Thursday, 10 September 2009 | Tags: ,

Used for serving and eating for thousands of years, chopstick usage is widespread in Japan, Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, and other parts of Southeast Asia and is considered an important traditional skill to master. It's also been shown to increase dexterity and memory! We find out if the material they're made from makes a difference.

The Basics

  • Chopsticks come in a couple of main styles:

    • Chinese-style chopsticks are about 10” on average, squared off at the top end and rounded at the eating end. With only a slight taper toward the tip, they’re perfect for picking up slippery rice and noodles.

    • Japanese-style chopsticks are shorter (7-8”) and more tapered and rounded at the eating end, which allows for precise manipulation, e.g. getting bones out of fish.

    • There are also cheater or children’s chopsticks, which have a hinge or connector at the top to help with control. Some chopsticks also have ridges that help with your grip.

  • Chopsticks can be found in a variety of different materials:

    • Bamboo is the most popular material for both disposable and non-disposable chopsticks since it’s inexpensive, readily available, easy to split, non-conductive (heat), and has no adverse smell or taste. Also, the natural texture of bamboo fibers makes it easier to grip food. Bamboo and wood cannot go in the dishwasher, and should be replaced periodically.

    • Wood chopsticks are also popular and are sometimes lacquered.

    • Plastic chopsticks are inexpensive and also non-conductive. They’re more resistant to wear than bamboo chopsticks and can go in the dishwasher. However, they’re slippery to use and not safe for cooking with at any increased temperature.

    • Stainless steel chopsticks are durable and dishwasher-safe. They are more expensive and can be slippery and heat-conductive.

    • Gold, silver, bronze, and brass have also been used to make chopsticks, and were popular with emperors and aristocracy.

    • Bone, ivory, coral, jade and agate have also been used for chopsticks, mainly by the wealthy.

    • Ceramic or porcelain chopsticks have a similar feel as bone and stone, are less expensive, and more readily available.

Other Considerations

  • There are also cooking chopsticks, which are 12-15” long, made from bamboo or stainless steel, and may or may not be tied together at the end. They’re useful for making stir fries and keeping your hand at a distance from the hot pan. 

  • To ensure you don’t display bad manners, follow these chopstick usage rules:

    • Don’t stab your food with the tips of your chopsticks.

    • Don’t rub bamboo or wood chopsticks together in finer establishments or if you’re a guest in someone’s home, since you’re likely using a pair of chopsticks that won’t have potential splinters.

    • Don’t put the mouth-end of your chopsticks into communal dishes. If there’s no serving utensil, you can use the top end of your chopsticks to serve yourself.

    • When not in use, set the tips on the chopstick rest (if provided) or the side of your plate or bowl. Don’t lay the chopsticks directly across the top of your meal, unless you wish to signal you’re finished eating.

    • Never stand your chopsticks on end in a bowl of rice, which is a symbol resembling a funerary rite in many Asian cultures.

    • Never bang your chopsticks against your plate or bowl, a gesture associated with beggars.


We tested four different types of chopsticks to see which one is easiest to use:

  • Bamboo: $0.15/pair
  • Plastic: $0.40/pair
  • Stainless Steel: $1.67/pair
  • Ceramic: $4.75/pair, includes rest dish

Dexterity Test

We invited some school kids to a nutty challenge in which we had to move as many cashews as we could from one dish to another in 30 seconds with each of our pairs of chopsticks:

  • The bamboo were pretty easy to use and we were all very familiar with them. Together we moved 88 cashews in 30 seconds.

  • The plastic were slippery and hard to hold, and didn’t grip the nuts very well. We only moved 82 cashews.

  • The stainless steel chopsticks were a bit slippery but once you got the hang of them they felt good, were easy to use, and had good grip. We collected 92 nuts with them. Plus, they can go in the dishwasher!

  • The ceramic pair looked lovely but felt similar to the plastic pair: slippery and hard to hold. We only moved 67 cashews with those.


We really liked using the stainless steel chopsticks. Though they’re the second-most expensive, you don’t have to replace them often like you do with bamboo, and they go in the dishwasher! Also, the bamboo are a great, inexpensive choice.


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