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What is a Nakiri Knife?


The Nakiri knife is a Western-style Japanese vegetable knife with a thin and broad rectangular blade, a straight cutting edge, and a flat, blunt tip. It is specifically designed to excel at quickly and efficiently chopping, slicing, dicing and mincing vegetables and fruits, and is popular throughout Japan as a staple for home cooks and vegetarians.

The Nakiri knife is often referred to as the double bevel version of the Usuba, which is a specialized single bevel Japanese vegetable knife that is recommended for culinary professionals. The Nakiri is very similar in profile with its straight edge, and works best when using an up and down chopping motion as the whole blade can come into full contact with the board to ensure clean slices of vegetables each time. Compared to the Usuba, the Nakiri’s double bevel edge provides balance to the cutting motion and makes it easier to achieve clean straight slices.

What does Nakiri mean?


Literally translated, ‘Nakiri bōchō’ in Japanese means ‘knife for cutting greens’ or ‘leaf-cutter’, which highlights the Nakiri’s designed purpose: to excel at quickly and efficiently chopping vegetables.

The Nakiri is commonly found in Japanese households and is a staple favorite of vegetarian cooks. Its long, flat edge allows you to cleanly cut broad vegetables in one downward motion all the way to the chopping board, while its thin blade ensures that the skin of the vegetable remains intact, producing fresher cuts of vegetables with crisp edges.

What is a Nakiri knife best for?

The Nakiri knife is best for chopping, slicing, dicing, and mincing vegetables and fruits quickly and efficiently. The Nakiri’s broad rectangular blade with its straight, flat edge works best when using an up and down chopping motion as the whole blade can cut all the way to the cutting board, ensuring clean slices of vegetables each time rather than an ‘accordion’ of half-connected slices.

The significant height of the blade from the spine to the edge gives plenty of knuckle clearance, and the Nakiri may also be turned upside down to use the spine of the blade to scrape ingredients across the chopping board without damaging the blade.

The Nakiri has no trouble chopping even harder root vegetables, as the long and tall blade allows you to swiftly cut down on the vegetable, producing a clean chop. It is also excellent at shredding cabbages or other large leafy greens. The flat edge is also suitable for easily performing the rotary peeling technique, known as katsuramuki in Japanese cuisine.

Nakiri knife characteristics

Size

The Nakiri knife has a long, thin, and rectangular-shaped blade with a straight edge, and is available in various sizes between 120mm to 240mm. The most popular size choices are 165mm and 180mm.

The typically tall blade of the Nakiri provides comfortable knuckle clearance. It is also worth noting that the Nakiri’s tall, flat rectangular blade shape gives it a unique advantage, as the length of the blade will remain the same even after repeated sharpening. For other Japanese knives such as the Santoku or the Gyuto, their curved blade edges will become shorter over time as the blade is sharpened.

Shape

The Nakiri knife has a thin and tall rectangular blade, a straight cutting edge, and a flat, blunt tip.

The straight blade edge is suitable for cutting all the way down to the cutting board without the need for a rocking motion nor a pull or push-cut, as there is no ‘belly’ on a Nakiri blade. Rather, the straight edge works best when used in a vertical up and down motion.

The long and tall blade allows you to swiftly glide through the vegetable in a single downward stroke, producing a clean chop on even harder vegetables such as root vegetables or thick squashes. The thinness of the blade also ensures that delicate vegetables can be cleanly cut without ripping the skin, and helps to achieve crisp edges on each slice.

Although the Nakiri’s shape often leads it to be mistaken for a small Chukabocho (Chinese cleaver), it should be warned that the Nakiri is too thin and lightweight for heavier work and should avoid cutting bones or very hard materials, like frozen food.

Edge

The blade of the Nakiri is double bevel, meaning that the blade is ground on both sides of the blade to achieve a balanced and acute cut.

This also means that the Nakiri can be used by both right-handed and left-handed users, unlike a single bevel knife which would require a separate knife for left-handed cooks, often at a higher premium cost.

Handle

Nakiri knife handles can be categorized into two categories: the traditional Japanese ‘wa-handle’, or a Western-style handle. Most Naikiri knives feature a wooden wa-handle.

