If you’ve been looking for the perfect veggie knife and have been trying to decide between the two blades then this guide, 'Usuba vs Nakiri: What Are the Differences', is for you.
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The Usuba and the Nakiri - Where Westerners Get ConfusedAs a westerner myself, it took some time to really figure out the subtle differences between various types of Japanese knives. When you look at some Japanese kitchen knives, you could be forgiven for thinking that they’re all pretty much the same. This is especially true when we’re looking at usuba and nakiri knives.
Not only are they designed to work with the same foods but many of the traits aren’t immediately different to the untrained eye. This can leave western consumers scratching their heads in confusion.
What people really want to know is when is the best time to use a nakiri or usuba knife and are the differences really that important to the preparation of your food. Well, both of these are specialist types of Japanese vegetable knives and they both have rectangular blades. What’s more, the usuba and the nakiri are often very similar in terms of size and both feature a straight-edged, thin blade.
Still confused? Don’t worry, we’re going to delve into the differences in this guide so you can get a clearer picture of what to expect from each knife. And while there are many similarities, it’s those often overlooked differences that set the knives apart from one another and make them suitable for different functions. That said, there are some situations whereby the nakiri and the usuba would be fine to use in any case.
When thinking about these two types of knives, we’d advise you to keep in mind that, in Japan, where they hail from, food is mostly eaten using chopsticks. Owing to their very function, it’s a lot easier to pick up thinly sliced food. That’s why Japanese knives, including the usuba and nakiri are designed the way they are; a vegetable knife to thinly slice and dice.
TLDR: The Main Differences Summarised
● The nakiri is a double-bevel knife, whereas the usuba knife is always single-bevel.
● Owing to the single bevel design of the usuba knife, it can be much more challenging to sharpen and will require a degree of practice to get right.
● If you’re looking for a knife that’s good for cutting high volumes of fruit and veggies then the nakiri is the way forward and is designed for this purpose. On the other hand, usuba knives are better for decorative work, precision cutting, or very fine and delicate slices. For this reason, you’ll often see sushi chefs using them.
● Usuba knives feel heavier in the hand than nakiri knives.
● Nakiri knives, owing to their double bevel blade, can be used by either right- or left-handed cooks. However, a single bevel edge, like the usuba, must be purchased for either a right-handed or left-handed user. Left-handed usubas are not as common and therefore tend to come with a higher price tag.
● Nakiri knives are ideal for slicing vegetables with thicker skin such as squash. However, the usuba is not as adept at working with these types of foods.
● Usuba knives usually have a much sharper blade.
● A lot of nakiri knives are sometimes fitted with western handles, whereas you’ll only ever find traditional Japanese with handles on an usuba knife.
Getting to Know the Usuba Knife
The word usuba means thin slice in Japanese and that tells you a lot about the function of this particular blade. These knives are typically a lot thinner than their nakiri cousins and have a single bevel which means they’re often significantly sharper.
This design means that the usuba knife is perfect for cutting very fine slices of your favourite fruits and vegetables. Traditional Japanese sushi is often made using very thin veggie slices which is why Japanese sushi chefs could never live without their usuba knives.
If you are planning to prepare vegetables that will be served raw then an usuba knife is always going to be the better option. The reason for this is that the single bevel blade offers a cut that does as little damage to the ingredient as possible. Why is this important? Well, when food is cut cleanly and smoothly, this preserves the flavour and keeps it fresher for longer.
On top of this, that nice clean cut will stop the vegetable from discolouring which would ruin the presentation of your meal.
Many chefs also swear by their usuba knives because of how versatile they are. The flat blade is ideal for cutting thin slices but the midsection of the blade is often used for peeling so you eliminate the need to also have a petty knife. They’re particularly well-loved for their usefulness in the katsuramuki peeling technique.
If you are working with slightly larger vegetables then the usuba is a good choice as the blade can be ever so slightly longer than that of a nakiri. But we should warn you to proceed with caution. While bigger veggies like cabbage are fine for cutting with an usuba, if you try to cut something with a tough skin like pumpkin, this is going to damage your blade.
We often recommend the usuba to people who want a very safe Japanese kitchen knife. One of the biggest benefits is that these knives offer brilliant clearance for your knuckles so the chance of accidentally cutting yourself is vastly reduced. That said, because the usuba is a single-bevel knife, there is something of a learning curve involved in using it.
Many people find them a little trickier to use from the off and it can take some time which is one of the reasons that they’re less common in domestic kitchens and more common in a professional setting. On top of this, these knives also require some practice when sharpening. But we’d definitely urge you to take the plunge if you feel as though this would be a knife that would benefit you.
Getting to Know the Nakiri Knife
Just like the usuba, the nakiri has a rectangular-shaped blade that is quite long and thin. Even in Japan, nakiri knives are more often seen in the domestic kitchen as opposed to restaurants, hotels and other professional settings. They’re not only easy to use but get things done quickly and are brilliant for cutting larger amounts of fruits and vegetables.
While some nakiri knives have a flat tip, others don’t have a tip at all. When chopping vegetables, you need to use a vertical cutting motion based on this design. This again makes it easier to use since there’s no need to learn any special back-and-forth cutting techniques just go in and CHOP!
Even though the nakiri knife is better suited to things like cutting hard-skinned veggies, that doesn’t mean it isn’t a sharp and delicate blade. Like all Japanese kitchen knives, the nakiri is made from hard, thin carbon steel which is super sharp and effective at what it does. However, the blade can be slightly heavier which makes it perfect for chopping those vegetables without you having to put in a great amount of effort.
