Bowls aren’t something that most of us are unfamiliar with, but not many people pay attention to them. Whether you’re thinking about taking your baking to the next level or have decided that you’re gonna up your plating game, knowing what kinds of bowls are used for what, where they belong on a table arrangement, and what materials should be used in your bowls is all essential knowledge.
By the end of this article, you’ll have the answers to all these questions and more, as well as my own personal recommendations for how to choose the right bowls for yourself, whether you want to mix ingredients in them or serve soup in them!
The Best Serving & Mixing Bowl Options
The History of Bowls and Kitchen Utensils
China has a long cultural history tied to its intricate ceramic bowls and other utensils, while Mesopotamia was mass-producing bowls in standard sizes back in the 4th Millenium BC. Bowls date back as far as the Bronze age, and an article by BBC claimed that fragments of a bowl from 20,000 years ago were found in southern China.
Early reports suggest that bowls came way before plates and other utensils did, and my guess is that it was because people needed bows more – it would have been tricky to hold liquid in your hands for consumption, but you could probably hold solid food more easily.
Simple eating utensils like spoons and rocks for cutting meat and other things were a thing between 500,000-12,000 BC, and it eventually evolved to the table arrangements and fine dining conventions we know today.
The Recent Popularity of Bowls
Bowls are the oldest kitchen utensils, but they’re making a comeback in this era of healthy and naturally sourced food. Back when plates were all the rage, people liked to keep all the different parts of their meal separate. There would be some meat on the plate, some side dishes and maybe a sauce. The biggest example of this is steaks.
The elite in America wanted to stay away from the way immigrants ate – the ones who were “unassimilated” and ate unfamiliar dishes in bowls (which are the main vessels to eat from in countless cultures).
Now, people are gradually moving away from this classism and want to eat food that’s comforting and feels good to eat. People have also started leaning towards healthy, seasonal veggies and meat, which goes great with this presentation style.
Professor Charles Spence, a doctor of experimental psychology, says that eating food in a bowl and eating it on a plate produces two very different effects. “That weight in the hand is likely to make your brain think the food is more substantial and you’re likely to rate it as more intensely fragranced and aromatic than for the same food sat passively on a plate.”
This is why we feel better when we pick the bowl up to eat the food and why bowl foods are becoming more and more popular.
Kinds of Bowls
Bowls are used both for cooking food and eating it. They’re made of all kinds of materials, from ceramic to wood to different kinds of plastic, and the material plays a big part in determining what the use of the bowl is going to be, along with the size of the bowls.
In this section, I’m going to talk about the different types of bowls by two categories, material, and use.
Kinds of Bowls by Material
Ceramic bowls are made of ceramic – a material that looks pretty great but breaks easily. These bowls are usually a bit fancier and can either be decorative or reserved for dinner parties. They’re a popular choice among people because they are microwave and dishwasher safe.
Glass bowls are some of the most common types of bowls you’ll find, and they’re common for a lot of kitchens, plus in restaurants as well. They’re dishwasher and microwave safe, but they can break pretty easily, so it’s important to keep them away from any kids or pets around the house.
Metal bowls aren’t that common, and any that do exist are more functional than decorative – save for the occasional cast iron bowls that might look pretty neat on your dinner table.
You’ve probably seen metal bowls as parts of large mixers used for making whipped cream etc., in baking, or general use mixing bowls for use around the kitchen. These bowls are dishwasher safe, but putting them in the microwave is never a good idea. They’ll get too hot, and you’ll be risking serious burns on your hands.
If you’re looking for a sturdy, long-lasting bowl that looks good too – try buying stoneware bowls. This material is easy for artists to work with, which is why you’ll find a lot of stoneware bowls in the market covered in different kinds of art. This is also why these bowls are famous as decorative pieces.
Fine china bowls are delicate and beautiful, but they’re also incredibly easy to break. Most times, fine china in a home is only reserved for special occasions and really important guests.
The material for these bowls is pretty much like that of stoneware bowls, but they look very different. If you want something durable, practical, unique, and sturdy for your kitchen, try some earthenware bowls.
Bamboo bowls are made of bamboo, and they’re usually brown in color, light, and very durable. They’re a very popular choice for serving salads and other greens, but they aren’t dishwasher safe.
Bone China Bowls
Bone china bowls are almost like fine china bowls, but the material has the addition of crushed animal bones in it. These bowls might be thinner than fine china bowls, but they’re still just as sturdy – if not more.
