Clay vs. Ceramic

Clay vs. Ceramic: A Thorough Comparison of Both Cookware

Have you seen quite a lot of clay pans recently and are considering getting one for your kitchen? For many, the bone of contention is knowing which is the right choice for them — clay or ceramic? Both are great options, but which would you prefer?

Clay pans have extensive use in preparing a variety of meals. Also, they have numerous options when it comes to colors and shapes. On the flip side, ceramic pans are the most popular cookware, and you’ll find them in almost every home. Although quite traditional, many people still love to use them.

You shouldn’t base your choice of kitchen cookware solely on appeal; you should also consider health factors. For example, you can improve the quality of your meal by the type of cookware you use. Many people don’t know this, but when you subject cookware to heat when cooking meals, some materials tend to release toxic chemicals that can interact with your food. This is why there has been a growing demand for safe cookware.

This guide takes a critical look at the differences between clay and ceramic cookware. Knowing more about these cooking items will help you decide which is best for you.

What’s Clay Cookware?

Clay pans are one of the oldest cookware in history, but many people still use them because of the unique taste it gives to meals. Cooking with unglazed clay releases a lot of steam when cooking. If you aim to keep the nutrients in your meals intact, then clay pans do a perfect job in this regard.

Clay comes from natural soil, and if you’ve felt clay while it’s still moist, you can tell it feels quite plastic. However, when it becomes hard and very dry, clay becomes brittle. It loses its plastic element after it passes through firing.

Pure clay usually looks white, but if it appears in multiple colors, there are likely some impurities. The impurities usually impact colors like red, brown, or a combination of both. Impurities don’t necessarily make the clay unsafe to use; it only means that the clay has some element of iron oxides.

Types of Clay Pans

Clay is often heated in varying degrees to get different types of clay cookware. For instance, earthenware clay pans are a combination of impure clay material affected by wind and water. They usually have a lot of impurities like rocks and sand. There’s also an element of iron in them which gives them the red color we mentioned earlier.

To get earthenware, the impure clay or secondary clay is heated at 1,700–2,100 °F. This clay pan is usually soft and porous, requiring glazing to become waterproof.

Stoneware (another type of clay cookware) is also made from impure clay but with few impurities, unlike earthenware. It’s usually heated at a temperature of 2,100–2,300 °F, which is higher than earthenware’s firing range. However, stoneware is much stronger, won’t chip, and is long-lasting.

Porcelain is derived from pure clay, also known as kaolin clay. The cookware is made by firing this clay at 2,335–2,550 °F. Porcelain is very popular cookware and is considered non-porous. It has a vitreous texture, and if it’s glazed, you get a smooth and shiny pot.

Flameware pans are a type of ceramic made with special flameproof clay. This cookware can withstand very high temperatures — this makes it perfect for most stove types.

What’s Ceramic Cookware?

It may come as a surprise to some, but pure ceramic cookware is clay. In other words, clay is some type of ceramic, but you can also get ceramic from different materials. You can derive ceramic from a combination of clay and other materials that are hardened following heating.

At first, ceramic cookware was made in France as terracotta. This type of pan can handle high heating temperatures. Moreover, you can use them for every kind of cooking, whether searing, frying, or boiling. More particularly, ceramic is very popular because it’s non-stick, and you’ll only need a little oil when using it.

Ceramics cookware is made by firing a combination of materials. Some of the materials you will find in the ceramic-making process are silica oxide or zirconium oxide. These materials usually have a crystalline atomic structure, so they’ll likely change their molecular structure when heated.

Another characteristic of ceramic is that it is shock resistant and very sturdy.

Types of Ceramic

As we mentioned earlier, ceramic can consist of any material heated together. It can be bricks, porcelain, stoneware, or even tiles. Also, the glaze used on the ceramic is a type of ceramic material that hardens following heating.

Two types of ceramic cookware exist today. It’s either you’re getting a pure ceramic made out of clay and other materials or ceramic-coated cookware.

The ceramic-coated cookware usually has a base made from different materials like aluminum. This cookware variant is derived from a polymer material that resembles ceramic and is lined around the surface of the aluminum using binders.

The ceramic coating is non-stick but also not permanent. With time, it will wear off and become regular aluminum cookware.

Ceramic-coated cookware usually lasts between 3 to 5 years, depending on how you care for it. While there are various forms, they’re usually referred to as either non-stick pans or modern ceramic pots.

The Difference Between Clay and Ceramic Cookware

So far, you now know that clay is a natural element derived from the earth. It’s unlike ceramic which is more of inorganic nature.

Ceramic will harden at a very high temperature and doesn’t have any metallic element. Clay, however, is one type of ceramic, but the difference is in its composition.

You’ll find moistened substances like crystalline silica and aluminum silicates in clay. However, when it comes to ceramic, it comprises only metal oxides like silica oxide and zirconium oxide.

When comparing their heat handling capacities, clay cookware is better for low heat, unlike ceramic which can handle high heat. What’s more, ceramic cookware is shock-resistant, unlike some types of clay pans. The only exception is flameware clay (which is also a type of ceramic).

In terms of costs, making clay pots is cheaper than ceramic, so you should expect the former to cost more.

Clay vs. Ceramic Pots: Which Cookware Is Better?

When choosing cookware for your kitchen, health and safety are the top factors to consider. Before deciding which cookware is the better option, we’ll look at some safety concerns for clay and ceramic cookware.

Are There Any Health Concerns for Clay Cookware?

Earthenware clay, for instance, which usually contains some impurities, will need certification that it’s safe for cooking. When producing cookware with this type of clay, adequate testing ensuring no harmful elements is paramount.

This test is carried out during the production stage and after. That’s why you should only get clay pans from reputable companies known to carry out tests on their products.

