I must admit that despite the myriad of wood spoons, boards, and whatnot in my kitchen, I didn’t think about protecting them from the dry, winter air until we bought a kitchen island with a solid wood countertop. The instructions that came with the island suggested liberal applications of mineral oil to prevent cracking, and once we figured out where to get it (the pharmacy), we were regularly buffing and oiling that thing up. It makes the wood look so rich and lovely.
Once I saw how nice the counter looked after oiling, my attention turned to other wooden objects in the kitchen. “Right,” I thought, “I guess they could benefit from an oil treatment, too.” And they did. Around that time I also started to notice jars of beautifully packaged, but expensive “wood butters” in fancy kitchen and cookbook stores. I’ve been making homemade skin and lip balms for years (p.s. there’s a recipe for gardener’s hand salve in my first book, You Grow Girl), and the principle is the same: mix lightly warmed oils with just enough melted beeswax to form a light solid that easily melts in your hands. While the oil is fine on its own, the beeswax in a balm helps to seal in the oil and protect the wood further. I knew I could make it myself for a fraction of the cost.
A Note About Ingredients
When it comes to the wood butters that I have seen in stores, the ingredients have always been the same: mineral oil and beeswax. Mineral oil is used because it is considered safe to ingest and has a long shelf life. It’s important to choose something edible, since small quantities of the balm will be transferred to your food and into your mouth. Mineral oil is a petroleum byproduct and some are suspicious of its safety. Unfortunately, most edible oils go rancid quickly and since a little is always staying in the board, you can find yourself with a stinky board over time, with some of that rancid oil making its way into your body. Coconut oil and walnut oil are decent, alternatives, but coconut oil does eventually go off and walnut oil can present issues for people with allergies. While we’d be fine, I worry about using my boards and utensils when preparing food for guests. I would love to hear your oil alternative ideas in the comments. Having done some research, I am sticking to mineral oil for now, but would prefer to find a better alternative.
I considered infusing the oil with dried lavender or rosemary, but in the end decided that it was better to avoid adding anything else to the mix that will be ingested and may add unwanted flavours to my food.
Make It: Wood Balm
Note that this recipe uses one bottle of mineral oil, which is typically labelled as 16 oz in the US and 500 mL in Canada. Mineral oil can be purchased in the pharmacy section of your local grocery store (it is sold as a laxative product). Beeswax is available in solid brick form at most health food stores. Some stores sell it in small pellets, which is a heck of a lot more convenient, but I have never found it this way. Coconut and walnut oils are also sold in health food stores.
You Will Need:
- 4 ounces beeswax (100 grams)
- 16 ounces mineral oil (500mL)
Typically, when using smaller quantities of beeswax, I find it easiest to grate it with an old grater that I keep for just that purpose. However, if you are following the full recipe, I suggest chopping the brick into smaller chunks. It’s a pain to do (the beeswax is chewy and sticks to the knife), but will melt much faster. This is the hardest part of the recipe. I’ve also tried scoring smaller beeswax bricks with a bread knife and breaking pieces off. If you have a better method for doing this please share your wisdom in the comments!
Melt the beeswax in a double boiler over medium heat. You can approximate one by standing a large pyrex measuring cup or wide-mouth Mason jar in a pot about 1/4 to 1/2 filled with water. In fact, the Mason jar option is best if you’re making a big batch for yourself since it saves pouring the balm into a separate jar/s afterward. Stir occasionally with a chopstick until the wax is melted.
In a second double boiler (or Mason jar set in a pot of water) heat the mineral oil gently over low heat. The goal here is to warm the oil for mixing with the melted wax. If you try to mix the two when the oil is cold, the beeswax will start to solidify immediately and they won’t mix.
Pour the warm oil into the melted beeswax and stir until combined. At this point you can choose to allow the contents of the jar to set, or pour into smaller jars for sharing. This recipe yielded 6, 4 ounce jelly jars of balm that I gave as Holiday gifts to friends.
To use: using your hands, slather a generous portion of wood balm onto clean and dry utensils and cutting boards. It is also brilliant on knives with wooden handles and can be used to care for wooden mortar and pestles. I have also used it on old rolling pins, but made sure to really buff away any excess balm and oil so that they aren’t sticky or greasy afterward.