A sharp look at knives

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The knife – one of our most important and oldest tools. But how could it be that the kitchen knife we use today was originally made from a piece of stone?

A sharp past

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It is not known, but it might well be that everything began with the painful experience of a stone-age man who roamed in search of food and cut himself on a sharp stone. Up to this point, primary tools such as branches had already been used as an extension of the arm in order to facilitate access to food sources. A clear evolutionary step forward occurred once a tool with a sharp cutting edge was invented. Thanks to the cutting tools, our ancestors developed from herbivores into omnivores. Cleverly-chipped hand axes were made from flint, quartz and jade. Over time, this process turned into a craft in its own right.

The first metallic blades appeared about 10,000 years ago, first made of copper, followed by bronze. This laid the foundations for the shape of our modern knife blades. As the knife developed further, so did nutritional habits and food preparation methods. In ancient times, there were no personal knives for example; they were used for hunting, handicraft, cooking and eating, and not just for food preparation but also for eating at the table.

 

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The cutlery service was introduced in the Middle Ages, bringing table manners with it as well as rules on how to handle the traditional eating utensils. The knife had its own place on the table, and people were told what it may be used for, and what would not be acceptable. Even today, when the table is set, care is taken that the sharp edge of the knife does not face towards your adjacent dining companion. In medieval etiquette, this was interpreted as a hostile gesture. There were also rules on which food could be cut with the knives. Potatoes, fish and eggs were taboo. The non-stainless steel blades tasted of steel and had to be intensively cleaned in order to avoid causing chemical reactions to the food. The silver fish knife had yet to be invented. Over the course of time, different varieties were developed for different purposes, expanding the range from the simple sharp-edged knife that came first. There is now a special knife for each course of the meal, for example a rather blunt cutting edge for butter.

The continuous development of forging, besides the production of sharp blades, made artistic decorations possible. Knives were no longer only utility items, but also status symbols. And that has not changed to this day. Let’s take a look at the extraordinary collections of European and Asian manufacturers:

© (left) «Hideo Kitaoka» | Scharfes-japan.de (right above) «Urda Schmiede Balbach» | messerspezialist.de (bottom) «Saji Takeshi» | messerspezialist.de

Quality and pricing

While the knives in the images are more works of art than objects to be used (which also explains the stiff prices), one often asks when buying a knife for the kitchen, which material is most suitable and how much you should pay for good quality. Unfortunately, this can not be answered so easily, because it mostly depends on what the knife will cut. However, basic equipment in the kitchen includes: Chef’s knife, bread knife, vegetable knife and an all-purpose knife. The chef’s knife should be heavier, sit well in the hand and have a sharpened blade on both sides. Meat and vegetables can be separated, chopped and cut. The material is important too, for example the composition of German steel is different to Japanese steel, and ceramic is also a popular choice in Japan. The best way to choose is to take the knife in your hand and try it out, because every hand, knife and food is different and the search for the perfect knife can go on for a while.

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