Growing up in Asia, I have always used solid wood blocks as chopping board. Later, I switched to bamboo. Plastic was a last resort.
Today, plastic cutting boards are color coded. Green for veggies and fruits, blue for raw seafood, red for raw meat, yellow for cooked meat, and white for dairy. Depending on the source of information, the color assignment varies. Sometimes, yellow is for raw poultry and blue is for cooked food. Why?
Before the why, I tried to search for the origin of the practice. The Wikipedia article on “cutting board” says that most professional kitchens follow the practice and cites Food Hygiene Regulations 2006 which appears to be something out of England. When Alex was in culinary school, she told me that they used color coded cutting boards.
But why color coded plastic cutting / chopping boards? Does a household need more than a single good one? We never used more than one chopping board when I was a kid. And it was always wood—a cross-cut of the truck of a tree with acidic fruits like tamarind (sampalok).
When cutting down trees led to forest denudation, some smart person invented chopping boards made from bamboo. I loved them even more. Lighter but almost as durable (whether or not bamboo boards have better antimicrobial characteristic has long been a subject of debate). I hated plastic chopping boards. But I’m willing to entertain the thought that, perhaps, it’s just because I didn’t grow up with them.
Today, we have a set of color coded cutting boards. I initially bought the set because Sam, a vegetarian, did not want to cut her vegetables on the same board where I had cut meat or chicken. But I wasn’t used to color coded cutting boards and I ended up using them interchangeably depending on which was clean or within arm’s reach. Sam went ballistic so I got her her own bamboo cutting board which none of us ever uses.
It took time for me to use the colored boards properly. And only recently did I really appreciate the logic of having all of them and using each one as intended.
What brought about that appreciation for color coded cutting boards? Drinking water that tasted and smelled fishy. In a restaurant.
About two weeks ago, we delivered an order for Alex’s spreads then we went shopping for supplies for Alex’s business. It was getting late, we were hungry and we still had to pass by the mall. Speedy suggested eating out.
Hapag sa Marikina, a popular drinking place which Speedy and his former officemates frequented back in the day and where they recently had their Christmas get-together, was along the way. He had brought me there once, a long time ago when the girls were too young for beer, and I remembered liking the food. So, I said yes. I was sure that Alex would like the food too.
So, we went to Hapag sa Marikina. When Alex saw the menu, she got excited and wanted to order so much.
We had beer with sisig, chicharon bulaklak, grilled panga ng tuna (collar) and dinakdakan. The sisig was perfectly crisp, the chicharon bulaklak was fried to perfection, the tuna was succulent but the dinakdakan was unmemorable.
Then, I had a glass of water. It smelled funny. It tasted funny. Fishy. And the glass of water came before the tuna was served. Speedy could not discern it but Alex did.
Before we left, I hailed the waitress over and whispered to her that the drinking water tasted of fish. She looked flustered and tried to explain that they added cucumber slices to every pitcher of water that they served. She showed me. And I believed her. But the drinking water still tasted fishy.
Outside, as we got in the pick-up, Alex said that’s what happens when you slice vegetables on the same cutting board where you cut the fish. Even if the board were rinsed and, sometimes, even with thorough washing some of the fishy odor and taste remain.
After that incident, I have consciously used our color-coded cutting boards more carefully.