As its name suggests, lacquerware is a traditional Japanese craft that is coated in lacquer. In Japan, when we think of New Year’s Day, osechi ryori (New Year’s food) served in stacked lacquered boxes quickly comes to mind. The word “osechi” means “New Year’s food.” The fact that lacquerware can be called “japan” in English shows that it is recognized around the world as an iconic Japanese craft.
On top of being a beautiful craft, lacquerware is also very practical. One of its advantages is its antibacterial properties; despite being a 100% natural material, lacquer has a powerful antibacterial effect, leading to renewed interest in the use of lacquerware as a healthy alternative dishware.
Is lacquerware difficult to care for? No, it isn’t!
This article will focus on the antibacterial properties and safety of lacquerware.
Lacquer’s antibacterial properties are still not widely recognized, and people often have misconceptions about lacquerware. A wide range of vessels can be lacquerware, including bowls (for serving rice and soup) and stacked boxes. What sorts of impressions do you have about lacquerware? It looks luxurious and beautiful, but also heavy and difficult to care for, as if it is fragile and may break easily. However, in reality, lacquerware is very easy to care for and use!
Lacquerware is actually very easy to care for and is suitable for everyday use. Its antibacterial properties are the cherry on top; recent research has shown that urushiol, the main component of lacquer, has antibacterial properties. Thanks to this, food served in lacquerware is kept fresh and is more resistant to spoilage.
Back when refrigerators and other food storage methods were not available or widespread, osechi dishes were often stored in stacked lacquered boxes. In modern times, these same stacked boxes are often used for ceremonial purposes on New Year’s Day (January 1st). However, the origin of the tradition of these boxes is a logical one: to keep osechi dishes fresh.
The history of lacquer and its antibacterial properties
Before we can talk about lacquerware, we need to talk about lacquer, the essential component needed for lacquerware. Urushi is the sap from the trunk of the Chinese lacquer tree, or the refined version of this sap. The Chinese lacquer tree is found only in Asia, another reason that lacquer is associated with Japan.
Urushi has a long history in Japan, where it has been used for gluing and decoration since as early as the Jomon period (about 10,000 years ago). It is believed that during that time, lacquer had already been recognized as a way to increase the durability of the materials it was applied to. As a result, lacquer was used as an adhesive and to paint historical buildings and works of art, becoming an integral part of Japanese culture. By the Edo period (1603-1868), lacquerware had become popular with the general public. To this day, lacquer’s primary use is as a paint. In Japan, it has long been believed that lacquer has antibacterial properties, but there was no scientific evidence to back the idea.
However, recent research has proven that lacquer does indeed have antibacterial properties. In one experiment, a variety of bacteria were tested on lacquer. The results showed that the number of bacteria present on the lacquer gradually decreased, and after 24 hours the bacteria were almost all dead. This has proven the wisdom of the people who lived in the past as something rooted in truth.
Many people believe that lacquerware is prone to peeling. However, the truth is nearly the opposite; once lacquer has hardened, it is very strong and durable. Lacquer is also resistant to acids, salt, and alcohol, all of which are frequently used in cooking. Describing it as “antibacterial” may lead some people to believe that it is made with chemicals or artificial materials with negative effects on health, but lacquer is a 100% natural material that is very safe to use.
The safety of lacquerware
Next up is an overview of the safety of lacquerware, which has been used for a very long time at the Japanese table. Lacquerware is still used in modern Japanese households by men and women of all ages thanks to its safeness and its ease of use. To start, lacquerware is highly resistant to heat. Everyone has had the experience of pouring hot soup into a bowl and almost burning themselves when the heat is transmitted through the bowl, but lacquerware helps to avoid this problem altogether! Lacquerware is resistant to heat and cold over long periods, helping to maintain the temperature of freshly cooked foods. This is one of the main reasons that it is so easy to use for anyone.
Another factor is that lacquerware is also lightweight. When people think of lacquerware, often what comes to mind is an image of multiple layers of stacked boxes, giving the impression that it is heavy and difficult to handle. However, lacquerware is surprisingly lightweight compared to metalware or porcelain. It can even be used by people who suffer from reduced mobility and strength, which is one of the reasons that it is suitable for use by anyone. Last, but not least, lacquerware is also resistant to being dropped.
It is not uncommon for people to slip when using metal or glassware – this is just one of those things that happens in everyday life. If you drop metal or glass dishes, they often break and pieces will fly off, which can be very dangerous. Lacquerware, on the other hand, is very resistant to breakage and causing injury.
Where lacquerware shines
Now that we have covered the antibacterial properties and overall safety of lacquerware, we can take a look at situations where lacquerware can really shine. Some people may think that lacquerware is something to be used on special occasions rather than for everyday use, but that is not the case!
The antibacterial properties and overall safety of lacquerware mean that it can be used even for everyday family meals. It can be used to prepare meals for small children or the elderly, who may struggle to carry heavy dishes, or to prepare food for a family member who comes home late from work. And because lacquerware is so easy to wash, cleanup is a breeze! These properties make lacquerware easy to use for anyone. The scientific recognition of lacquerware’s antibacterial properties and overall safety has had a tremendous impact; in certain areas of Japan with active production of lacquerware, there has been a push to introduce lacquerware usage in schools and hospitals. Lacquerware has finally been recognized for its safety, and it is expected to play an active role as a type of vessel that can be used by anyone.
Enjoy the deep and beautiful world of lacquerware!
Throughout this article, we have introduced lacquerware and its myriad appeals, including its antibacterial properties and overall safety. We hope that you enjoyed the read! Lacquerware is extremely practical in terms of hygiene and food safety. It is not only safe for use at home, but it also adds a touch of beauty to the table with its soft, natural feel and its luster that develops with use. When taken care of, lacquerware pieces are durable enough to last for 10 or more years.
Lacquerware is long-lasting, easy to use, and safe. We invite you to experience the deep and beautiful world of lacquerware.