Ceramic cup molded from clay and burned with heat.

If you’ve traversed the tableware aisle lately, you probably noticed the wide variety in prices and styles of the different products available. Apart from that, you’ll note the diversity in the materials used to produce the items. In this varied selection, you’ll see stoneware, earthenware, porcelain and bone china. To make a solid choice, you first need to understand these materials, the pros and cons of each type, and the different occasions for which each is appropriate.

What Are Their Properties?

Though porcelain, stoneware and earthenware are all made from ceramic, they’re in different forms. Products made from clay are known as earthenware or ceramic. They have been hardened by heat, and they are categorized based on the way they’re produced. The various categories are stoneware, porcelain and bone china.

What Differentiates Them?

Earthenware is a common ceramic that has been fired at relatively low temperatures, ranging between (1,832‒2,102 degrees Fahrenheit. Although it feels and looks thick and heavy, it chips easily and is porous. In other words, spaghetti sauce and curries may leave a stain when you cook them in this kind of pot. To help combat its porosity once it’s been fired, it’s then glazed. It’s also pretty affordable.

Alternately, though stoneware is also a fired ceramic, it’s normally stronger than earthenware. It’s fired at nearly 2,200 degrees Fahrenheit and has either naturally occurring or glass materials added to it, which makes it waterproof and more durable than earthenware. It’s thicker in appearance and available in finishes ranging from shiny to matte.

Porcelain is most commonly known as china. It’s also made of clay, but a specific type called kaolin and mixed with a glass material known as pentutse. It’s fired in a kiln at temperatures between 2,192–2,642 degrees Fahrenheit. The process with which it’s made creates a glossy appearance, and it also causes it to be durable, nonporous and translucent.

Bone china is considered the highest quality of all tableware. Discovered nearly 2,000 years ago, it’s made by adding cattle bones into a clay mixture. Even though it’s delicate in appearance, it tends to be a stronger and more chip-resistant than stoneware and earthenware.

Which Is the Best Choice for You?

For everyday use, if durability isn’t a concern, earthenware makes a solid, affordable choice. Even if it’s glazed, it’s still porous, so you may not want to submerge it in water. Check the care label to determine if it’s dishwasher- or microwave-safe.

Stoneware is also a good choice as it’s more chip resistant then earthenware. It’s usually safe in the dishwasher and microwave, but keep in mind that sudden and abrupt temperature changes can cause it to crack.

For fancier, yet relaxed get-togethers, you should choose porcelain. It can make a simple meal appear elegant and formal.

Bone china is often ornate, and most is not dishwasher-safe. Check the manufacturer’s label for best practices. It’s the cream of the crop in regard to durability and production value.