It's hard being a gadget guru. Most conversations I have (even with my mother) eventually come around to a gadget-related question. What food processor should I buy? Are halogen ovens safe? But one question that had me stumped recently was, "Which is a better material for chopping boards: wood, glass or plastic?". Not wanting to ruin my reputation, I investigated.
There is a lot of confusion out there regarding which is best; there are even 'pro-wood' and 'pro-plastic' groups on the internet. Personally I feel it depends on the job, but as they say, "forewarned is forearmed".
Let's start with wood. One of many arguments suggests that wood possesses anti-microbial properties. In reality this means that bacteria is drawn into wood through capillary action (still with me?) Once inside the wood, the bacteria can't reproduce and dies.
Another pro-wood argument concerns an end-grain cutting board's apparent "self-healing" properties; the knife slices between wood fibres (as opposed to cutting into them), leaving no mark. Of course there are plenty of other good points: they don't blunt the cutting edge as quickly as other types of board and, providing you oil them, they stay waterproof.
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Now on to plastic. As many a BBC science programme taught me, plastic is non-porous, meaning bacteria can be washed off without soaking into the board (though they can collect within ridges and rough spots created by knife wear). Many are now dishwasher-safe too. But perhaps the biggest argument is that as plastic is a relatively inexpensive material, most people can afford to buy separate boards for meat and vegetables, thus preventing cross-contamination.
Whilst they are pretty, stay away from glass boards. They dull knives and have no grip when chopping - thats why they're called protectors and not chopping boards, people.
So what do I use? Well, I have two boards, one for raw and one for cooked food. I love the stability wood gives when preparing meat and I find plastic great for little jobs such as chopping onions when I don't want smells to linger. However, whatever camp you fall into, it's worth remembering to disinfect your board regularly and chuck out any that have become excessively worn.
So you see science really isn't the argument here, making sure you do the washing up is.