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Deba – More than filleting fish


The Deba knife is relatively unknown in South Africa compared to Gyuotos, Santokus, Cleavers or Nakiris. Deba knives are perceived as speciality knives. Beginner knife users tend to steer away from being interested and eventually ever using a Deba. The Deba is underrated, misunderstood and sort of the ugly duckling of the Japanese knife family! (if such a thing exist)


Deba bōchō (Japanese: 出刃包丁, “pointed carving knife”) first appeared during the Edo period in Sakai. Japan has always been known for their rich and abundant seafood produce. Breaking down seafood proteins into smaller portions needed a specific knife. A blade strong enough to behead a large fish. A blade nimble enough to work the tiniest of margins. A blade sharp enough to slice any tough material with ease. Strong, nimble, sharp. Enter the Deba.


The Deba knife has a thick blade along the spine with a rounded figure, similar to a chefs knife. The length of the blade varies and can be as short as 150mm and as long as 330mm. The edge profile is slightly curved for effortless slicing. Deba knives are mainly single bevelled meaning the blade is sharpened from one side. The Deba is quite a weighty blade but its weight serves its purpose – to effortlessly break down proteins as easy as possible.


The Deba can be divided into three sections. At the back, we have the heel. In the middle, we have the curved edge profile. At the tip, we have the sharp-pointed finish. How are these three sections used?

  • The Heel: beheading fish or cutting small bones or cartilages in red meat or chicken
  • The Middle: Slicing and portioning filleted fish or meat
  • The Tip: for boning and working around fine edges

The Deba is not limited to filleting fish. It is also a superb knife to break down poultry or bigger red meat cuts. Even though the Deba is a sturdy knife, it should refrain from being used to hack through thick bones.


The Deba is a true workhorse. As we appreciate the whole fish or animal when breaking it down, we can appreciate the whole blade. Each section of the blade is designed with functionality in mind. None of it goes to waste and all of it has a purpose.

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