Everything You Need to Know About Sushi Knives

Every sushi lover knows that Japanese cuisine requires some unique cutlery. Whether you’re making sushi at home or eating out, you’ll need some knowledge of sushi knives to get through your dinner plate. 

The different types of sushi knives include Yanagi-ba (the traditional Japanese sushi knife), usuba, and deba. Sushi knives tend to be handcrafted with beautiful Japanese designs, and they are usually long, extremely sharp, and designed for specific tasks.

If you’re looking to buy some sushi knives or are just interested in knowing more about them, you’ll find this article quite useful. Read on to find out more about how sushi knives came to be, the different types of sushi knives, why they are so expensive, and which knife is the best. 

The History of Sushi Knives

Handcrafted sushi knives date back to the 14th century. During this time, sushi was gaining traction among the Japanese. 

The techniques used to make the sushi knives go back about 1000 years ago and were popular among sword artisans. In the 19th century, as Japan started becoming a modern empire, carrying Samurai swords was banned. Therefore, many sword artisans turned to make sushi cutlery. 

Like most art forms in Japan, making handcrafted sushi knives was passed down the generations, with apprentices learning from the best swordsmiths. 

Sakai city in Japan is primarily known for its high-quality metalwork. The region has been famous since 500 A.D. A popular emperor built a temple and had the best blacksmiths settle around it permanently. As the blacksmiths perfected their craft in making swords, riffles, and sushi knives, the region grew in popularity and remained one of the best places to find quality and beautifully crafted metalwork. 

What’s the Difference Between a Sushi and a Sashimi Knife?

Both sushi and sashimi knives generally belong to the Japanese knives category. They both belong to the Wa-bocho traditional kitchen knives. These knives are usually characterized by a long and narrow blade that is also extremely sharp. Today, people use sushi and sashimi knives to refer to the general Japanese knives since they are the more common ones. 

Differentiating between sushi and sashimi knives is a challenge for most people, and understandably so. Although there’s the traditional sushi knife (Yanagi-ba), sushi and sashimi knives are often used interchangeably. 

They both feature the single-bevel design, a crucial feature for sushi cutlery. They are also long, slender, and sharp so that you can slice into your sushi without disintegrating the shape—a meticulous task that needs lots of practice to master. 

Japanese sushi knives come with some unique traits besides being sharpened on one side only. The other side remains flat to prevent food from sticking to the sides. Additionally, the knives are usually made of high-carbon steel instead of stainless steel or ceramic. Although high-carbon steel is likely to rust faster, it’s also more likely to remain sharp for longer, which is what you need from your sushi knife. 

Another unique feature of Japanese sushi knives is that they are all-made for right-handed use. Sure, modern knife makers now manufacture knives designed for left-handed use. However, in traditional Japan, it is a common rumor that sushi is best prepared by cutting the fish using the right hand. 

Types of Sushi Knives

There’s a wide range of sushi knives available, and you’ll probably not come across the entire collection in a knife store. However, there are some standard designs that you’re likely going to find in just about any store. Let’s have a look at these knives. 

Yanagi-Ba

The Yanagi-ba is the traditional Japanese sushi knife and translates loosely as the willow blade. It is a popular sushi knife, even today, among professional sushi chefs. The blade is long and slender and is designed for pull cutting. This way, you can slice through fish in one single motion. 

The single-bevel design we mentioned above is an essential feature of the Yanagi-ba knives. This design makes it possible for you to have smooth and glossy slices of the fish you’re working on. 

Although the Yanagi-ba is an excellent knife to work on medium-sized and small fish, it is better suited for slicing boneless fish into fillet for sushi and sashimi dishes. 

Although most of the Yanagi-ba knives are made in Japan, you’ll be fascinated to find that they don’t all have the same features. Your knife will look different depending on the region where it was made. For example, chefs from Osaka and Tokyo will have differently shaped knives, with the differences going back centuries.

The shape of the knife’s end can help you identify the region where it was made. Typically, the Yanagi-ba sushi knife will be pointed at the tip, which is what you will find in the Osaka region. However, sushi chefs in Tokyo and the surrounding areas have their knives with a blunted end. 

A popular feature of metalwork from Japan is that it often features inscriptions. When it comes to Yanagi-ba knives, you’ll find the blade inscribed towards the handle. Usually, this is the artisan’s name and adds a personal touch to the knife. It is also an essential aspect of the culture. 

