When I was growing up, my Dad bought this great table.
It was a solid wood bar-style table with a fold-down leaf so you could make it a bit wider if you were serving dinner on it, or you could fold it down and tuck it against the wall to save space.
To give credit where it’s due, It was a pretty cool table but my Dad felt a little more strongly about it. He loved this thing (actually… loves it; my Parents still have it).
My dad would care for this thing meticulously because it was and is “the greatest”. The greatness of this table was sometimes over-shadowed, though by the fact that care for it using ONLY one product: Linseed Oil.
He probably oiled it at least once a month but he would do it at the most inconvenient times. Some days my siblings and I would come home after a long day at school, put our books down and rest against the table in our welcoming, safe environment: our kitchen. This peace would be short lived as we’d lift up our personal belongings and step away from the table only to realize that it and now WE were covered in Linseed oil.
As an adult, it has truly pained me to realize that Linseed oil is indeed a great way to keep wood conditioned and to save it from staining. It’s pained me even more to see my own container of Linseed oil that I have for the butcher block in my own home.
I should mention that not everyone likes to use Linseed. as an organic oil, rancidification is a possible drawback. Rancidity is a common problem with all organic oils which can lead to a rank, unpleasant smell or taste lingering in the board. Having said this, linseed oil does not go rancid as quickly as other oils, and some people (like my Dad) say it doesn’t go rancid at all.
There is much conflicting information about what oils and other substances/products are safe and appropriate for use to maintain the integrity of cutting boards or butcher blocks. Regular oil application will prevent cutting boards from becoming dry and brittle, which can cause a cracked board. A board that is treated with oil also prevents liquids from penetrating the board, which is often the source of germs and bacteria.
So what are the options?
There is much conflicting information regarding which oils and substances are appropriate for use to safely maintain cutting boards or butcher blocks. This following list will help identify which products you should use to both sanitize and keep your board looking beautiful for years to come.
Safe and Recommended
Mineral oil is non-toxic, non-drying, derived from petroleum. It’s colorless, odorless, and basically flavorless. It prevents water absorption, which makes *food-grade mineral oil a popular choice for cutting boards and butcher blocks (Can also be used on other household items like wooden spoons, bowls, etc!).
*The key word here is food-grade, as there are types of mineral oils that are not safe for human consumption.
Beeswax is also a popular choice for cutting board maintenance. Use beeswax to hydrate, shine, and waterproof a cutting board. It’s a great, natural option. You can buy conditioners in readily available bottles or melt 1 part beeswax and combine with 4 parts mineral oil in a pot to make your own blend.
Coconut Oil (Re-Fractionated)
Coconut oils have recently become highly popular for a variety of purposes, especially in beauty, because it is rich is saturated fats that are good for skin health. Unfortunately, all fats exposed to air eventually go rancid and coconut oil is not immune (even though some claim otherwise). However, a select group of coconut oils are refined using a “refractionation” process, which is a fancy way of staying that the oils have been steam distilled. This process leaves an almost pure oil that will NOT go rancid, is shelf stable, and is superior to most other oils for treating.
Sometimes called “the queen of waxes,”: also known as Brazil wax, this wax is derived from the leaves of a palm tree native to Brazil carnauba is prized for its glossy finish and water resistance and is often used in automobile waxes, polishes, cosmetics, and even dental floss.
What can’t baking soda be used for? You can safely use baking soda to remove stubborn stains from a cutting board or butcher block.
If your board begins to smell, a simple trick is to cut a lemon in half and run it across the entire surface. The ascorbic acid in the lemon both reacts with and oxidizes organic material (bacteria and fats) that are the cause of smells and stains. The natural lemon oil also forces any soluble materials to be removed as well.
Safe…But Use With Caution
This oil is obtained by pressing the flax plant. Raw linseed oil is safe for human consumption. However, boiled linseed oil is heated and treated with chemicals that make it toxic for humans. Though it pains me to admit it, linseed oil is prized among woodworkers for its water-repelling properties and luster after being applied.
Extracted from English walnuts, walnut oil is similar to linseed oil with a few added drawbacks and benefits. First, it comes from a nut, so be cautious for allergic family members or guests. It is also very quite expensive, and like linseed oil, will eventually go rancid. The one benefit is that walnut oil smells great!
Coconut Oil (Refined, Virgin or Non-Processed)
Same-Same…only different. An edible oil extracted from the meat of matured coconuts, coconut oil is an increasingly popular substance used to maintain cutting boards and butcher blocks. Because of its high saturated fat content, it is slow to oxidize and is therefore resistant to rancidification. That said, there are reports of boards that have been treated with coconut oil beginning to smell after a long period of time.
Tried and True: All of us are familiar with the disinfecting properties of bleach. We also know that high levels of bleach are toxic to humans. The good news is, a diluted bleach solution is safe for you and your cutting board. Add one teaspoon of bleach to one quart of water and flood the board. Rinse with hot water afterward and then towel try. By no means use undiluted bleach on your cutting boards or butcher blocks, as this is an unsafe concentration and could also discolor your board. Most importantly, never soak your board in any bleach and water mix.
So there are all the options.
I will probably still use my Dad’s tried and true method, because I’m nostalgic and I know it works. Who knows, maybe I’ll invite my parents over to inspect my freshly oiled cutting boards.
Maybe I’ll tell them…maybe I won’t.