Once wood is extracted from the nutrient-rich system that makes trees a true wonder of nature, it no longer has access to moisture and protection that it needs to stay healthy. If it’s not actively seasoned and maintained, the wood will soon dry out completely and become more susceptible to warping, crackling, staining and absorbing odors.
Luckily, there’s a really simple way you can keep this from happening and for keeping your magical wood cutting board nourished… and to keep your morning berries from tasting like last night’s onions.
For starters, you’ll want to give your wood cutting board a good, long seasoning right when you get it. Even if you’ve bought a board that comes pre-seasoned, it’s always a good idea to season it anyways. You never know what the transportation process – and any radical change in temperatures from warehouse to store to home – may have done to your board!
After the initial seasoning, there are some telltale signs that will signal to you when it is time to re-season:
If you see some patches or parts of your wood cutting board are lighter and drier looking than others, then it might be worth spending a few minutes to re-season your board.
If the water soaks into the board, you’ve got one thirsty utensil on your hands and it’s time to re-season. If the water stays on the board without absorbing, then it will live to cut another day.
If you see darker stains or discoloration starting to occur in your board, that’s a yellow flag that you need to season your board. If you begin to smell your board, that’s very much a red flag that your wood cutting board definitely needs a seasoning. You might even want to disinfect and clean it before going through the seasoning process.
When it comes to a tool that contacts our food during prep and cooking, it’s important to make sure our cutting board surface is as healthy and sanitary as can be. After all, no yummy meal has ever been made using spoiled, germy and chemical-tarnished ingredients.
But while the seasoning process itself is really straightforward, choosing the right oil to season with unfortunately… isn’t.
Let’s start by identifying some “never use these” options. Once exposed to oxygen, oils high in unsaturated fats like canola and olive oxidize quickly, develop free radicals and will go rancid fast. All this leaves you with a smelly cutting board and a spoiled surface that will really badly affect the quality of the food on your board.
Oils with high levels of antioxidants similarly aren’t great since they prevent polymerization and leave you with a pesky gummy surface on your board.
While few will argue that using unsaturated fats is a bad idea, there’s more of a debate when it comes to the nut-based, mineral and “mystery” oils you’ll commonly find available.
In general, the term “mineral oil” is an imprecise way of grouping odorless, colorless and low-density oils together under one umbrella. Most mineral oils are a form of distillate byproduct from petroleum and petrochemical products used in a wide range of industries. Because they can be produced at very low cost, they’re very prevalent, even if they are one of the biggest contaminants in our body and have been under scrutiny by regulatory bodies in Europe.
When it comes to seasoning cutting boards, mineral oils like linseed, “mystery” or tung aren’t very ideal to use anyways. Mineral oil treatments create a thin layer of sealant make the wood impermeable somewhat like a plastic cutting board is, an effect that allows for bacteria to stay alive for longer on a wooden surface.
In other words, mineral oils remove one of the key healthy kitchen advantages that wood cutting boards have to offer!
Thanks to a high level of medium-chain triglycerides and high saturated fat content, coconut oil doesn’t go rancid. It’s also vegetarian-friendly non-sticky oil that stays stable at high temperatures.
Couple that with coconut oil’s antimicrobial properties that block bad bacteria from the wood fibers, and you’ve got a winning oil on your hands.
When it does come time to season your board, fear not! It’s a piece of cake.
We’re using one of our shop’s 17×11 walnut wood cutting boards for this demonstration, and here’s how you season any wood cutting board in your home:
Start by laying your wood cutting board on a flat non-slip surface, then set a soft non-pilling cloth or paper towel next to it. Handkerchiefs work great here if you’re okay with one getting a little oily (you can wash it out later).
You’ll start by taking 2 tablespoons of your seasoning oil – we really suggest coconut oil – in liquid form at room temperature. If it needs to be heated to become a little runnier, pop it into the microwave for a few seconds. The intent here is to make sure that your oil easy to pour and smoothly spread over the surface of your board.
Start in a corner of your board, and section by section pour your oil directly onto your wood cutting board in the direction of the grain. Going in the direction of the grain is important because it helps you get the maximum amount of oil absorbed into the wood fibers.
Try not to pour all the oil into one area, though. The more you can spread the pour out over the surface area, the easier it will be to more evenly perform the next step.
Take your cloth, paper towel or handkerchief and begin to rub the oil into the board with even pressure. Continue to rub and pour until you’re sure all the excess oil has made its way into the board.
There are two schools of thought for how to best spread the oil: rubbing in circular motions or going with the grain. We personally like rubbing linearly going in the direction of the grain, but you might prefer circular motions.
Here, it’s completely up to you.
Generally, you’ll want to repeat the process at least twice, but really the more the better.
There is no such thing as over-oiling your wood cutting board! When it can’t absorb any more oil, it will simply stop and oil will collect at the top. When you see this, you can easily wipe away the excess.
After it’s been fully oiled, let the board rest for at least 4-6 hours, then wipe it down once more to remove any remaining excess oil.
Et voilà! You have successfully seasoned your beautiful wood cutting board.
Coconut oil is hands-down the best option for when it comes to hydrating your board’s wood fibers, but it won’t do much in terms of protecting your board from outside germs and bacteria.
For this, it helps to add in a helping of melted beeswax in with your oil.
Beeswax helps “harden” the coconut oil after it’s been applied, and it will give your board a more buffed water-resistant finish that’s more impervious to external bacteria. As a result, the effects of your seasoning will also last-longer in the board and keep the moisture of the coconut oil sealed within.
The process of creating this mixture is also really easy. Grate enough beeswax into a mixing bowl so that you have 1 part beeswax for every 4 parts coconut oil. If you’ve set aside 1 cup of coconut oil, then grate 1/4 cup’s worth of beeswax.
Heat this mixture up above 150 degrees Fahrenheit so that the wax melts, then mix the oil until you have a smooth, thick paste. Apply the paste like you would regular coconut oil to your board, and then wipe off any excess after it’s settled in for a few hours.
And that’s it! Seasoning your wood cutting board is really easy to do, and it leaves you with a sturdy, reliable kitchen tool that lasts you for years.
Give it a try and let us know how it goes.