The Kai Wasabi Black Yanagiba Knife is one of the best Yanagi-ba sushi knives in the market. Made in Japan’s famous knife-making capital, Seki city, it’s carefully crafted with Daido 1K6 high-carbon Japanese stainless steel to ensure superior edge retention. 

Sushi knives

Brieto Sujihiki

$128.56
Learn More

Usuba

The usuba knife is a vegetable knife whose name translates to ‘thin blade.’ This knife is the ideal vegetable knife, guaranteed to offer fine and clean cuts. It’s also an ideal knife for peeling vegetables. Most sushi chefs love this knife as it makes it easier to slice carrots, radishes, and cucumbers without splitting them.

Unlike the Yanagi-ba, usuba has both of its edges sharpened and has a distinct straight-edged blade end. Contrary to other Japanese knives, the usuba has a broader blade for more comfortable use. It is also taller than other knives to allow the chef enough room for their knuckles. 

If you’re looking to get a great usuba knife, check out the JapanBargain 1549, Japanese Usuba Chef’s Knife, which is made in Japan. Its blade is manufactured using rust-resistant molybdenum steel, and it’s quite easy to sharpen.

Deba

Deba translates to ‘pointed carving knife’ and is the closest to a meat cleaver. In Japan, you’re more likely to find this kind of knife in the fish markets and restaurants that work with whole fish. This knife is designed for beheading and filleting without damaging the fish.

Deba knives are excellent for cutting through bones and fish cartilage. The blade is thick and heavy with a durable edge that makes it ideal for cutting thin bones. You can use it for either fish or chicken filleting.

Most chefs use Deba knives for other meats besides fish. However, they are not ideal for cutting through large bones. It would be best to put pressure on the knife’s spine for the best clean and precise cuts when using the Deba knife. Like many other Japanese knives, the blade is single-beveled. 

Benefits of the Sushi-Specific Knife Designs

We’ve already established that Japanese sushi knives have a single-beveled design. A bevel is a surface that forms the knife’s edge. Usually, the bevel is angled on either one or both edges. 

Single bevel knives are usually extremely sharp, which makes them ideal for Japanese cuisines. They are easier to hone on one side to create a smaller and sharper angle. This becomes beneficial in cutting, slicing, and dicing ingredients, which is crucial when making Japanese dishes such as sushi. 

Single bevel knives also make long and unbroken cuts, making them ideal for preparing vegetables used as fillings in sushi preparation.

The knives’ design also makes it easier to prepare sushi dishes since it doesn’t stick to the knife’s sides. Therefore, you get clean and precise cuts in your sushi.

Sushi Knife Etiquette

Sushi knives are incredibly sharp, and it helps to know how to handle them. Besides ensuring your safety as you use the knives to make sushi, having the proper knife etiquette helps save you some embarrassment. 

Like any other skill, it’ll take you some time before you can master all that you should know. That said, it helps to have an idea of how you’re supposed to handle sushi knives so that you can always practice whenever you hold the knife. 

Here are some of the vital things you should know about sushi knife etiquette. 

How to Hold the Knife

This is perhaps the most significant challenge that many people face. If you would like to be a pro at making clean and precise sushi slices, you should start by figuring out the correct way to hold the knife. 

Most people will hold the knife by the handle, which is wrong. You should use your index finger and thumb to hold the base of the knife. You should then use the other three fingers to wrap around the handle. Although it may be odd at first, holding your sushi knife this way helps improve your accuracy when making precise angled cuts.

Some people hold their sushi knives by placing their index fingers on the top of the blade. Holding your knife this way allows you better control over your blade’s tip. However, making fantastic sushi slices requires that you have complete control over the entire blade. You can achieve this by using the first method, which ensures the index finger and thumb provide a fulcrum for support. 

Positioning the Cutting Hand

Your cutting hand is the one that you use to hold the food. Most people don’t realize that you need to position your cutting hand in a specific way if you want to cut your sushi better. 

When cutting, form your hand in the shape of a paw by curling your fingers inward to grip the food. Be sure to curl in your thumb as well. 

However, some people use the thumb to keep the chopping board in place. Doing so is okay; only you need to ensure it isn’t near the blade to prevent any accidents. If you’re chopping round objects like cucumbers, having your thumb on the cutting board ensures that your food doesn’t roll away. 