The most common wa-handle shapes are the D-shape, oval, or octagonal. While some prefer the ergonomic grip of a D-shaped or octagonal handle, the choice of the handle comes down to personal preference.

How are Nakiri knives made?

Nakiri knives first emerged in Japan around the beginning of the Edo period in the 17th century, when the Japanese government began to allow foreign goods and culture into the country. With new goods and influences arriving to Japan, traditional blacksmiths saw a chance to improve upon the existing version of the vegetable knife to make it sharper, thinner and better quality - and thus the Nakiri knife was born. Even over 400 years ago, the Nakiri - along with the Deba for meat and fish - was commonly found in Japanese homes for the preparation of vegetables, and this tradition continues today thanks to the Nakiri’s excellence at efficiently cutting vegetables.

Today, traditional blacksmiths in Japan still forge Nakiri knives manually by hand, although many Japanese and Western knife manufacturers now offer their own version of the Nakiri knife as well. The most famous cities in Japan for their knives include Sakai (in Osaka), Seki (in Gifu), and Echizen (in Fukui).

To understand how exactly these impressive Nakiri knives are made and to decode the common phrases that are found in knife descriptions, it’s best to look at traditional Japanese knife forging methods and the materials used.

There are two basic categories of Japanese knives - honyaki and kasumi - which are defined by the materials and methods used in their forging.

honyaki (“true-forged”) knives are manually forged by hand following traditional Japanese blacksmithing techniques, and are created entirely out of one single material: high-carbon steel (hagane). The hagane is generally a type of White Steel (Shirogami) or Blue Steel (Aogami), and this style of knife blade is also called a mono steel blade.

The method of creating a honyaki knife is similar to how Katanas (Japanese traditional swords) were made in the past. Forging a Nakiri knife is a lengthy and difficult manual process that begins with a single high-carbon steel blank, and involves multiple rounds of heat treatment, steel hammering, kilning, polishing and sharpening, all done manually by the hands of skilled Japanese blacksmiths.

Because honyaki knives are forged from high-carbon steel, its blade is extremely hard and can be sharpened to incredibly thin and sharp edges that will remain sharp for a long time. However, they are challenging to resharpen and prone to chipping, cracking, or breaking if used improperly. Due to the small-scale production and the highly-skilled artisan nature of the blacksmiths, honyaki knives are more expensive, and recommended for experienced and professional chefs who can maintain them.

On the other hand, kasumi (“mist”) knives are made by joining together a piece of soft iron (jigane) with a piece of high-carbon steel (hagane) to create a laminated blade. After forging, hammering and shaping, the carbon steel (hagane) forms the core and the cutting edge, while the soft iron (jigane) clads the body and spine of the blade. The hazy appearance of the soft iron in contrast with the glossy carbon steel gives kasumi its signature ‘mist’ appearance, as referenced by its name. Thanks to the added soft iron, kasumi blades have reduced brittleness overall, and are cheaper and easier to sharpen than honyaki knives.

In relation to kasumi knives, Hon Kasumi or Hongasumi knives are also commonly found, and refers to a higher grade of kasumi knives. Although Hongasumi knives are made in the same way as kasumi knives, they are often made from higher quality materials and involve extra attention and steps in its forging, tempering, polishing and finishing processes.

For more information on how Japanese knives are made and the types of steels used, check out our blog on how Japanese knives are made. (link coming soon)

What are common variants of Nakiri knives?

The Nakiri is often referred to as the double bevel variation of another type of traditional Japanese vegetable knife, the Usuba.

The Usuba is the single bevel alternative to the Nakiri, and features a similar profile as it was similarly developed for cutting vegetables. The Usuba has a thicker and heavier blade than the Nakiri, and is mostly used in a professional setting by sushi chefs and the alike.

Here you can read more about the Usuba.

What are popular Nakiri knife brands?

