Housewares 2011 – Is THIS the year for ceramic cutlery?

by Steve Kruschen

Under the radar of most consumers has been the rise of ceramics in cutlery and kitchen gadgets, primarily peelers.  A few years ago, I stopped by the Kyocera Advanced Ceramics booth at the Housewares Show and visited with their spokesperson/PR Manager, Katie Shaw.  At that time, the ceramic cutlery industry was all theirs.  Kyocera was THE name, THE line, a premium line.  Katie’s demos were wonderful and educational and there was no real competition.

Then, starting two years ago, I noticed little-known would-be competitors, mostly from unknown Asian suppliers, though none were media savvy so it was a lost cause to try and work with them.  In addition, it appeared that the products were not making an impact where it counts – with CONSUMERS.

What’s the big deal? Traditional metal cutlery has been around and doing great for hundreds of years.  My favorites from Chef”sChoice, Mundial’s 5100 Series (the best value around), Wusthof and others are so good that they are more than a lifetime investment, easily capable of being handed down to future generations, and always capable of being honed to razor sharpness.  This is so important to me – a sharp knife is a safer knife.  Please read my extensive review and informative articles on the subject.  Start here, then go here

Where do ceramic knives fit in this continuum?  They are cool looking, with white blades. They are exceedingly light weight. The edge on a good ceramic knife is keen, beyond anything possible with a metal blade. This is because metal, all metal, is soft as compared to a ceramic knife or kitchen tool’s blade. A ceramic knife’s blade is only a notch less hard than a diamond and can only be sharpened with diamond-based specialty sharpening tools.

Ceramic knives do not generally stain nor do they absorb odors. Using one provides the sensation of gliding almost effortlessly through whatever it is of a soft consistency the knife is being drawn or the peeler is peeling. Peel a carrot with a ceramic peeler and you’ll never use metal again.

For all their coolness, however, ceramic knives are not now and never will be a direct replacement for traditional metal knives.  This is because of physics and chemistry.  Ceramic knives are much more delicate than metal knives.  If you are not already taking good care of your fine knives – keeping them properly sharp (as outlined in my articles linked above), not dropping them, never putting them in the dishwasher, always using them on a proper cutting board surface, then these reasons alone suggest you are less than the ideal candidate for ceramics. Ceramic knives may not be used to cut through bone or frozen foods or anything hard.

Ideally, ceramic edges are best for slicing soft foods, and the peelers and mandolins do a superior job at their appointed tasks.

Dropping a ceramic knife may well result in a broken tip, though not a shattered knife.  Other lack of care will result in disappointment, perhaps with a chip-damaged edge. Cutting on granite or anything other than a proper wood or poly surface can damage and dull a ceramic knife.

And there is one more issue you may already have thought of, if you’ve read my linked thoughts or you are just analytical – sharpening.  Until recently, I knew it was necessary to send in Kyocera ceramic knives for sharpening.  On the positive side of the ledger, another benefit of ceramic knives and tools is that they can hold their fine edge for a very long time (with proper care), much, much longer than a steel edge.  When ceramic peelers become less than razor sharp, they will likely need to be replaced and not serviced.

Now, I see that Kyocera has introduced their $80 battery-operated ceramic knife sharpener!  This changes everything.  And note that this sharpener achieves a 35º angle edge, appropriate for this type of knife.

In addition to Kyocera, other mainstream companies showing in this category include Hampton Forge DuraCeramica line, last year’s intro of Orka by Mastrad’s paring knives with pivoting handle ceramic blade,  Bodum and Lifetime Brands‘ Cuisinart-branded line of ceramic knives touting that they are break-resistant (impossible to determine at this time).  Lesser-known players in the field include JASSN claiming to be the world’s largest manufacturer of ceramic knives and Laguna Cutlery.  Read their informative ceramic knife FAQ.

You know what happens next – lower prices!  Kyocera, when they were the only game in town was able to maintain premium prices on all their ceramic cutlery.  With competition comes more affordable prices!

What do YOU think about this trend????  Have you used ceramic knives or kitchen tools? Will you look toward buying ceramic in the near future?