree Size: 80-115 ft (25-35 m) tall,
2-3 ft (.6-1.0 m) trunk diameter
Average Dried Weight: 44.0 lbs/ft3 (705 kg/m3)
Specific Gravity (Basic, 12% MC): .56, .71
Janka Hardness: 1,450 lbf (6,450 N)
Modulus of Rupture: 15,800 lbf/in2(109.0 MPa)
Elastic Modulus: 1,830,000 lbf/in2(12.62 GPa)
Crushing Strength: 7,830 lbf/in2 (54.0 MPa)
Shrinkage: Radial: 4.8%, Tangential: 9.9%,
Volumetric: 14.7%, T/R Ratio: 1.9

Source picture + identification: The wood database

Although both soft and hard maple make excellent cutting surfaces, cutting board makers prefer hard maple.
The reason why hard maple is the best wood for cutting boards is simple: it is more scratch and impact resistant than beech or any other wood, while not being so hard that it dulls your knives.

The pores in this food-safe closed-grain hardwood are smaller than those in the alternatives listed below.

Because of its small pores, this wood is resistant to bacteria, moisture, and stains.

The drawback of this type of wood is that it is amber in color, which makes any stains visible.

Another drawback to Maple cutting boards and butcher’s blocks is that they also cost more than beech and shrink more easily than the other alternatives below as the humidity decreases.

To avoid this, you will have to spend more time feeding the wood. It is recommended to feed maple wood monthly to bimonthly with a natural oil.

Beech

The Complete Guide to What Kind of Wood is Food Safe - Beech
The Complete Guide to What Kind of Wood is Food SafeBeech

Common Name(s): European Beech
Scientific Name: Fagus sylvatica
Distribution: Europe
Tree Size: 100-130 ft (30-40 m) tall, 3-5 ft (1-1.5 m) trunk diameter
Average Dried Weight: 44 lbs/ft3 (710 kg/m3)
Specific Gravity (Basic, 12% MC): .53, .71
Janka Hardness: 1,450 lbf (6,460 N)
Modulus of Rupture: 15,970 lbf/in2 (110.1 MPa)
Elastic Modulus: 2,075,000 lbf/in2 (14.31 GPa)
Crushing Strength: 8,270 lbf/in2 (57.0 MPa)
Shrinkage: Radial: 5.7%, Tangential: 11.6%, Volumetric: 17.3%, T/R Ratio: 2.0

Source picture + identification: The wood database

Beech is the second food-safe closed-grain hardwood, which is slightly softer than maple in terms of hardness. Beech does not damage the blades and offers great scratch and impact resistance.

Like maple, beech has small pores, making it almost as effective as maple at repelling bacteria, moisture and stains. The advantage that beech has over maple is that the cream to pink or brown color can camouflage stains a little better.

Beech is generally a fairly cheap type of wood, but keep in mind that beech can shrink easily. So you will have to feed the wood even more often than with maple. It is recommended that a beech cutting board be serviced monthly with a natural oil.

Linden, basswood

The Complete Guide to What Kind of Wood is Food Safe - Linden
The Complete Guide to What Kind of Wood is Food SafeLinden

Common Name(s): Basswood, lime, linden, American basswood
Scientific Name: Tilia americana
Distribution: Eastern North America
Tree Size: 65-120 ft (20-37 m) tall,
3-4 ft (1-1.2 m) trunk diameter
Average Dried Weight: 26 lbs/ft3 (415 kg/m3)
Specific Gravity (Basic, 12% MC): 0.32, 0.42
Janka Hardness: 410 lbf (1,820 N)
Modulus of Rupture: 8,700 lbf/in2 (60 MPa)
Elastic Modulus: 1,460,000 lbf/in2 (10.07 GPa)
Crushing Strength: 4,730 lbf/in2 (32.6 MPa)
Shrinkage: Radial: 6.6%, Tangential: 9.3%,
Volumetric: 15.8%, T/R Ratio: 1.4

Source picture + identification: The wood database

You can be sure of linden that it is food safe, even better, flowers, leaves, and wood are used as natural medicines for colds and headaches.