Another vital factor you should have in mind is that your middle finger needs to be perpendicular to the cutting board. When chopping your food, the knife will slide along the finger’s surface. Having it perpendicular to the board helps to ensure that you don’t cut yourself. 

A good practice for using your sushi knife is cutting at an angle. This way, you can create more room on the board. Besides, having the knife perpendicular to the board will force you to lean to one side, and you’ll probably be exhausted if you’re cooking for some time. 

When making sushi rolls or whenever you’re using your sushi knives, be sure to practice the correct knife holding and cutting hand techniques so you can better your chopping skills. 

How to Place the Knife When Not in Use

Sushi knife etiquette also includes how you handle the knife when you’re not using it. When you’re done slicing the sushi rolls, place the knife on the top edge of your chopping board with the knife’s edge facing away from the board.

This helps ensure you or any other person in the kitchen doesn’t harm themselves when reaching for the knife. Besides, having it right on the top of the board helps everyone know where the knife is. 

Care Tips for Your Sushi Knives

Like any other household item, your sushi knives require that you maintain and take great care of them. Regularly caring for your knives helps to ensure they are always in excellent condition. It also helps them remain sharp for an extended period, which means that you get to use them for more extended periods as well.

Wash Your Sushi Knife

Most Japanese knives are usually made of high-carbon steel. Although this material is excellent because of its durability, it’s highly susceptible to rust. Therefore, you need to be careful about washing your sushi knife if you want it to last longer. 

Your sushi knife is not to be put in the dishwasher. Using a dishwasher will ruin the blade edges and may even cause it to start rusting. You should use a mild soap detergent to wash the knife by hand once you’re done with it. If you’re using the knife to cut some acidic foods like lemon, be sure to clean it immediately after use. Use a towel to dry the knife after washing it. 

Every so often, apply some oil on the knife after use. This helps prevent it from rusting. 

Store Your Sushi Knife

It would be best if you also practiced caution when storing your knives. Besides ensuring everyone’s safety, proper knife storage will help ensure that you can use your knives for a longer time. 

As a rule of thumb, don’t mix your knives with other utensils. Having the knives in the kitchen drawers is a safety hazard and will damage, dent, or scratch the blade whenever the drawer is opened. 

The best way to store your sushi knives is by keeping them in a chef’s case or a magnetic rack that is out of reach. You can choose other ways to store and protect knives. You only need to ensure that you choose something convenient and, if possible, a solution that you can add to your workplace or kitchen counter.  

Sharpen Your Sushi Knife

Whenever you buy a sushi knife, it will come extremely sharp. However, after continued use for some time, it’ll eventually become dull. The rate at which your knife needs sharpening will depend on how much you use it.

To avoid making a mess when slicing your sushi, you must ensure that the knives are sharpened regularly. Sharpening the knives helps with perfecting your cutting skills. Besides, you can use the knife confidently when preparing your sushi rolls, without worrying that it will cause the roll to disintegrate as you slice through. 

Maintain the Handle

Taking care of your sushi knife doesn’t mean that you only take care of the blade. You should also keep your knife’s handle in top-notch condition.

Maintaining the handle is a simple process that only requires you to treat it with wax or oil. Many people may turn to olive oil for this, but we’d recommend that you don’t. After some time, the olive oil will turn rank. Get some maintenance oil specifically designed for wooden handles, such as Robert Herder oil, for best results. 

How to Sharpen Your Sushi Knife

Now that we’ve established that your knife will require regular sharpening, it’s essential to know how to do it. But first, how do you know that it’s time to sharpen your knife.

Professional sushi masters know that a sharp knife plays an essential role in the food’s outcome. Therefore, most of the chefs will take care of their knives daily. 

If you aren’t a professional sushi chef, you may find it tiresome to care for a knife you don’t use daily. However, if you’re concerned about the knife’s lifespan, caring for it every day is a good practice. Besides, leaving the knife uncared for will only make it harder for you to maintain it. 

Therefore, even if you aren’t using the sushi knife as often as sushi masters, you’d be better off setting aside a few minutes each day to sharpen and maintain the blade.

The best way to sharpen your sushi knife is by using a whetstone. If you use it correctly to sharpen the blade’s face, it will give you the best results. An alternative to this would be to use pull-through sharpeners, which are pretty straightforward to use. However, these sharpeners only focus on the bevel; therefore, you’ll need to sharpen the knife more often. Also, these sharpeners don’t exactly give the best results.

