Wooden salad bowls are a great choice for your dining ware. They are beautiful to look at, very practical and nothing fosters family togetherness more than a majestic wooden salad bowl in the center of the dinner table. But choosing one isn’t always easy. There are many kinds of wooden bowls out there and if you aren’t careful you might find yourself with one of lesser quality - or worse – one that isn’t safe to use. Here are three questions to ask yourself before you choose your bowl.
1. Is it safe?
Since the late 90’s, there’s been a lot of trickery going on with importers of wooden bowls. Many companies and stores are using staining processes that can be unsanitary and unsafe for you and your family. If you aren’t aware of the wood your bowl is made of, you could be getting more than what you paid for in unhealthy fillers. Here’s what you need to know:
Trees that grow in the Philippines, Vietnam, Africa, Thailand and even the Southern US are not suitable for making a good wooden bowl. Due to the climate and immense amount of rainfall, these trees grow very fast, making the wood less dense. This is not a good thing. Some bowls aren’t even created with wood from trees but tropical grasses, bamboo and shrubs. More than often, these low-density bowls require fillers like glue to keep their shape. We probably don’t have to tell you that glue and most fillers are not food safe and you don’t want them anywhere near your kitchen. If you can’t find information on the kind of wood a bowl is made of, our first suggestion is to walk away. However, one quick way to tell if a wooden bowl was not created with natural wood is to line up several of the same bowls. If the grains in the wood look identical, they aren’t Mother Nature’s design.
So what about fake wood? Walk into any mega chain store and you’re likely to find a wall full of processed wooden bowls. Sure these may be cheaper than the real thing and some really do look wooden but peel back the mask and it’s not pretty. The ugly truth is that many of these mass-produced bowls have gone through a multi-step chemical process of bleaching and staining to give the appearance of real wood. These processes are not food safe and after time can leak into your food. Plus, unlike quality wooden bowls, these fakes won’t last very long. Of course, when they’re leaking harmful chemicals into your food, why would you want them to?
And then there’s ebonized wooden bowls. These bowls have been put through a chemical reaction so they are darker, sometimes even black. It can look pretty cool and some may claim that it’s safe but we’re not buying it. It’s just another form of staining and some of those stains can be toxic. On top of that, some of these stains require fillers and no one’s telling us what those are. We’re not sure we want to know.
2. What is the best wood for making salad bowls?
Once you’ve eliminated bowls that are unsafe, it’s time to decide which wood is best for you. There are a lot of great woods but when it comes to making bowls, they are not all equal. We should know. We’ve been handcrafting wooden bowls for a very long time and if there’s one thing we are passionate about, it’s wood. Just take a look at our collection of wooden bowls , wooden utensils, and wooden boards. You’ll see the pride and passion that went into each and every piece.
Because we take such pride in our bowls, we only use wood from trees that have grown in tough climates. Forget those trees that bask in the sun 365 days a year. We like ours tough, winter-tested and right here in New Hampshire. They grow nice and slow, giving them tight grains and a sturdy, thick density. This is the only kind of wood you want for your salad bowl. So what are they?
Cherry is hands down, one of the very best woods for your salad bowl. It’s certainly our favorite and what we use to make almost all of our wooden pieces. The heartwood of cherry (the darker inner part of the tree) is rich and dark while the sapwood (the lighter, outer part of the tree) is creamy and white giving a gorgeous contrast. Natural mineral deposits in the wood show up at black flecks for a unique look and presentation that truly makes each bowl a one-of-a-kind.
Another great benefit of cherry is that it not only lasts forever, it gets even better with age. Over time, your bowl will actually look richer, darker and even more beautiful than when you first bought it. Plus cherry wooden bowls don’t need to be stained or use fillers so they are 100% safe to use with food. If you’re looking for one of the most trusted woods amongst craftspeople, cherry is it.
Though cherry is our first choice, Maple is a close second. If you’re into darker woods, it may not be as visually breathtaking, but it’s still very durable, attractive and safe for use with food. It has a white doughy presentation that gives it a rustic beauty that can be very charming – and like all the best woods it only gets better with age, taking on a lighter color.
Many New Englanders carry a certain kind of nostalgia for Maple, after all maple trees are plentiful here in the Northeast. We’ll often have customers come into the bowl shop looking specifically for maple salad bowls. While they usually walk out of here with cherry bowl instead, once in a while we offer unique maple bowls that are unlike any you’ve ever seen.
Salad bowls made with black walnut don’t just portray a gorgeous contrast of light and dark browns there is a deep walnut aroma that distinguishes them from all other woods. Food can often take on some of the flavoring of the wood, which may or may not be something you will enjoy. But if you do, it only makes these bowls more magical. Black Walnut is also one of the more durable woods on the market.
3. Which common woods should I stay away from?
If you look around you can find plenty of salad bowls made with Beech wood. These bowls may start out looking pretty good but untreated the wood will yellow and turn gray in color. Many makers compensate the lack of durability and fading color by staining, painting or polishing the wood. This might help with the appearance and life of the bowl but these processes are not food safe and should not come in contact with food.
We won’t knock the benefits of a nice oak floor but when it comes to salad bowls, thanks but no thanks. Bowls made with Oak just aren’t very durable. They chip and split easily (especially if you will be using yours with other kitchen tools) and they tend to shrink. On top of these negative features, Oak is not a naturally pretty wood. It does hold a stain quite beautifully, which is why many people are easily swayed by the look of it. However, this staining is not safe around food and only masks the defects temporarily.
Sometimes referred to as the poor man’s cherry, Birch is not an ideal choice when making a wooden bowl. It might be cheaper than cherry but this wood is softer and much less durable. It also loses almost 16% of its volume as it dries and likes to warp and twist. Warping and twisting does not make for a good salad bowl.
Here at the shop, we like to say a good wooden bowl is one of the best investments you can make. So before you make your bowl a part of your home and family traditions, make sure you choose wisely.