Melamine bowls are a great option if you don’t want to buy plastic but still need something that won’t break in the hands of kids and is suitable for everyday use. The material is made of an organic chemical that’s used to make plastic, which is why it shares a lot of similarities with it and is breakproof. Melamine is dishwasher safe, but I’d be careful about putting it in the microwave.
These bowls are extremely common, and you probably had cereal in one for breakfast today. Plastic bowls might be dishwasher safe, but you shouldn’t put one in the microwave.
These bowls are popular as “on the go” utensils for picnics and are popular as storage options too. Their most notable feature is that they’re collapsible and that they’re dishwasher and microwave safe. A lot of people don’t use these bowls for eating but as an upgrade from Tupperware that takes a lot of room to store when not in use.
There are probably many more kinds of bowls than the ones I just listed, but these are some of the most common ones you’ll come across.
Kinds of Bowls by Use
There are bowls out there that are used for mixing things instead of eating in them. You’ll easily be able to tell them apart from serving bowls because of their size, and they’re usually made of metal or plastic. When baking, I prefer to use plastic mixing bowls, and I like to use mixing bowls that are made of metal for mixing hot materials.
Soup bowls are pretty common in kitchens, especially when you live in cold climates and enjoy a regular bowl of warm soup.
Salad bowls come in two categories – salad mixing bowls that are pretty much wide mixing bowls, and bowls meant to serve salad in them. These bowls are wide and hold more than one serving in them and are usually either glass, wood, or bamboo bowls.
In a lot of Asian countries where rice is a staple part of their diet, rice bowls are an integral part of the kitchen utensils. Sometimes, these bowls are sold with a matching pair of chopsticks, but they can be sold without them too.
Cereal bowls are usually made of plastic and are most commonly used in your everyday life – from eating cereal to serving your toddler’s lunch in it; cereal bowls are used for much more than just cereal.
These are the bowls that come with lids attached and are usually airtight and are made of plastic or silicone. Tupperware comes under this category, and so do most lunchboxes.
Pasta bowls are wider bowls, even if they’re still used for single servings. These bowls look more like a mix between a small plate and a bowl, but I’m putting the utensils under this category anyway because of its name.
If you’ve ever been served any dish that was accompanied by dips or sauces, you’ve seen dip bowls. They’re small and not very deep, and they’re used to contain small amounts of sauces and dips with the main course.
These bowls are made for pets and not humans, and they’re usually round on the edges and flat on the bottom. They’re made from a material that isn’t easy to break and is durable, plus easy to clean. Sometimes, they’ll be made of multiple materials, like a plastic exterior with stainless steel or metal on the inside.
Where Do They Fit In Table Arrangements?
For most table arrangements, bowls are placed on top of the dinner plates in the middle of the arrangement. Some of the most basic table arrangements don’t even include a bowl, but unless you’re plating a restaurant table, you can cut some corners. I like to make my table arrangements a blend of conventional standards adjusted for what my dinner menu looks like.
Many cultural dishes will have you wondering if you even need bowls. For example, while rice bowls are used for eating rice in East Asian cuisine, Biryani (which is a South Asian dish made of rice) is mainly served on flat plates, and no chopsticks are involved.
What Kinds of Bowls is the Best?
Whether it’s for cooking or for serving a salad, there are different bowls for different occasions – and you certainly can’t mix cake batter in a soft silicone bowl!
If you’re mixing different materials, go for a large bowl that’s both deep and wide. Using a bowl that’s larger than the volume of the materials you want to mix is going to give you enough space to mix and avoid any spillage.
In terms of materials, use something like a lightweight metal bowl or plastic – sometimes people even use glass bowls for mixing, though you’ll need to be a little careful about that because of how easily glass can break.
The worst materials you can use for mixing are delicate, breakable, and expensive ones like china or porcelain. They’re heavy, not easy to handle, and might get damaged when you mix – especially if you’re using a mechanical beater or if they bump into the counter too hard somehow.
A lot of cultures use pots or bowls for cooking – in South Asian cuisine, everything cooked in earthenware bowls called “handis” is considered better tasting than dishes cooked in anything else. I have to admit, though, I’ve seen more than one earthenware bowl break over the stove (and might have broken a few, much to my grandmother’s horror), and perhaps this tradition is better left in a time when food was cooked over an open flame, and there wasn’t much under the pots to break them.
In baking, wide bowls are used to melt chocolate over warm water, and a lot of times to put things in ice and cool them quickly.
In anything that requires high heat conductivity (like cooking and cooling), metal bowls are the usual go-to. As a general rule, keep plastic and other materials that wouldn’t do well around heat away from cooking stations.
