Plastic or metal
Having and using the right tools in the kitchen can make the difference between an “ok meal” and a finger-licking good one that will remain memorable. In this age of extreme discoveries and innovations, when your average cooking store carries at last four versions of every tool and thousands more are available on the Internet, it’s not easy to choose the right tool for your daily cooking.
One confusing aspect is trying to decide between plastic, metal and wood, as all of them are available to buy in all shapes and forms. Don’t worry. With the right information, you too can pick the perfect tool for your cooking. Why wood? Ask most people why they choose wooden utensils over plastic ones and they will simply tell you “Because it’s better!”. They are not wrong, of course, but the question remains, why is wood better than plastic or even metal? One of the first reasons is that it looks better. Wooden spoons, spatulas and even chopping boards look way much better than colorful plastic ones. They even look good when you’re not using them, stored in a nice utensil jar on the counter or displayed nicely on the wall. The wooden serving boards or trays are something that you won’t see in every home and having at last one set to use when entertaining guests will guarantee you a good impression in front of anyone. Another reason is that other materials, like metal, can change the taste of acidic foods like tomato sauce – this will never happen when using wooden utensils, so you can forget about that metallic taste that some of the metal spoons leave. Wooden utensils don’t conduct heat, so even if you leave them in the pot they won’t melt or get too hot to handle. They’re incredibly durable and, well, they just feel good in your hand. Holding a metal spoon can be uncomfortable to grip, while hard edges can damage delicate ingredients. The wooden spoon or spatula handle is gently rounded and feels nice in your hand. And you just feel comfortable when using it. Wood is always a good choice when you’re working with hot foods that require frequent stirring, such as risottos, some soups and candy. In fact, even the world’s best-known chefs with Michelin stars recommend wooden spoons when working with candy syrups, as they help distribute heat evenly. Wood is also a good choice when working with delicate copper cookware or nonstick cookware, as it won’t scratch the surface. They also won’t scratch your cast iron or stainless steel pots, and as opposed to metal utensils, they are nice and quiet to use. Plastic utensils, as previously stated, can melt if they come into contact with burner elements, such as the sides of pots or hot syrups.
Another issue with them is bisphenol A, or BPA, a chemical found in some plastics that may hinder development in infants and children. So I’m asking, why risk it? Some people complain that wood retains the flavor of pungent foods, and they are not wrong. It can, but there’s an easy fix for this: Keep one spoon for savory dishes and one for sweets. Do this for wooden cutting boards, too, and your favorite apple pie will never taste like garlic or onions again. Another, I would say, highly exaggerated wooden-utensil concern is that they are flammable. Well, so are a lot of things hanging around your kitchen. You shouldn’t leave a spoon or a spatula or any other wooden utensil anywhere that it can catch on fire. If you do this with metal, it will burn you, and if you do it with plastic, it will melt and probably destroy your cooker in the process. Best bet: Keep your spoons—and most other things—away from fire. While all of these facts already tip the scale in favor of wooden utensils, there is also an emotional reason to use them, which comes from the comforting, familiar way wood feels in your hand—not cold and severe like stainless steel, or characterless and dull like plastic. Wood retains memories in a way that metal and plastic cannot. It shows signs of use, gathering scars like a soldier in a battle. It changes color and texture, wears and ages, even changes shape. If I look at one of my wooden spoons I can see a dent from that Christmas dinner two years ago or a red spot from my last summer strawberry pie… it was there, watching how my cooking evolves and perfects. So, even if having the right wooden utensils won’t transform you into an excellent cook over night, at least you’ll know that you’re heading in the right direction.