Full Disclosuer: I received select utensils pictured below from tomoreed.com free of charge for the purposes of testing the product. If I liked the utensils after testing, Tom and Lisa asked that I share my experiences with you. I received no other compensation and the opinions expressed in this post are entirely my own.
"So it just broke." I'm standing there, holding the two pieces of the spoon, staring at them guiltily. As if it's my fault somehow. As if I'm in trouble. "I was just stirring the dough and it snapped."
Boyfriend Javelin half-smiles at me. "Well, I guess we get what we pay for," he says, taking the two pieces from me and examining the break. "The whole set was only like $5."
I'm not so easily pacified. I let out a bit of a puff and shake my head. "I really couldn't believe it," I say. "I wasn't even stirring that hard. And all of sudden, it just snapped."
"I wouldn't worry about it," he says, turning the pieces over in his hand. "It probably had some kind of defect in it to begin with." He smiles at me again and tilts his head. "They WERE from Walmart."
I let out another puff, but smile. "True," I say. "So should we just pitch it?"
There are all kind of wooden utensils in the great world of kitchen supply stores - but they really fall into three main categories:
- Cheap but useful: You'll find a lot of these simple wooden tools in my kitchen, mostly of the pine and bamboo variety. You can buy sets for about $5 at Walmart in a variety of useful shapes and sizes. And they generally last at least 5 years - even if they're not so pretty to look at.
- Cheap but overpriced: Much to my own embarrassment, you'll find a couple of cheaply made, poorly designed, nice-to-look-at and radically overpriced utensils in my kitchen too. Some of these utensils have cheap sealants or coatings that quickly strip away with use. Others are just flawed in design - they're just generally a pain to use. But because of the price, I hesitate to throw them away.
- Expensive but worth the investment: Thanks to the recent generosity of Lisa and Tom Reed from tomoreed.com, you'll also find a few high-quality hardwood utensils in my kitchen. In comparison to the $5 bargain bins, these utensils are pricey - but the craftsmanship and design of these pieces is unparalleled. These are built to last - and you can feel the quality in the texture of the wood, the contours of the handles and even in the sound of their use.
Don't get me wrong - cheap and useful can be good. Not every spoon in my kitchen needs to be a star. And to be fair, the cheap and humble will do just fine. Despite my love for the beautiful hardwood utensils, I still find myself occasionally reaching for my favorite bamboo spoon or my favorite long-handled cheap pine spoon - because there are some things they still do best.
And no matter what the price or quality of material, wood is still fundamentally wood. It eventually wears, absorbs and changes with use. Cheap pine wears and absorbs the fastest - mine turn black after just one pot of black beans. Bamboo shows wear quickly but absorbs very little - I have used the same bamboo utensils for several years and still nary an odor. Hardwood wears quite slowly and absorbs very little - I've been using my utensils from Tom and Lisa for the past three months with barely any signs of wear or odor. And unlike the cheap and cheaply made, hardwood utensils don't leave you asking, "So should we just pitch it?"
If you plan to invest in wood utensils, here are some tips to consider before grabbing the cheapest (or the most expensive):
- Be sensible: Think about your kitchen habits before you buy. If you mostly scramble eggs and stir cookie batter, don't invest in 24 different shapes and sizes. Invest in a few quality and versatile pieces built to handle the job. Who wants to explain a broken spoon to their other half?
- Hold in your hand: If possible, hold the utensil in your hand before you purchase. See how it feels, how it fits. Make some of the motions you would make when using the utensil. I can't tell you how many utensils I have purchased based on appearance and now regret buying because I hate how they feel when in use.
- Density, not destiny: Do you remember the part in Back to the Future when George McFly keeps saying "density" when he should be saying "destiny"? Well, in this case, George McFly is right. It's density you should be thinking about when it comes to wooden utensils. The higher the density, the greater the strength of the wood. And the greater the strength, the better to mix stiff cookie doughs, bread doughs, etc. Because if you really love a utensil, you don't want to be left standing there with two broken halves.
- No sealant, no varnish: And no lacquers either! I'm sure all sealants, varnishes and lacquers used on wooden utensils are rated as "food safe", but I really hate the idea of any additives leaching into my food. Which is exactly what happens as the sealants, varnishes and lacquers are stripped away from the wood during use. So always attempt to find utensils without these nasty coatings.
- Be sustainable: Sustainability is such a volatile subject because everyone and their mother wants to claim sustainability for their businesses or products. Everyone wants to be green, everyone wants to be seen as environmentally conscientious. And frankly, so much of the time it feels like a marketing gimmick to sell more product - the poor planet is just an afterthought. But when possible, buy wood utensils that are made sustainably. This is especially true for hardwoods which are typically harvested from tropical environments, a process that can have a devastating affect not only on the local ecosystem but by extension the entire planet. So before you buy, make sure the hardwood is "safe wood" - wood that is ethically and sustainably harvested.
Now if you've been admiring the hardwood utensils Tom and Lisa graciously sent me, be sure to check out tomoreed.com. Tom's designs are amazing and he offers a wide selection to styles to handle just about any task you can think of - all beautifully crafted from sustainable "safe wood" hardwoods. Even better, no varnishes, no sealants, no lacquers. And for those who love the exotic and unique - no two utensils are exactly the same.
Of the three utensils I now own, I love the Do Everything Tool the most. It's perfect for sautéing, making curries, scrambling eggs, caramelizing onions - you name it. It's by far one of the most comfortable tools I used. If it didn't require more wood to achieve, I might ask for an extra inch in the handle length. But then watch me complain about it not feeling so perfect...
Since I rarely eat or make rice, I love the Rice Server for making breads or granolas. It's the perfect shape for mixing dough - almost like a hand. And the short handle is an advantage because it allows me to really vigorously stir and mix without risk of snapping the handle. Now every time I make bread or granola, this is the first tool I reach for first.
And the Brie Cheese Spreader. This is such a cute tool and really it's perfect for spreading just about anything. I like it especially for mayonnaise and jams - sometimes a knife's blade is just too narrow. The wide, flat surface of the Brie Cheese Spreader helps scoop up and hold the perfect amount of mayonnaise or jam.
But even if none of these utensils pictured strike your fancy, I still encourage you to check out tomoreed.com or their Facebook page. There are so many beautiful utensils to browse and the craftsmanship and quirky names alone are well worth the look. If you're curious about cost, you won't find them in the bargain bin - prices range from $18 to $100 depending of style, wood, etc. But hardwood is never cheap and these utensils go well beyond humble function to serve as genuine art.
Personally, I want to add the slotted Constant Stirrer made from Pink Ivory hardwood to my holiday wish list (and I feel more than a little greedy just thinking about it). Click through to the Pictures and Prices page and you'll see what I mean. It's such a beautiful design.
If you do pop over, drop back and let me know which utensil you like the best. I'm genuinely curious because I think each one would say something about the person who owns it - or wants it!
Special thanks to Tom and Lisa Reed for the opportunity to own my very first hardwood utensils - and for their gracious patience as I insisted on three months of testing and use!