Depending on the occasion, any kind of single-serving bowl can be used for eating. A lot of bowls are usually made just for this very purpose and come in all kinds of materials, styles, and price ranges.
Be careful with certain materials and consider the pros and cons before buying, though. While bamboo bowls are great for salad, they’re not dishwasher safe, and while china bowls look pretty fancy, they’re expensive and can break easily.
The materials of the bowls you use to eat in depends on the dish you’re eating, the occasion, and whether the person using the bowl is old enough not to drop the bowl or not.
Major Differences Between Types of Bowls – What to Keep in Mind When Selecting Bowls for Your Kitchen
If you’re thinking about getting new bowls, you need to consider several things apart from the price and quality )though I’m going to touch on those too). These include the intended use, whether you’re willing to wash them on hand or not, whether you’re going to store them on open shelves or inside kitchen cabinets, and many other things.
If you’re looking for mixing bowls, look for something sturdy and large. On the other hand, you might have a lot of options when it comes to storage bowls, and no one option is the best.
Most of these bowls come with lids, and they can either be transparent or opaque. While some are made of heat-resistant variations of plastic, newer, more compact, and collapsible models, come in soft and flexible materials like silicone.
Then there are slightly advanced and pricier storage bowls made like thermos flasks, meant to keep food warm and fresh through long periods of time.
The same goes for bowls meant for eating food – what kind of food do you want to eat in the bowls, and on what occasions? For most regular uses, cereal bowls made of plastic are more than enough, but if you want to serve guests in those bowls, you might want something more elaborate or high quality.
It comes as no surprise that a lot of different types and qualities of bowls exist out there, and sometimes the type, make, and finish of our selected items comes down to what we can afford or are willing to pay for them.
Most people might prefer to keep their kitchen simple and clutter-free, and with recent housing trends leaning towards smaller living spaces with limited storage, things like expensive, decorative kitchen utensils that you’ll barely ever use are an impractical choice.
The good thing is that many economical, practical, and long-lasting bowls are just as quirky and interesting as they are handy.
People tend to forget to consider this part of the equation, but it’s really important to consider where you’ll be storing your bowls when buying them.
First things first – do you have enough room for the bowls you’re buying? If you don’t but still need them, consider clearing out some things in the kitchen, like that extra-large cooking pan that you never use or a couple of mugs from the shelves. You can also buy collapsible silicone bowls that will be more compact and easier to store.
Another factor where storage comes into play is whether you have open shelves in your kitchen or closed cabinets. A lot of small kitchens now have open shelves, and while it does look nice and save money on kitchen cabinets, it means you need to be careful about what your spice jars, kitchen utensils, bowls, and plates look like.
Number of Bowls Needed
Many different kinds of bowls are sold both individually and in sets, but I wouldn’t advise that you buy a dozen bowls if it’s usually just you and your partner in the house. Keeping about six bowls of each type in the kitchen is enough for a two-person household, but you may need to stock up on some nicer options for when you’re entertaining guests or relatives.
Plating Food in Bowls vs Plates
A lot of different types of food can be plated in both plates and bowls, and then some dishes are plated in both. Examples include pasta and burgers that are usually served on a plate but come with sauces and dips in sauce bowls.
If you want to plate food like a pro, you need to start thinking about plating conventions, how dishes are usually served in restaurants, and if plating your dishes in one makes more sense than plating it in the other.
Attitudes around bowls are changing now, and more restaurants and dinner tables are being dominated by wide bowls or plates with raised edges that look like bowls.
The rules for presenting a particular dish in a bowl or a plate are all different, and while you would have originally thought that you should plate wet foods in a bowl and dry foods on a plate, maybe you need to do some more thinking on the subject.
If you’re looking to serve conventional dishes like meatloaf or steak, the natural choice would be to do so on a plate. You can’t really plate it any other way unless you’re trying to put your own spin on things.
Most dishes like that go on plates like they always have, but if you’re making a meal, that would be great if you just piled everything into a bowl, try that out! A whole new class of meals called bowl food is popping up now, and I’m going to talk about it later in this article. They’re soulful, healthy, and wouldn’t taste nearly as good if you served them on plates!
At the end of the day, it all comes down to whether you love a particular kind of dish on a plate or in a bowl. I personally would never want to eat rice in a bowl, but then again, there’s a whole category of rice bowls that exist for a reason.
If you think putting ingredients in a bowl will ruin the taste and texture, then opt-out of using bowls.
If you want to serve food meant for food bowls, keep reading to find out how.