What’s more, you’ll find that, since a nakiri knife is more balanced towards the tip, you get much greater precision.
One of the things that we do have to advise, however, is that just because a nakiri knife can be used for chopping tougher veggies, that doesn’t make it a multipurpose kitchen knife. You should not use these knives for very demanding tasks like cutting bones.
So, Which Should You Buy?It’s clear to see from the above descriptions that usuba and nakiri knives are used for different reasons and this can help you to make a decision. But let’s dive a little deeper and look at which might be the best option for you.
Usuba knives are truly what Japanese kitchen knives are all about. They’re stunning pieces of art and many people want to get their hands on one purely for this reason. However, just because these knives look the part, that doesn’t mean that they’re necessarily the best decision.
For starters, you have to consider the fact that the usuba knife is tricky to sharpen. We're not saying that it’ll be impossible because, with a bit of practice, you will be able to hone your skills. However, we're not sure that I’d want to go to town with a whetstone on an usuba that we’d just paid a significant sum of money for.
The Japanese take learning to become a chef very seriously. One of the things that trainees are expected to learn is how to master each type of knife and the usuba is usually pretty high up on that list. If you’ve seen a pro chef using one of these knives, it can look as though they’re working at lightning speed. Yes, this is fine if you’ve had years of practice but for a beginner, going in all guns blazing will probably result in an injury. If you haven’t got the time or patience to learn how to properly use one of these knives then it’s safe to say that a nakiri might be better for you.
So, the question remains; should you buy an usuba over a nakiri? Well, if you’re in the market for a knife that’s hefty, sharp and has a long blade that will enable you to master the art of Japanese food preparation then yes, you should buy an usuba. Of course, as we’ve mentioned, you will need to be willing to get used to a new way of cutting and even adapt to the feel of a Japanese handle.
Now, if you think that buying an usuba will be too much work then you’re probably leaning towards the nakiri. Let us tell you that you should only buy one of these knives if you’re going to exclusively use it for vegetables and fruits. If you need something more versatile then we’d suggest a santoku or gyuto knife and we have guides on those that can help you make the right decision.
The nakiri is, for the beginner veggie chef, the best knife to start with. Not only are they easy to use but they’re also easy to sharpen and pretty versatile where fruit and vegetables are concerned. Plus, they’re not as delicate as the usuba even though the usuba tends to be heavier. Nakiri knives are suited to chefs that want something lightweight without losing any of the lengths. This is due to how thin the blade is and, in many cases, comparatively sized usubas can weigh up to 40% more than a nakiri.
The nakiri knife would be the go to choice for anyone wanting to cut large volumes of ingredients. Furthermore, if you eat mainly vegetables then owning one of these knives would be a dream since it’ll quickly become your go to. But since your nakiri knife will do a lot of heavy chopping, you’re also going to need to be prepared to sharpen it more often.
Finally, you’ll need to think about the cost. Generally speaking, nakiri knives are less expensive than an usuba. That’s mainly because the usuba is largely seen as a more professional tool. But that doesn’t mean that a nakiri knife will be poor quality or won’t cut as well. Yes, there are a lot of cheap knock offs out there but if you follow my many buying guides, you’ll be able to find an affordable nakiri that blows your western knives out of the water in terms of performance.
Q: What is the main difference between a usuba and nakiri knife?
A: The main difference between the two knives is that the usuba is a single-bevel knife, while the nakiri is a double-bevel knife. This means that the usuba can be more challenging to sharpen and is better suited for precision cutting or delicate slices, while the nakiri is better for chopping high volumes of fruits and vegetables.
Q: Are usuba knives more versatile than nakiri knives?
A: Usuba knives are often praised for their versatility, as they can be used for cutting thin slices and for peeling. However, they are less adept at working with thicker-skinned vegetables like squash. Nakiri knives, on the other hand, are specifically designed for chopping large volumes of fruits and vegetables, making them a great choice for those who primarily work with these ingredients.
Q: Are nakiri knives easier to use than usuba knives?
A: Generally speaking, nakiri knives are easier to use than usuba knives, as they have a double-bevel blade design that is similar to many Western-style knives. This makes them a great choice for beginners or those who want a vegetable knife that is easy to use and sharpen.
Q: Which knife should I choose if I'm on a budget?
A: Nakiri knives are generally less expensive than usuba knives, making them a great choice for those on a budget. While there are many cheap knockoffs on the market, following a reputable buying guide can help you find an affordable nakiri knife that performs well and is a great value for the price.
Q: Should I buy an usuba or a nakiri if I'm a professional chef?
A: This ultimately depends on your personal preferences and the types of ingredients you work with most often. Usuba knives are often seen as a more professional tool, as they require more skill to use and are better suited for precision cutting. However, if you primarily work with large volumes of fruits and vegetables, a nakiri knife may be a better choice for you.
Final ThoughtsWhen choosing between Japanese kitchen knives, nakiri vs usuba, you’ll often find that there is more than one knife that appears to be suited to the job. However, upon closer inspection, you’ll see that there are differences between knives that lend them to different functions.
This is especially true of both the nakiri and usuba knives which are both designed for working with fruits and vegetables. However, one is designed for chopping while the other one excels at intricate work. There’s a learning curve with one whereas the other is pretty easy to use, even for a beginner.