Tamarind Wood Chopping Boards


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! :)


21 Responses

  1. I think the problem was you stored it in plastic which is why it did not get to dry thoroughly.

    you can still salvage those by sanding the moldy part down and dry it on its side away from direct sunlight and then treating it with food-grade mineral oil to prevent it from cracking or warping. you don’t need to buy the butcher block oils which are expensive. pharmacies have food or medical grade mineral oil (for treatment of constipation)

  2. That humongous square chopping block would have been awesome as a stand alone butcher block. Just add 4 legs to it and set beside your work table in the kitchen. I remember seeing one of them made by John Boos at my friends house in New Jersey.

  3. I have waded through a lot of tests and comparisons made between wood and plastic chopping boards but the most compelling argument for me is the beauty of wood and the resilient way an end-grain block receive the thousand of cuts and blows it gets from sharp knives. They also say (and I believe ‘em) that vinegar is an effective solution for sanitizing any kind of chopping board.

  4. In humid Philippines, mold is a problem if you don’t use the chopping board often and dry it well. Even the newer bamboo chopping boards supposed to be resistant to bacterial growth is not immune to the mold. Some have recommended borax or tea tree oil. Here’s a little discussion on their use:


  5. Interesting how you can get a gigantic block for only PhP 1000, about the price of a regular sized maple Boos Butcher Block (at least one found at an outlet anyway). And yes, I agree with Artisan, a butchers block table is a good idea….

  6. Two years ago in my visit to Quezon Province, my cousin asked me to go with him and checked on a newly cut-down sampaloc tree. He said a commercial butcher has paid for the whole tree to get the hardest center part to use for their chopping block. What was left is the top and bottom sections which the farmer owner was giving us free range to cut how much we wanted. Well, I got two pcs. for myself – a 15″ diameter in size (7” thick) and a 10″ dia x 4″thick, while my cousin got a smaller pc. I wanted to get more but it was 90 deg. hot at 12 noon, and he was just cutting with an ordinary saw, and so we decided it was all we can take. We did not use the block for a week, my cousin dried it in the sun after sanding it a little and applying vinegar.

    Its been 2 years, and my last visit this May, the board is still in good shape. We also uses it for lechon and chopping bony chunks of pork. The small one I took it with me here to US and I only use it for veggies. It is still good, no molds.

  7. 5% clorox solution will eliminate all bacteria on the board. Dry the board outside for a couple of months before use to get all the sap out. Rinse after each use, and in between different ingredients. For example, scallions are out of the ground and could possibly carry botulins. Rinse the board before cutting anything else on it. Use different boards for salad and for meats. Rinse board with clorox solution at the end of the day. Remind your Zubuchon staff.

  8. I use several chopping boards, all of wood, and my favourite is one made from a rubber tree. I initially put a coating of grape seed oil, which results in a surface film. Using it often keeps it in condition; I notice that if I dont use it for a few weeks, cracks appear at the edges. When I clean it, I scrape the surface after it washing, with the knife I was using. I also bought a huge butcher’s block, but I rarely use it as it is too heavy, but makes a nice feature on the kitchen bench. I use another block on wheels for outdoor barbeques.

  9. What actually caught my eye was the Jenga stack of palo-palo. You don’t find a lot of people using them anymore in this age of washing machines.

  10. Mikey, there are still a lot of nenengs and manangs using the palo-palo in the rivers and streams of the provinces; not for them the convenience of the washing machine – no electricity in the first place, LOL!

  11. If you are using bleach as a disinfectant, please remember to use this ratio: 1 part bleach to 10 parts warm H20. Make sure that you wash your equipment first with soap and water to remove any debris, rinse then soak in the bleach solution for at least 10 minutes and then air-dry.

  12. I’ll soon be returning to the homeland for good. Where in the Metro Manila area can I buy tamarind wood chopping boards?

  13. How is the proper cleaning of this type of chopping boards done. With the teflon and hard wood I know I can use soap and bleach with impunity. But my fear is that of bits of meat or fish would be wedged within the cracks and crevices as you do your chopping. Like teflon, do the chopping surface “heal up”?

    Oooops. Question was partially answered by Netoy.

  14. I think that there has been research showing that wood chopping boards actually carry less bacteria than synthetics. Regarding the “palopalo”, in Korea there are people who used a similar device for ironing clothes, in their youth.

  15. I was looking for a great birthday gift to myself a couple of weeks ago and decided on a narra chopping board. i looked it up and it’s also a great wood to use, though a bit extravagant compared to the sampaloc. the furniture place where i ordered it (yes, they make sala sets and i was asking for a chopping board) can easily customize it to my liking, 15x10x2 inches. the owner though was incredulous with my request. i guess it’s not everyday somebody requests for that!

    i have no idea how great it will be though since i’m just about to get it this wednesday :) but a thorough research on using wood chopping boards has me prepared with my mineral oil already :D

  16. thanks for the great info on these boards! (and from the comments, all the fantastic input regarding sanitizing them :)

    de-lurking just to say that i’ve seen such hefty boards for sale at the Pasig palengke. unfortunately i didn’t ask how much they cost.

  17. holy crap! i want one of those! i want a biiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiig and square one.

    as a soon to be chef that will be indespensible in the kitchen!

  18. Great program! Very entertaining, informative and funny! Great recipes and tips. WOW! More power to you.

  19. Was reading your extensive information and comments on Chorizo Bilbao Marca el Rey and tried to access all websites mentioned there and all PALPAK! The only one who carries this is: mytenda.com. 1 green can of 4 lbs is $30.00 plus shipping charges of around $15.00. Hope this helps those who need to buy this delicious chorizo!

  20. I came across the plastic vs wooden chopping board debate earlier last week and I still wasn’t sure which side to be on. Obviously, the built-in beauty of the wooden boards makes them instantly appealing… But then again plastic boards require such little attention. Given the lengths some of you guys here have gone to to maintain your boards… I’m beginning to think it might be worth getting a wooden one for show, only to pull out a plastic number when no-one is looking!

    Thanks for sharing this though. It’s nice to see that cooking and travelling go so well together.




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