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Santoku knives: a brief history and how to find the best knife for you

Ideas For Home
Dec 21
3 mins

At some point along your culinary journey, you’ll face an inevitable question: should I buy a Japanese knife? 

Even more specifically you might ask - should I buy a Santoku or Nakiri?

The answer to that depends on what you’re cooking with in the kitchen. If you find yourself cooking with vegetables more often than meat - then a Nakiri might be for you. But if you’re looking for a more general purpose knife - the Santoku will take some beating.

The focus for this piece is on the Santoku - if you want to know more about the Nakiri - keep an eye out for our article on the best Nakiri knives according to our chefs.

The name Santoku, actually comes from Santoku bocho, translating literally to ‘three uses’, with mincing, dicing and slicing their main purpose due to the straight edge and narrow ‘sheep’s foot’ blade. 

Before we go any further we must take a look at why these knives came about.

Japanese cooking required a variety of knives - from the Nakiri for vegetable chopping (upon which the Santoku is based), and the Gyuto for meats. 

In fact, it’s for that exact reason that the Santoku knife was created - in the hopes that an all-purpose knife suiting the needs of all Japanese cuisine could be introduced. As a result, the story of the Santoku is a fairly young one, originating in WWII-era Japan.

The story of Japanese knives runs much deeper though - and comes from the same lineage as Japanese swords, which used techniques that were brought over to Japan from the Chinese mainland and Korean Peninsula. In fact, one of the oldest knifemakers, Aritsugu, was founded by Fujiwara Aritsugu in 1560. 

But this is far from the oldest Japanese knife known to exist today. For this title, we must go further back in time to the Nara period (710-794) and the knife in question has a shape more similar to a Japanese sword. 

So what makes Japanese knives so special today?

Well, one of the biggest reasons comes down to the fact that Japanese artisans have been perfecting these blades for hundreds of years and - as mentioned - these knives began their journey as swords wielded by the legendary samurai.

But with all that said, we can still hear you saying - which santoku knife should I buy?

1. Miyabi 6000 MCT 18CM Santoku

Best for: a comfortable chop, Price: £239

Used by our very own chef Daniel Hannigan of the Rassa course of Irish cookery, this functional Santoku knife has a dimpled blade which allows for food to slip off the face ready for the next slice. It offers an incredible level of sharpness, and still has a thick enough blade to give it a good level of durability over time.

2. Mcusta Zanmai Revolution 18cm Santoku

Best for: the professional chef , Price: £214

Used by chef Eyal Jagermann on the Rassa Israeli course, this knife originates from Seki, a city steeped in knife and sword making history. The bent style of the blade gives it a slightly more Westernised feel, but their SG2 steel quickly reminds you of the quality of the Japanese Santoku knife, and it’s ability to slice through fish with ease.

3. Miyabi 4000 FC 18cm Santoku

Best for: quality without the price tag, Price: £164

This Miyabi knife comes in slightly cheaper than the others on our list, but is a serviceable Santoku for those on a budget. With a more ‘traditional’ handle, and slightly flatter blade. It’s also the knife of choice around the office at Rassa HQ (but don’t let us sway your decisions!)

4. Global 18cm Santoku

Best for: the new career chef, Price: £170

This all-stainless Santoku knife has a sleek and clean design - and is made with a single piece of high-carbon steel for maximum durability making it perfect for a young chef spending a good amount of time in the kitchen. It’s easy to clean, and is also used by the likes of master chocolatier, Paul A. Young.

5. Victoriknox 17cm Santoku

Best for: those on a budget, Price: £47

Another knife perfect for the everyday life of the professional kitchen, this no-fuss general-purpose Santoku knife is light, easy to use and is regularly used in the commercial environment for it’s low price and accessibility.

6. Misono Handmade Santoku

Best for: the traditionalist, Price: £129

A knife that you’ll see featured in our Israeli course thanks to chef Tomer Hauptman, Misono are the oldest Westernised Japanese knife brand - and like most knives in this list, produce their knives in Seki. If you’re looking for a knife that looks and feels like ones that you’ve used already, this is the perfect Santoku for you.

7. Blenheim Forge 18cm Santoku

Best for: “the cool kids”, Price: £275

Knives recommended by Elizabeth Haigh of Mei Mei, Blenheim Forge knives are produced by hand in Peckham, London. These unbelievably stylish knives are created by James and Jon, after their knife-making hobby took off. If you’re looking for a unique Santoku knife created by a local artisan, look no further.

8. Clement Knives 18cm K-Tip Chef's Knife

Best for: the conscious cook, Price: £244

No list would be complete without mentioning Clement Knives. Although not technically a Santoku knife, these knives are well recommended by James Cochran of 12:51, and are created by Tim, a bladesmith and recycler who transforms metal and plastic waste into knives. Perfect if you’re trying to reduce your carbon footprint but want a sleek, high quality knife.

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