Some experts point to bamboo as a green alternative to wood and plastic cutting boards. While a maple tree needs about 50 years to reach maturity, bamboo is a grass that can be harvested in three to six years. Seek mature bamboo; young bamboo is softer and will have the same durability and safety concerns as a softwood when it comes to gouging and splintering. Cost reflects the quality of the bamboo used for the cutting board. Prices range from $10 to about $50.
As Cook's Illustrated notes (and other concur), "not all bamboo boards are created equal." The magazine rates four bamboo boards in a 12-product roundup, and one $40 bamboo cutting board is top-rated, while cheaper bamboo boards are more easily gouged and scratched and stained.
We found a helpful but limited review at CulinaryIntelligence.com. Just one board is discussed, the Totally Bamboo Malibu Groove Vertical Grain (*Est. $30). Reviewer Joseph McConnell says knife scratches wiped away easily, but the cutting board warped after about a week, making it too unstable for safe cutting. Chow.com reviewer Louisa Chu also discusses the Malibu Groove and gives it a more complimentary assessment. She says, "After the first few washings, I noticed that soft, fine splinters had developed. Totally Bamboo cofounder Tom Sullivan calls it 'bamboo fuzz' and promised that it's harmless. He explained that the fuzz materializes on all bamboo boards within the first week of use and then disappears. It did." However, Cook's Illustrated says fuzz appeared on every bamboo board it reviewed in a roundup of 12 cutting boards.
In a January 2008 report, Cook's Illustrated tested wood, plastic, bamboo and composite cutting boards for bacteria and found no major differences, but did note bamboo has some natural bacteria-killing properties. It still needs to be washed, however, and like wood cutting boards, you cannot clean bamboo cutting boards in a dishwasher without ruining them. Most experts recommend hot, soapy water. Like wood, bamboo cutting boards need to be oiled periodically according to the manufacturer's instructions. Do not use vegetable oils because they eventually become rancid.