Imagine making a magnificent dish and then serving it in ugly plastic dishes. It doesn’t sound appealing, does it? Good food should be served in beautiful dishes because the way the food is served impacts our entire food experience.
For that reason, people spend hours and even days searching for dishes that would look great when serving food in them. Also, some people like to match the dishes to their whole kitchen and dining room colors and patterns.
However, the color and the pattern is not the only thing you should search for when you are buying dishes. You should pay attention to the quality and durability of the dishes. The next question is: Ceramic vs porcelain?
So, what is the main difference between ceramic and porcelain? Porcelain is a type of ceramic that is more dense and durable. Both are made from clay and hardened at high temperatures. The difference is the type of clay that is used and the temperature reached when firing each material.
Below, we’ll dive into the differences between ceramic and porcelain so that you can make an informed choice next time you need to replace a dish.
Ceramic is sort of a general term for any dish made from clay, shaped, and then hardened by heat. Sometimes clay is mixed with other materials and water.
These dishes are chippable but hard, tough, durable, and corrosion-resistant. Unless, of course, you drop one on the floor.
Pure, traditional ceramic cookware is safe to use in the oven and microwave because it can handle high temperatures.
These dishes are usually covered with glazes, which add some color to the dish.
Types of Ceramic
The materials and temperature that are used to harden the dish is the thing that differentiates types of ceramic.
So, many people use the term ceramics for anything from earthenware, terracotta, stoneware, porcelain, to china, fine china, and bone china.
The main three types of ceramic are:
- Stoneware – Like porcelain, this is a very durable form of ceramic. This hard, strong, and non-porous ceramic is made at high temperatures (2,000-2,400°F) until it becomes vitrified (like glass). While the porcelain is white, stoneware can be made in different clay colors, but it is more opaque than porcelain. You can use stoneware dishes for baking, cooking, storing, or serving.
Here is a great example of ceramic stoneware on Amazon. I absolutely love these bowls.
- Earthenware – This type of ceramic is made at lower temperatures (1,200°F or lower) so it is more fragile than other types of ceramic. It is a little bit porous, so it is usually fired once, then glazed, and fired again for the second time. Earthenware dishes are thick, heavy, and can chip easily, but they are less expensive than the others.
- Porcelain – It is made at high temperatures, at over 2,300°F and sometimes even 2,600°F. Therefore, it is very hard, white in color, and translucent. But, with modern technology, the difference between porcelain and stoneware is small. They are both fired at very high temperatures while the main difference is the color.
So, while porcelain is a type of ceramic, there are still distinctions to be made between classic ceramic and porcelain.
When it comes to classic ceramic, the common properties are as follows:
- Heat resistant (high melting point)
- Durable (long-lasting dish)
- Hard and strong
- Non-reactive to other chemicals
- Can be fragile if they suffer a physical or thermal shock
Now that we’ve defined what ceramic actually is and what other materials fall under its umbrella, let’s discuss how it’s made.
How Ceramic Is Made
As we mentioned earlier, ceramic is made of clay as a base. Once the clay is taken out of the ground, it is mixed with water and other materials until it becomes flexible and soft. Once it’s easily moldable, it can be made into different shapes.
Once shaped, it is fired at a high temperature (the temperature depends on the type of ceramic you are making) in an oven that is called a kiln. All ceramics have firing in common (even the origin of the word “ceramic” means “to burn”).
Porcelain is just one of the variations of ceramic. The main difference is that the clay used to make porcelain is refined and is hardened at higher temperatures.
For that reason, porcelain is more durable and less porous than traditional ceramic. Also, it has a high density and a higher level of mechanical (crack and chip) resistance.
Besides its durability, people often buy porcelain because it is visually appealing. And for the same reason, many families have a special set of fine porcelain they use for formal occasions.
The materials used for making porcelain are usually clay, kaolin, feldspar, and quartz sand, but it may contain other materials (glass, granite, bone ash, petuntse, alabaster, ball clay, steatite, etc.).
The firing temperature is usually above 2,300°F. So, it is very durable and hard.