How to Make Bowl Food
Bowl food is almost all constructed the same way, with the basic elements being:
- A base layer: This is made up of whole grains or green veggies
- The main attraction: It could be anything from grilled chicken to boiled chickpeas, as long as it’s front and center in the meal. Sometimes it’s rice, too.
- The garnish: These are herbs and spices that are used to make the bowl look prettier and add some extra zing to the meal.
- The sauce: The sauce binds everything together and adds something
I like to add some chopped and sauteed vegetables and caramelized onions to the base with grilled chicken, fresh chopped lettuce, and bell pepper, and then I tie it all together with some barbeque sauce and sesame seeds. It’s a great combination of fresh, crunchy, savory, and sweet components and comfort food.
Layering it all up helps me control the portions and keep the food warm.
Here are some examples of bowls that you’d find in the kitchen:
These mixing bowls are made of stainless steel, which, in my experience, is as sturdy as a mixing bowl can get.
If you want something long-lasting and multipurpose, these bowls are great for both storage and mixing. When not in use, you can use them for storage.
I find these bowls the best for storing things in the freezer or the fridge – stainless steel makes it easier for the contents to be chilled or frozen, unlike plastic bowls that aren’t great when it comes to heat conductivity.
If you’re looking for any kind of eco-friendly bowls, but don’t think you want bamboo or anything breakable, go for these wheat straw bowls. Wheat straw is a new eco-friendly version of plastic that isn’t petroleum-based. It’s food-safe, BPA-free, and FDA-certified, which means that these bowls are perfectly safe for you to use in the microwave, fridge, and dishwasher.
Though they’re called cereal bowls, many households casually use them for all kinds of stuff. Apart from the material they’re made of (and the pretty colors), they’re just standard, sturdy bowls for everyday use.
Apart from the usual mixing bowls and cereal bowls, you might want to keep some larger bowls around.
Dinners with friends might be incomplete without some good salad, and in my home, bowls like these are used to serve traditional desserts like kheer (a south Asian rice pudding) too. They’re also great for serving pasta to a large table.
Answer: Bowls are round serving dishes with a curved top. The most basic bowls have a flat base, but if they didn’t, they would look like a hollow sphere that was cut in half. These days though, many bowls come in all kinds of shapes and sizes, and you may find conical and square bowls as well. The one thing they all have in common is the raised walls and the smooth edges.
Answer: For some of the most basic cooking and baking, you’ll need mixing bowls, serving bowls or cereal bowls, large salad bowls, and smaller dip bowls in your kitchen.
Answer: Restaurants didn’t always serve food in bowls, but they’re beginning to now, thanks to their rising popularity among the masses. People want controller serving sizes and healthier food that tastes good now, and these are all things that can be achieved by the now popular bowl food – portions of meat, veggies, and sauces all packed into a single dish, ready for you to dig into.
Answer: Bowl foods are popular because they’re healthy and taste great. Many think customizable bowls and these serving options were a natural step forward from make-your-own meal establishments like Subway. Holding a bowl in your hands, bringing it closer to your face, and digging into it are all pleasurable experiences that make you subconsciously enjoy the meal more.
Answer: It depends on whether you want to keep individual parts for the dish separate or combine them and what kind of dish it is. If you think that it can all fit into a bowl and that the touch will add something extra to the experience, go for it. This can work amazing for foods like rice or pasta but can be a disaster if you’re serving steak.
Answer: Psychologists say yes. Eating in a bowl makes you feel like you’ve eaten more than you actually did. Holding the warm food in your hand while you eat makes you feel better about the world, and the servings are hearty, delicious, but still healthy. This is why eating in a bowl is now thought to be more satisfying than eating on a plate, where all parts of the dish are kept separate.
I suggest you buy fancy dip bowls for your kitchen because, honestly, the only time you’ll want to bother with dip bowls is when you have guests over.
These ceramic dip bowls are a pretty good option. They’re not that expensive, they’re the right size, and they’ll be perfect for sushi night! You might even need these bowls for when you serve soups to your guests or when you present plated items with some sauce on the side.
The best thing about them, in my opinion? If I’m eating a burger and I need to dip it in a little ketchup, or if I need to get some sauce on the food on my fork, I can dip them in this bowl without any problems. Most dip bowls are so small or narrow that you can’t do that, and you’re stuck playing gymnastics with your food to get the right amount of sauces on them.
You might not need more kinds of bowls around the house than these. All of your basic kitchen needs can be met by these three kinds of bowls, but it also depends on your own personal preferences.