If you decide to use a whetstone to sharpen your knife, you must ensure you have the right tool first. There is a wide range of stones available, and you should choose depending on the task at hand. For example, there are whetstones available for fixing chipped edges. 

The best option for sharpening your sushi knife is the medium grit whetstone with a grit size that ranges between 600-2000. Additionally, you should include a finishing whetstone to help you remove the burr from the knife’s edge. Burr is the fine metal left hanging over the metal’s edge after sharpening, and you should remove it once you’re done. 

Here’s a short but detailed video of how to sharpen your knife on a whetstone: 

Why Are Sushi Knives So Expensive?

When you decide to buy a sushi knife, you may be shocked at the price tag attached to it. If you want a quality blade that will serve you for a longer time, you’ll have to invest in something worthwhile that will cost you more than just a few bucks, but why are these knives so costly

Craftsmanship History

For starters, Japanese sushi knives bring more to the table than meets the eye. The rich history associated with these knives increases its value. 

Most of these knives feature beautiful handcrafted designs that date back to many centuries. The craftsmanship used to design these blades is similar to that which was used for samurai swords. Therefore, the beautiful designs play a vital role in how much you’ll spend when buying a knife. 

High-Quality Materials

Another reason why these knives are expensive is that they are made from high-quality materials. Unlike western knives that are often made of one piece of steel, Japanese sushi knives often have multiple layers of steel welded together. Besides, high-end knives feature high carbon steel as opposed to stainless steel.

The high-quality material makes these knives durable and will not have you getting replacements every so often. Therefore, you can only expect the high materials used to make these knives to increase their value. 

Expertise

Making a sushi knife requires that the craftsman have a vast knowledge of metalwork. Besides understanding the metal they are working with, artisans must know how different elements will affect the blade. They also need to anticipate how different weather conditions will affect the blade’s cooling process. 

The expertise required when making these blades is essential, and machines may not be able to replicate it. For this reason, most high-end Japanese sushi knives are handcrafted, which makes them more costly than their western counterparts. 

Additionally, these knives feature some artistic details that culminate years of training. Therefore, it’s only fair that the knife makers price their products higher to factor in the expertise required to make them. 

What Knife Is Best for Sushi?

Now that you know all that you need to know about sushi knives, how do you pick the best one? If you’re thinking of buying a sushi knife, the first thing you should have in mind is that a quality knife will cost you handsomely. Therefore, if you come across offers for cheap, high-quality knives, you should probably not jump at such offers right away. 

Sushi knives fall under two main categories, depending on how they are crafted. These two groups are:

  • Honyaki
  • Kasumi 

Honyaki translates to ‘true forged.’ Knives in this group are usually made from single high-grade steel. On the other hand, Kasumi is mist, and these knives are made from two high-grade metals. Often, the knives will have the center made from hard iron and softer high carbon steel. 

Regardless of the type of sushi knife you’re going for, ensure that it isn’t made from stainless steel. You may not have enough money to buy a high-end Japanese sushi knife; however, even if you go for a western-style knife, keep the stainless steel ones out of the way. 

No matter how sharp they are, you’ll end up making a mess when you use them for your sushi. What is more, they aren’t as efficient and can’t remain sharp for long as knives made using high carbon steel. 

The best knife for sushi would be a Honyaki knife. If you’re looking to invest in a worthwhile knife, we’d recommend going for this option. Honyaki knives are typically made of higher quality. 

Artisans use a more traditional approach when cooling these knives, ensuring they have a higher carbon content. Often, you’ll find knife stores claiming to have Honyaki knives in stock. However, be sure to do some research to find out if what they are selling is authentic. 

Parting Shot

Sushi knives are more than just your everyday kitchen tools. These tools are explicitly designed to help you make better sushi dishes. They also feature handcrafted techniques from centuries ago and beautiful art that makes them unique. 

Sushi knives hold an essential part of Japanese culture. Therefore, it’s no surprise that they are more expensive than western style knives. The unique single bevel design makes them stand out and plays a vital role in helping the chef make clean cuts. 

There’s a lot more to know about sushi knives, and we’ve broken it down in the article. Hopefully, you can now better understand the history, care, and maintenance of sushi knives. 

Sources