Nakiri knives can trace their lineage all the way back to the 17th century, however nowadays Nakiri knives are made by a variety of Japanese and Western manufacturers, including:

  • Yoshihiro
  • Tojiro
  • Wusthof
  • Gesshin Uraku
  • Mercer Culinary
  • Shun
  • Masamoto
  • Global
  • Kai
  • Mac
  • Sakai Takiyuki

How to choose a Nakiri knife

If you’re in the market for a Nakiri knife, it can seem difficult to figure out which particular Nakiri knife will be perfect for you, especially if you haven’t had the chance to try out a few models in person to get a feel for what size and weight of the Nakiri feels the most balanced and stable in your hand.

You can see our best recommendations here, but here are some factors to first consider that will help you to choose your Nakiri knife:

  • Types of steel
  • Handle styles
  • Ideal size
  • Your budget

Which steel should I choose for my Nakiri knife?

Generally speaking, you have a choice between carbon steel and stainless steel when buying a Nakiri knife. The type of steel you choose will determine the knife’s edge retention, how easy it is to sharpen, level of resistance to corrosion and rusting, and its overall durability. You can first evaluate which of these factors is the most important to you, and narrow it down from there.

Carbon-steel blades are easier to sharpen and maintain their sharp edges for longer, but require more maintenance as it is prone to rust and corrosion. Over time, a dark patina will form on a carbon-steel knife. Popular high-carbon steel options include White Steel (Shirogami) and Blue Steel (Aogami).

stainless steel blades are generally less expensive, tougher, less likely to chip and more corrosion-resistant, however are harder to sharpen and tend to dull quicker. Popular stainless steel options include VG-10, SG-2, AUS-10, Gingami #3 and Swedish stainless steel.

What is the best handle for a Nakiri knife?

The handle of your Nakiri knife will determine how balanced the knife feels in your hand and how comfortable it feels to use.

Consider your usual grip on a knife. If you mostly hold the knife by the handle, a shaped or tapered Western-style handle will feel most comfortable and familiar to you.

If you hold the knife using a pinch grip, a traditional Japanese-style handle (also called a ‘wa-handle’) will feel great in your hand. The most common wa-handle shapes are the D-shape, oval, or octagonal. While some prefer the ergonomic grip of a D-shaped or octagonal handle, it all comes down to personal preference.

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How do I take care of a Nakiri knife?

When purchasing a Nakiri knife, it’s important to think about how you will care for and maintain your Nakiri knife. Nakiri knives should only be sharpened with water whetstones, and always hand washed and dried after use to prevent rusting and corrosion.

There are lots of detailed videos on YouTube that show you step-by-step how to sharpen your Nakiri knife. Otherwise, some Nakiri knife sellers offer a paid sharpening service by trained Japanese knife sharpeners, which can be an easier option.

How much should I spend on a Nakiri knife?

There are countless options for a Nakiri knife, starting with budget-end Nakiri knives to traditionally hand-forged honyaki Nakiri knives for over $500. Setting your own spending limit will help narrow down your hunt for the best value Nakiri knife.

If you’re looking for some tried and tested Nakiri knife recommendations, this KYOKU Samurai Series - Nakiri Japanese Vegetable Knife 7" is a steal for under $50 and a great entry-level choice to try out a high-carbon steel Nakiri knife. If you’re looking to invest a little more, our favorites include the Shun Premier Nakiri Knife, 5.5 Inch Tsuchime Finished Blade, Wood Handle, TDM0742, Black and the Yoshihiro VG-10 16 Layer Hammered Damascus Stainless Steel Nakiri Vegetable Knife (6.5'' (165mm)) because both options offer easier maintenance with stainless Damascus steel, and Shun and Yoshihiro are reputable Japanese brands who are known for their quality construction and craftsmanship, as seen by the consistently glowing reviews.

Frequently asked questions

Should I buy a Nakiri knife?

If vegetables are a staple part of your diet, having a Nakiri knife in your arsenal can make prepping time shorter, and the overall work much more enjoyable with a dedicated vegetable knife. The Nakiri knife is a staple in households all over Japan because this thin and light workhorse consistently achieves thin, even and clean cuts of vegetables, and makes it easy to chop faster in a fluid up and down motion. If you’re not specific about having a pointed tip on your vegetable knife and able to adapt to the up and down tap-chopping method of the Nakiri, it’s a great tool to have in your kitchen.

