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What Is a Ceramic Knife?

How is a Ceramic Knife Made?

By Kris Jensen-Van Heste

Q. What is a ceramic knife, and what is it best used for?

A. The appeal of ceramic is its hardness. Think back to science class; remember the Mohs hardness scale? It rates minerals from 1 to 10, with diamonds at the top of the scale (10) as the hardest substance on earth. Stainless steel, of which most kitchen knife blades are made, ranks at about 5.5 on the Mohs scale. A properly made ceramic blade scores 8.2 on the scale - about 50% harder than stainless steel - according to Kyocera, a leader in the ceramic-knife market. The ceramic material itself is zirconium oxide that's been heated in a process called sintering, which bonds the ceramic powder particles together by closing its pores

So what's the big deal about hardness? It's all about holding an edge. A quality ceramic knife blade will slice and slice and slice - literally for years without needing to be resharpened because it's among the hardest materials on earth and won't give way to the abrasion that comes with daily use the way stainless steel does.

There are other reasons these knives are found in the kitchens of the most exacting professional chefs. Kyocera describes its ceramic blades as "chemically inert," meaning they will have no effect on the flavor or appearance of foods they come into contact with. The ceramic material's pores are so tightly closed that there's virtually no opportunity for any transfer of taste or smell between foods, such as garlic and apples. No color change will happen to foods you've sliced as sometimes occurs with steel blades because ceramic doesn't react to acids and other agents in food.

Another advantage that ceramic users champion is the comparative light weight. The same size stainless blade weighs significantly more.

Over the long term, ceramic knives retain their like-new appearance better than stainless because they don't pit, rust or corrode.

There are drawbacks to ceramic knives. Unlike stainless steel, ceramic blades tend to be fragile, and the less you pay, the more likely they are to shatter if dropped. A common casualty is the blade's tip, which will break off if it takes the brunt of a fall. Reputable makers will retip a ceramic knife for free as long as it wasn't used to pry or scrape, which is a no-no for any type of knife.

Ceramic knives do one thing, and they do it better than any other knife: They slice. That's the job most manufacturers recommend their ceramic blades do, and a good ceramic blade will let you slice a vegetable so thin that it's translucent. It's possible to chop with a ceramic knife, as long as it's in a pivoting motion with the tip held down against the cutting surface. You'll endanger your knife if you use it as a cleaver and bring it down on the cutting board with any force.

Ceramic knives must be washed and dried by hand for long life and optimum results.

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Ceramic knives can also be considered specialty knives simply because of their different nature, since their use and care differs from the traditional steel kitchen knives. There's also less choice when it comes to ceramic knives and it's essential that you know what you can do with one and how to care for them.

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