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Japanese Vs German Style Cutlery
There are two major styles of cutlery in mainstream use today. German or western style cutlery and Japanese or Asian style cutlery. Each type developed its own unique traits and style based on the types of tasks they were meant to perform and the diets of the people using them. One of the best ways to describe the difference between German and Japanese cutlery is that German cutlery is made to chop while Japanese cutlery is made to slice.
There are a few main things that will be obvious when comparing a German and Japanese style knife. The most obvious will be weight. German cutlery was traditionally developed to chop through tough proteins, bone, and root vegetables so the added force given by the weight of the knife was needed to work with those materials. Japanese cutlery, on the other hand, was made to slice delicate proteins like fish and therefore the sharpness was more of the focus to allow for less force to be needed resulting in lighter knives. To help keep a sharper edge, longer Japanese blades use high carbon steel which makes the blade harder; however this can also make it less flexible and more brittle so trying to cut through bone is likely to chip the knife. Sharpening these knives with a whetstone by hand is recommended to maintain a razor sharp edge that is unmatched in the cutlery world.
The second thing you will notice are the angles at which the sides of the blades come to a point creating the cutting edge. This is known as the bevel. There are actually two types of bevel, the double bevel where both sides of the blade angle to create the knife edge and the single bevel where one side stays straight and only one side angles to create the knife edge. All German style knives have a double bevel at an angle of 20-22 degrees on each side equaling a comprehensive 40-44 degree bevel. This wide angle gives the blade a wedge-like quality. Japanese cutlery utilizes the double bevel design as well but uses a steeper 10-16 degree angle on each side for a finer edge. Japanese cutlery also utilizes the single bevel design where one side will be at a 10-16 degree bevel and the other side will be straight. These single bevel knives are able to create long, paper-thin cuts and are mostly used by professional chefs.
A bolster is the thickened portion of metal that transition the blade to the handle. This creates weight for counter balance and can give a more comfortable place to hold the blade with your fingers for chopping in the common pinched grip technique. Bolsters exist on some German style knives and usually, the shape of the bolster is dependent on the user's preferences. Since Japanese cutlery was design for slicing and not chopping means that the need to develop a bolster was never needed and therefore does not exist at all on traditional Japanese cutlery.
Western - Heavier knives rely on their weight and sturdy edge to slice through food.
Better for heartier root veggies, meats, and joints
Eastern - Lightweight knives rely on razor-sharp edges to glide through food.
Better for fish, fruits, and softer vegetables
You may also come across fusion knife lines that combine elements of Eastern and Western cutlery styles and materials. Fusion style knives will use traditional Western knife shapes with harder Japanese steel and finer angle blade design or vise versa.