What’s the difference between the Nakiri and the Usuba?

If you’ve been researching Japanese vegetable knives, you’ve probably come across the Usuba. The Usuba typically uses a single bevel blade, which requires much more skill to use or sharpen. They are mostly only used in professional kitchens, and are usually more expensive than the Nakiri. If you’re left-handed, you’ll also need a special left-handed Usuba at a higher cost, as most Usubas are created for right-hand use.

In comparison, the Nakiri is lighter and has a double bevel blade like most Western-style or German knives, which makes it ideal for even beginner cooks. In our opinion, this makes the Nakiri more useful and the best choice for a Japanese vegetable knife.

How do you sharpen a Nakiri knife?

As a rule, the Nakiri knife should only be sharpened using a whetstone when necessary, and never placed in the dishwasher. Here’s an easy to follow guide on how to sharpen a Nakiri knife:

For more tips, insights and tricks, visit our page on how to sharpen Japanese knives. (link coming soon)

Who makes the best Nakiri knife?

At Japanese Knives Guide, we believe that the best Nakiri knife is one that fits your budget, grip style, expected steel type and your chosen size of the blade. Of course, everybody will have different resources and requirements, so our ‘best’ recommendations are always those which present great value for money.

If you’re new to the world of Japanese knives, our foolproof recommendation is this: before jumping at the first chance to own an expensive, high-end Nakiri knife, why not try your hand at a budget-friendly Nakiri knife to see if it’s the right fit for you?

Traditionally hand-forged and high-carbon steel Nakiri knives can easily cost a fortune, and although beautiful, they require some training to get used to the high-maintenance care routine that’s required to keep them in their pristine original condition. It’s always better to first get a feel for the specific qualities of a specialized knife like the Nakiri, before committing to invest more. That way, you can spend some time mastering different chopping and handling techniques without the fear of damaging your expensive investment piece.

Amazon is an accessible and reputable retailer with plenty of Nakiri knife options, a transparent customer review section and an incredibly generous returns policy, which makes it the perfect hassle-free and worry-free option for first-time Nakiri buyers. There are many specialized smaller retailers out there, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find one that can provide as much peace of mind with the same level of service and returns policy as Amazon.

With that in mind, this KYOKU Samurai Series - Nakiri Japanese Vegetable Knife 7" is a steal for under $50 and a great entry-level choice to try out a high-carbon steel Nakiri knife. If you’re looking to invest a little more, our favorites include the Shun Premier Nakiri Knife, 5.5 Inch Tsuchime Finished Blade, Wood Handle, TDM0742, Black and the Yoshihiro VG-10 16 Layer Hammered Damascus Stainless Steel Nakiri Vegetable Knife (6.5'' (165mm)) because both options offer easier maintenance with stainless Damascus steel, and Shun and Yoshihiro are reputable Japanese brands who are known for their quality construction and craftsmanship, as seen by the consistently glowing reviews.

Where to buy a Nakiri (vegetable) knife

Amazon is an accessible and reputable retailer with many Nakiri knives on offer, plus a very generous returns policy for extra peace of mind.

For under $50, our favorite is the KYOKU Samurai Series - Nakiri Japanese Vegetable Knife 7" which is made from Japanese high-carbon steel and has an exceptionally thin 2mm blade to achieve clean cuts of vegetables.

For beginner Japanese knife enthusiasts with a little more budget, we highly recommend the hand-crafted Shun Premier Nakiri Knife, 5.5 Inch Tsuchime Finished Blade, Wood Handle, TDM0742, Black and the Yoshihiro VG-10 16 Layer Hammered Damascus Stainless Steel Nakiri Vegetable Knife (6.5'' (165mm)) as great high-quality stainless steel options from reputable Japanese brands, Shun and Yoshihiro, who are famous for their attention to detail, extremely sharp edges and durable, high-quality knives that stand the test of time with exceptional performance and value.

Nakiri Knife

Name: 
菜切り包丁 (なきり)
Rōmaji:
Nakiri bōchō
Best for:
Sizing:
120-240mm
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