Conventional local wisdom has always pointed to tamarind or sampalok wood as excellent material for kitchen chopping boards. If you check out your neighborhood butcher’s paraphernalia, he or she will almost certainly have a large cross section of the trunk of a tamarind tree. Tamarind wood is hard, and in the Philippines, very low-priced.
In the past two months I have purchased several tamarind chopping boards, the first two large cutting boards from an ambulant vendor in the Carbon market in Cebu, last photo below, who sold us cross sections of tree trunk (bark removed) that were at least 18 inches across for just PHP120 a piece. We use them when chopping up lechon or other meats. I thought they were great value, though the large size is actually a bit of a pain to wash and dry after use. I find the boards need to be used often or they sometimes have a tendency to develop molds, a sign of both a very fresh tree trunk that was not allowed to dry properly, and the sap still rises to the surface and encourages bacteria growth.
At a roadside vendor on our way back from Baguio, we stopped to buy some boards for the crew to use in their homes, and after a bit of bargaining, I was sorely tempted tobuy one of the largest blocks of sampalok wood I have ever seen (square one in the photo up top) for just PHP1,000 or so. What was impressive about the piece was the size of the tree that it must have been cut from… The block was about 25 x 25 inches large! If the tree was THAT big, then the center part of the chopping board had to be made of the HARDEST of what is called “heartwood”, rather than the softer, younger “sapwood”. Heartwood is typically darker, while the sapwood is lighter and softer. The square block was probably 40+ kilos in weight, so it wouldn’t be practical for home use. And we didn’t have room in the car to take it. The vendors said mostly butchers working with beef were the likely buyers of such a piece…
I turned my attention to the smaller (say 8 inch diameter) cutting boards and at the incredible price of just PHP30 each, I picked out 8 pieces, thinking they would make great individual cheese boards or serving vessels for a party, or some other similar use. Back home, we smoothed out the pieces with some sandpaper and they looked terrific. They got stored in a plastic bag and two weeks later I took them out to check on their condition and was dismayed to find that almost all of the boards were growing molds near the center. Sap was coming to the surface and a sticky gunk was taking hold. A stint in the sun, a good washing and careful storage should salvage the pieces… but that is a lesson learned. Don’t buy small sampalok chopping boards that are made of younger and softer sapwood unless they have been properly dried or aged. I KNEW the humongous chopping block was probably a better buy! :)