The main feature of porcelain is translucence. It is usually very white and translucent, which means that you can see the light going through it. This is a feature that other ceramics don’t have because they are more opaque.
Porcelain can also be used as a coating on cast iron cookware because it creates a chemical-free and non-stick surface for cookware like Dutch ovens or braisers.
You can also recognize porcelain by its sound. When you tap it lightly, it will make a sound like a bell.
Types of Porcelain
Just like there are different subcategories of ceramic, there are also a few different types of porcelain.
Here are the three different types of porcelain:
- Bone China – This is known as the strongest type of porcelain, with a very high level of translucency and whiteness. It is made from feldspar, kaolin, and bone ash.
- Soft-Paste Porcelain – This is known as “artificial porcelain” and is a weaker version of porcelain because the creation process doesn’t require special minerals or very high temperatures. Unlike hard-paste porcelain, it is more likely to crack when it touches hot liquid.
- Hard-Paste Porcelain – This is known as “true porcelain” and is made from feldspar, kaolin, and petuntse at very high temperatures.
Even though porcelain is a type of ceramic, it has slightly different features. So, porcelain is known for:
- Hardness and strength
- Higher resistance to thermal shock
So, by now we’ve discussed the subcategories of both ceramic and porcelain, but what about the biggest difference – the way they are made? The next section will give you some more insight into why this detail makes such a big difference.
How Is Porcelain Made?
Porcelain is made in several steps.
The first step is crushing the raw materials. Porcelain is usually made from clay, feldspar, and silica. The raw materials are measured and then crushed (first in jaw crushers, then hammer mills, and then in ball mills for fine grinding).
In this part of the process, the large pieces are removed and then mixed with water. Once the mixture is cleaned and wet, then the body is formed.
There are different methods of forming the body: soft plastic forming (usually manually, or by jiggering, ram pressing, and wheel throwing), stiff plastic forming, pressing, or slip casting.
Like classic ceramic, firing is done at high temperatures in the industrial oven called a kiln.
Ceramic vs Porcelain – Final Comparison
If you’re not so good at telling apart porcelain from other types of ceramics, we have a few tips on how to notice those subtle differences with visual, audio, and tactile clues.
Here’s how to tell the difference between classic ceramics and porcelain:
- Porcelain is thinner with fine edges and therefore is lighter than ceramics. On the other hand, other ceramics (stoneware and earthenware) are heavier and are a little bit rough and rustic.
- Ceramics will chip and crack more easily than porcelain.
- Porcelain is non-porous and more stain-resistant.
- Porcelain is translucent (you can see light going through it), while other ceramics are more opaque.
- Ceramics are easier to maintain (you can use them in the microwave and in the dishwasher).
For reference, we’ve provided you with a convenient comparison chart below.
|Heavy, thick, rustic, opaque
|Lighter, thinner, delicate, translucent
|Every day, casual use
|Strong and durable, but not as porcelain
|Stronger and more durable
Is It Safe to Prepare the Food in Ceramic Dishes?
Of course. It is non-toxic, eco-friendly, long-lasting and one of the best toxic-free cookware options.
If you choose to invest in a ceramic cooking set, be prepared to pay a little bit more. But, in return, you will get a non-toxic and eco-friendly dish set that will last for a very long time.
Is It Better to Cook in Ceramic or Porcelain Dishes?
Generally, ceramic dishes (earthenware and stoneware) are the better choice for cooking, baking, and roasting.
Porcelain is more tableware than it is actually used for cooking. It is white, thin, and beautiful which makes it a great choice for serving food or tea (cups and plates).
Can I Use a Ceramic Casserole Dish on the Stovetop?
It is not recommended because it might result in cracks. The reason for this is that a casserole dish is marked as bakeware, meaning that they are more suitable for baking in the oven.
But, before you buy any cookware, be sure to check the label. You will be able to see if it is safe for stovetop cooking or the oven exclusively.
Helpful Tip: Whether you use porcelain or other ceramic dishes, avoid sudden temperature changes because that can damage or completely ruin the dish.
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