Dinnerware Materials and Glazes
Dinnerware materials and glazes vary widely so use our dinnerware materials buying guide to help decide not only what dinnerware material and glaze you want and need but what you should expect from each.
Of all the dinnerware materials earthenware is the least expensive. The earthenware clays are typically locally sourced and unrefined. Earthenware dinnerware, however, is susceptible to chipping so handle with care particularly in the dishwasher. Earthenware is kiln fired at relatively low temperatures in the range of 1900° to 2000°F (1037° to 1093°C) and is not vitrified or impermeable.
Once earthenware dinnerware has been bisque fired beautiful decorative patterns are painted, glazed and kiln fired again to provide an impermeable surface.
Earthenware dishes are microwave for reheating only and dishwasher safe. Do not place on a direct burner or in your oven.
As a rule earthenware will be you most economical dishes. They are kiln fired at much lower temperatures so the fuel costs are lower and the raw material costs are lower because the clay is usually locally produced and unrefined.
The word Terracotta is Italian for “cooked earth”. The lovely color comes from the naturally occurring iron oxide in the clays.
Terracotta as a dinnerware material should be handled with care, particularly, in the dishwasher where most chips occur. Be sure to carefully space your dishes from each other. In particular, they must not come in contact with metal pots and pans.
Similar to stoneware dinnerware, terracotta dinnerware is microwave safe for reheating and dishwasher safe.
Impermeable and true to its name, stoneware wears like stone. Stoneware dinnerware is made from clay that will vary depending on the location of the mine. Stoneware clay is usually not as refined as porcelain clays and as a result has more impurities. Stoneware dinnerware is kiln fired at temperatures in the range of 2012°F to 2372°F (1100° to 1300°C). A variety of decorative glazes are applied adding color and beauty to its tough durability.
Some manufacturers such as D&V Fortessa further strengthen traditional stoneware dinnerware with the addition of alumina oxide creating their proprietary D&V TechnoCeram™ stoneware.
Stoneware is chip resistant, dishwasher safe. It is also microwave safe to reheat only. Microwave ovens cook food quickly because they direct a lot of energy in a short period of time to your food and plate. Be careful to reheat your food only, this will greatly extend the life of your stoneware dinnerware. Do not place directly on a burner or in your oven.
Stoneware costs more to produce then earthenware mainly because of the higher kiln temperatures. The higher temperatures fuse the dinnerware making it more durable but at a price. The clays are locally sourced but of higher quality with fewer contaminants.
Porcelain is kiln fired at substantially higher temperatures of approximately 2500°F (1371°C) making it the most durable, chip and scratch resistant material for your casual dishes. Your porcelain place settings can be used everyday and look as good today as a year from now.
Porcelain dinnerware is microwave, dishwasher, freezer and oven safe to 350 degrees. It can be placed in your freezer but do not move your porcelain directly from the freezer to the oven; it will crack!
Porcelain and then fine china are the most expensive to produce. The clays are highly refined to remove all the contaminants like iron. Porcelain is kiln fired at even higher kiln temperatures and produces dense, white, chip and scratch resistant dinnerware.
Formal china for your special occasions has similar characteristics to porcelain except for the addition of bone ash. Bone ash china or bone china is more translucent then porcelain.
The following article discusses the differences in greater technical detail.
The Differences Between Stoneware, Earthenware and Porcelain
Fine china is microwave, dishwasher, freezer and oven safe to 350 degrees. It can be placed in your freezer but it is not freezer to oven proof; it will crack! However, we do not recommend using your fine china for anything but serving your guests.
Now that you know the advantages and disadvantages of the different dinnerware materials you can decide which one is best for you!
The real beauty of modern casual dinnerware comes from their glazes. Each manufacturer has their own “secret sauce” that they closely guard. For example, Denby alone has over 5,000 glaze formulations which gives you an idea of the breadth of glazes available.
All base glazes contain clays, silica, kaolin, feldspar and alumina in different proportions depending on the kiln temperatures and the desired effects.
Traditional fine bone china typically has a high gloss semi-transparent glaze applied to the fine china body. The china body imparts a warmth to the high gloss. Since bone china is kiln fired at high temperatures, the glaze is tough, durable and resists scratches and the annoying nickel streaks left from your stainless steel utensils.
Porcelain glazes are as durable as fine bone china but as a rule are opaque.
Matte or Satin
Matte or satin glazes contain similar raw materials as gloss glazes except in different proportions so instead of producing a gloss finish produce a crystalline surface. The matte or satin glazes are homogeneous and typically are very uniform in color and texture.
Good examples are the new Gibson Home Soho Lounge Matte Black, Brick, Grey and Taupe. Noritake is famous for their Colorwave dinnerware. Noritake Colorwave is available in many colors including spruce, raspberry, graphite, turquoise, blue and chocolate.
Reactive glazes are a combination of ceramic materials that literally react with each other. The reaction is part science and part art that produces beautiful varied glazes. Since the ceramic raw materials are naturally occurring they are not exactly the same batch to batch and lot to lot so the effects will vary which is part of the beauty of reactive glazes. The reactions will also vary depending on the thickness of the glaze, firing temperature and body. The variations and uniqueness of each dinnerware piece needs to be expected and appreciated.
Excellent examples of reactive glazes are Sango’s Cyprus Sienna and Gibson Elite’s Altea Red. Cyprus Sienna is a new rustic design with a burnt sienna reactive glaze with a nice warm sheen and varied metallic look. Althea Red has a soft beige reactive glaze with red and teal geometric accents.
As consumers we always look for stimulating designs and colors. Modern dinnerware provides that stimulation in an endless array of colors, shapes and textures.
Once you have decided on the dinnerware materials, your next big decision is what dinnerware to buy and how to buy it. The Plum Street Pottery Dinnerware Buying Guide outlines all the options!