Linden is a light and soft type of wood, which is less suitable for cutting boards but perfect for carvings such as wooden spoons.

Linden has a pale white to light brown color, which makes it more sensitive to stains on the wood in addition to its larger pores. Regular maintenance is also recommended here. It is best to do a monthly treatment with natural oil.

birch

The Complete Guide to What Kind of Wood is Food Safe - Birch
The Complete Guide to What Kind of Wood is Food SafeBirch

Common Name(s): Paper Birch
Scientific Name: Betula papyrifera
Distribution: Northern and central North America
Tree Size: 65-100 ft (20-30 m) tall, 2-3 ft (.6-1.0 m) trunk diameter
Average Dried Weight: 38 lbs/ft3 (610 kg/m3)
Specific Gravity (Basic, 12% MC): .48, .61
Janka Hardness: 910 lbf (4,050 N)
Modulus of Rupture: 12,300 lbf/in2 (84.8 MPa)
Elastic Modulus: 1,590,000 lbf/in2 (10.97 GPa)
Crushing Strength: 5,690 lbf/in2 (39.2 MPa)
Shrinkage: Radial: 6.3%, Tangential: 8.6%, Volumetric: 16.2%, T/R Ratio: 1.4

Source picture + identification: The wood database

Please note, the birch wood I am referring to here is solid birch wood, NOT birch plywood. Avoid using plywood when it will come into contact with food, more about this later in this blog.

Birch, like linden, is a softer type of wood, which is therefore not so suitable for making cutting boards, but a good type of wood for carving.

The heartwood of birch tends to be a light reddish brown, while the sapwood is rather white. Because there is virtually no color difference between annual rings, birch has a somewhat dull, uniform appearance.

What wood is not food safe?

Before looking further into what wood is not food safe, it is important to consider the fact that any type of wood can trigger an allergic reaction. This depends from person to person.

Now to answer the question, what wood is not food safe, it is recommended to stay away from tropical woods or brightly colored woods. These are the types of wood that are highly resistant to insects and rot. This indicates that this type of wood naturally protects itself against this by developing toxins.
These toxins can also cause adverse effects on humans.

So do not use Teak, Purple Heart, and other tropical hardwoods, these are not food safe woods. They may look good, and add a nice pop of color to your projects, but they’re unhealthy.

Many people does not realize it, but another type of wood which is better to stay away from it, is walnut. Unfortunately, there are still many people who think that walnut is food safe wood, and you see a lot of people making cutting boards in walnut, yes even professionals!

Also, next to being toxic, walnut is quite expensive, you can see why in my article, why is walnut wood so expensive.

Walnut contains juglone, which can provoke chronic poisoning. Earlier I wrote a full article about this and I strongly recommend that you read “is walnut wood toxic”.

Is unfinished wood Food Safe

You have read that maple, beech, linden, and birch are food safe woods that can be used to make long-lasting and attractive cutting boards, bowls, and other food-serving or preparation items.

After you finish your project, you can decide whether or not to finish the wood. There are numerous finishing agents available, but are they really necessary?

After all, you’ve gone to great lengths to find food safe woods, and you don’t want to ruin it by applying a non-food-safe finish. You now may ask yourself, Is it a good idea to leave the wood unfinished?

In short, Unfinished wood is not food safe.
When you leave the wood unfinished, the pores are penetrable and the wood can split or crack. This allows moisture, mold, and bacteria to penetrate and contaminate the food that comes into contact with the wood.

Applying a finish to the wood helps to saturate the wood, keeping it dry and preventing the wood from shrinking. As a result, the wood is less susceptible to cracks or splits, and the pores are not permeable to fungi and bacteria.

Furthermore, finished wood is less difficult to clean than untreated wood. If you want to know which wood finishes are food safe, pleas read my article, What is the best food safe wood finish (all in one guide).


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Woodworking | DIY | Home decoration

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