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Are expensive knives necessarily better? Your questions on kitchen knives, answered!

So you know what to look out for when picking a knife, but still have some questions on the materials used and how much you should pay? We consulted our experts and got them answered!

Our experts

  • Cath Fleet, trainer at Expat Kitchen 
  • David Lim, managing director of Razorsharp
  • Ryoichi Kano, chef de cuisine at Lewin Terrace
  • Lua Chang Yung, culinary instructor, Diploma in Culinary & Catering Management at Temasek Polytechnic
  • Goh Hock Quee, senior lecturer, Diploma in Culinary & Catering Management at Temasek Polytechnic


(image: Victorinox)

Does the material of the handle matter?

This is mostly about preference, although there are pros and cons for each type. Stainless teel ones tend to be more slippery when wet or handling with oily hands. Wooden ones offer a good grip but require more maintenance – they must be dried thoroughly after use to prevent warping. They must also be treated with mineral oil occasionally. Choose those made of hard wood, with a tight and fine grain like rosewood, which are more resistant to cracking and splitting, advises Chang Yung. Hard plastic handles generally require no maintenance although some can be slippery too.

Is there a difference between Western and Japanese knives?

Both have a range of knives for handling different foods and these cater to the different ways food is prepared in each cuisine. Japanese knives are generally lighter and stay sharper longer. They also cut more finely, as most Japanese knife makers sharpen them to an angle of 15 deg compared to 20 deg for most European knife makers. A knife with a steeper edge cuts more finely.

What are the pros and cons of ceramic knives?

Ceramic knives are lighter and harder than stainless steel ones, and they stay sharp longer. Raw food advocates prefer them as ceramic does not react with enzymes in food and keeps the ingredients in their most natural state, helping to retain nutritional benefits. However, they are also more brittle and prone to chipping, especially if dropped.

What are the essential knives every home needs?

A chef’s knife is the most versatile for meats and vegetables, while a paring knife is handy for peeling fruits and vegetables, and cutting ingredients like tomatoes and garlic. But if you fillet fish, chop up whole chickens, or slice loaves of bread frequently, consider specialised knives like a fish knife, cleaver or break knife.

Are expensive knives necessarily better?

You typically pay for the materials used, type of construction method and the reputation of the knife maker. Forged knives, which are more refined, cost more as they require more time to make – they’re crafted from single pieces of steel and are individually shaped and sharpened. Compare this to stamped knives that are mass-produced from a sheet of metal.

It all depends on your needs and budget, although experts say you should be prepared to fork out about $200 for a good knife.

This article was first published in Simply Her, 2015.

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