Usually, earthenware is glazed to make it smooth and non-porous. The glaze usually makes it more functional and very easy to clean. However, the composition may raise concerns, especially when in contact with food. In light of this, federal and state laws usually regulate the use of glaze.

Some glazes have traces of lead in them, which can be dangerous to health. Some manufacturers use these lead-based glazes because they’re cheaper and produce a more refined finish.

However, the problem with using this type of glaze is that if it’s not adequately fired, the lead can still get in your food. Lead is toxic and will affect your health if ingested. In summary, you shouldn’t use unsafe earthenware clay for cooking or serving your meals.

Decorative clay pieces will likely contain some lead. Thankfully, the FDA has a regulation against using lead in tableware. However, if you’re going to be using the clay material for food, make sure it’s lead-free.

Currently, any tableware or cookware made from clay sold in the US needs to meet the FDA’s criteria, including pottery. If it fails to meet the lead-free criteria, it can’t be sold legally in the country.

What Are the Health Concerns for Ceramic Cookware?

Pure ceramic doesn’t have any safety concerns. However, the same can’t be said for ceramic-coated cookware, which has silica.

The silica acts as a non-stick ceramic coating over other cookware like aluminum. There hasn’t been any indication that silica is dangerous to the health, but the metal it’s used on is of concern.

When using ceramic-coated cookware, people are often warned to avoid using metal utensils that scratch off the non-stick material. When this happens, it leaves the metal underneath exposed and can cause the metal to leak. This means you’ll be exposing yourself to metal which could be toxic.

If the metal base of the cookware is aluminum, it means it’s derived from aluminum alloys. Leakage will expose you to health conditions that are neuro-generative and cancerogenic. It’s also said to have serious health implications for pregnant women and affect the fetus’s development.

Typically, we ingest aluminum from raw food sources like apple puree, tomato puree, rhubarb, or salted herring and food additives like aluminum-based vinegar. However, the aluminum coming from your cookware only adds to what you’re already taking in.

If small scratches on your ceramic-coated pan expose the aluminum base, it may not necessarily be a problem. However, it’s a sign that your cookware needs replacement. Now, the question of safety arises when you look at the lead properties in aluminum alloys.

First, non-stick aluminum pans aren’t necessarily made out of pure aluminum. As we mentioned, they contain aluminum alloys. These alloys may have other metal elements in them.

If it has heavy metals in it, there’s a chance of lead exposure. The aluminum cookware should be food-grade and must have been tested for the presence of heavy metals. So, if there’s a scratch on the surface, leaving the metal exposed, it poses a significant risk.

The idea of the coating, apart from being non-stick, is to prevent the food from touching the metal body. Whether it’s food-grade aluminum or not, it may still have heavy metals that affect your health.

Are Clay Cookware Healthier Than Ceramic Cookware?

Having addressed the health concerns in clay and ceramic cookware, one question lingers — which is better, or rather, healthier?

One thing to note is that pure clay is safe and doesn’t contain any toxins. If the clay is in its purest form without any external impurities, you can use it for cooking. However, most of the commercially available clay cookware sold today is ceramic clay, so it’s either you’re getting stoneware, terra cotta, or porcelain.

Your best bet to getting a healthy clay non-toxic cookware is to go for pure clay. That said, how do you tell if cookware doesn’t have toxins? You can do a quick test at home—the alkaline baking soda check—to know if you’re holding pure clay cookware.

The test entails the following:

  • Add two tablespoons of baking soda to about 2–3 cups of boiling water.
  • Leave it to boil for an additional five minutes before turning off your cooker.
  • When the water is cool enough, take a sip.
  • If you taste metals, it means impure elements are in the clay. It’s likely the chemicals from the glaze used.
  • If you can’t tell the difference, you should have a mixture of water and two tablespoons of baking soda on one side to see the difference.
  • If there’s a metal taste in the mix from the clay cookware, it’s not safe to use.


Polymer clay vs. ceramic clay: What differentiates the two?

Both materials may serve the same purpose but are different. Ceramic is derived from heating natural clay and other materials. It only comes from naturally occurring substances and contains no artificial content.

However, polymer clay is strictly synthetic. It’s used mostly for artwork or pottery. On the other hand, ceramic clay has extensive use in cookware like dishes, pots, and pans.

Stoneware clay vs. ceramic: What makes them different?

Stoneware is a type of ceramic, too, as it’s made from clay. It’s clay with impurities and is usually much stronger. However, you get stoneware by heating clay at a very high temperature of 2,100–2,300°F.

Ceramic is also derived from clay, but not all of it may be clay. Ceramic usually comprises a broader category and has other materials embedded in it. However, one can safely say that stoneware is a type of ceramic.

Clay pot vs. ceramic pot: Is there any difference?

Clay and ceramic are very much the same. However, not all ceramics are clay, depending on their composition.

Clay pots are usually derived from the natural soil that passes through firing. Ceramic, however, is a mixture of clay and other materials. It’s usually not always pure clay.

Fireclay vs. ceramic: Are they the same?

Fireclay is a type of ceramic material. It’s made by firing clay at a high temperature around  2,912°F. This type of clay can withstand high temperatures and won’t deform. On the other hand, ceramic is a broad term that refers to a mixture of clay and other materials.

Final Thoughts

We’ve covered every possible similarity and difference between clay and ceramic cookware. We can safely say that the two are similar but still different. Clay and ceramic are essentially the same, but you need to know their subtle differences.

If you’re in the market for clay cookware, you will discover that most are clay ceramic cookware. However, you should buy from only reputable brands if you want to end up with pure clay free of toxins. You can also try the home test we mentioned in the article to ensure no harsh chemicals or metals in your clay or ceramic cookware.

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