Chef knives come in a huge range of sizes and shapes and they each have jobs that they excel at. Two of the best knives you can buy for cutting vegetables are the usuba and nakiri  knife. They look similar at first glance, but in fact, they have subtle differences that make them suited to different tasks in the kitchen.

This article will look at the difference between usuba and nakiri knives as well as their strengths, weaknesses and what they’re good for.

Introduction

Decades ago, I ate vegetables because I had to – but I wasn’t a big fan. Fast forward 20 years and I love them. They add flavor and texture to a dish as well as being good for you. Vegetables can be looked at as a boring necessity, or an exciting element that completes a dish.

There’s one problem… no-one enjoys cutting vegetables. It’s a chore.

What if I told you there was an easier way? Preparing vegetables is a cinch with the help of a Japanese chef knife made from hand forged, high-carbon steel and iron. Let’s look at two popular Japanese knives and see how they measure up.

Infographic: Which Knife Measures Up?

An infographic comparing the usuba and nakiri knife.Usuba and Nakiri Compared

 UsubaNakiri
Best useFine or decorative cuttingAll round vegetable processor
WeightHeavierLighter
Blade sharpening skillExpertBeginner
Right or Left handed?Either right or left handedOne knife can be used by both
BladeSingle bevel, thin but sturdy.Double bevel, very delicate.
PriceHigh RangeMid-High Range

If you need to cut vegetables (and let’s face it, we all do) you’d be hard pressed to beat a usuba or nakiri. With their sleek looking design, either will make an impressive showpiece for your kitchen.

But let’s not forget their biggest strength, cutting through any vegetable with ease and extreme precision. Julienne, brunoise, fine dicing and rotary peeling is made easier with one of these knives. Katsuramuki, a fundamental Japanese cutting technique that involves slicing paper thin sheets of vegetables such as daikon, would be impossible without one of these knives. Try it with that regular knife of yours if you don’t believe me.

The benefits both these knives share

  • Length: the blade is long enough to deal with most vegetables.
  • Extreme sharpness: Slice through delicate vegetables without damaging them.
  • Straight edged blade: Resulting in even cuts that look perfect.
  • Clean cuts: no more pieces of vegetable stuck together by threads (think celery!).
  • Easy to cut: no need to rock the blade, simply push down in one motion.
  • Precision: Make perfect, thin slices that bring a dish to life.

If they’re both such good knives, does it even matter which one you choose? Absolutely. Let’s look at each knife in more detail.

Nakiri

nakiri is designed simple but make no mistake, it is very effective at cutting and is also highly versatile. Loosely translated, “na” means leaf and “kiri” means cutting tool. In other words, this is your go-to blade for prepping vegetables and slicing them thinly if necessary.

Nakiri knifeThe blade edge is very flat and also tall. You can cut without needing to use a rocking motion and your knuckles won’t make contact with the chopping board thanks to its height.

The nakiri is an ideal blade for beginner-intermediate level cooks. Thanks to its double beveled blade, it is easier to cut with and sharpening it is simple.

Usuba

The usuba offers extraordinary cutting performance thanks to its remarkably sharp blade. Don’t use this beast after a few drinks!

Like the nakiri, it is designed for cutting vegetables and what a job it does!

Usuba knifeUsuba is the Japanese word for “thin blade”. It gets this name because it is a single bevel knife. That means it is only sharpened on one side. When cutting straight down, you’ll notice that these knives tend to cut a little to the left if you have a right handed usuba. The opposite applies to the left handed version. This will take some practice to get used to.

The usuba is the ideal tool for precision cutting. Need to cut wafer-thin daikon radish? This is the tool for the job.

Quick Fact: In Japan’s Kanto region the usuba has a square tip; in the Kansai region the knife has a rounded tip.

Check out this Usuba in action…

Which is the best option?

Do you need an allrounder?

If you’re looking for a knife that’ll chop its way through all those everyday vegetables then the nakiri is the knife for you. It’s designed to make your casserole, soup and salad preparation easy.

Need a high end blade for decorative work?

The usuba is what you need. Its single-edged thin blade is what the Japanese chefs use for decorative vegetable preparation. If it’s good for them, it’ll work for you too. Just keep in mind, it’s not easy.

How are your blade sharpening skills?

I won’t lie to you, sharpening a usuba is difficult. It takes a special skill which many will find an insurmountable challenge. Keep this in mind because there will be additional ongoing cost to get your knife sharpened.

Do you care about the knife’s weight?

The usuba has a thicker blade; so if you compared the two knives of similar length, the nakiri will weigh less. The weight difference can be considerable.

Slicing vegetables
Slicing vegetables finely is made easy with an usuba or nakiri.

Final words

The usuba and nakiri share a similar blade profile and they’re both designed primarily for slicing vegetables. The fact that this blade has no belly means that precise, controlled chopping is achievable.

The usuba is more commonly used by professional chefs in Japan. It’s one of the main knives used along with the yanagiba and deba. When a trainee chef starts training, the first knife they’ll learn to master will be the usuba. That’s because it’s used for vegetables. If the trainee makes a mess of their cutting, it won’t hit the bottom line of the restaurant so hard as what it would if they wasted fish.

Getting used to an usuba will take a lot of time, patience and practice. If you need to cut vegetables with precision and you’re willing to put in the time then this is the knife for you. Treat it with respect and keep it sharpened and it’ll serve you for many years.

It’s likely that the nakiri knife will be better suited for most readers on this page. Anyone that’s looking for a premium quality knife to cut everyday vegetables with ease should go for a nakiri. It’s easier to operate and sharpen, lighter, and will probably save you some money.

The one final consideration is aesthetics. The usuba may not be the best knife for everyday use at home, but it sure is the best looking option. It’s a work of art and its single beveled blade makes it a showpiece for the kitchen. Pull that bad-boy out when you have guests and they’re sure to admire it enviously. That usuba isn’t a necessity; but for those that can afford it, why not spoil yourself? You work hard in that kitchen and deserve something nice, right?

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