To paraphrase “a bowl is a bowl is a bowl”, or is it? With so many choices it is sometimes difficult to determine where to invest your money for a quality kitchen product. Function, design, style, and perhaps decoration are qualities to look for in a bowl.
There are four types of bowls to look at. The first is metal, second glass, third china or ceramic, and fourth plastics of many forms. Let’s begin with the fourth choice, plastics. Some are microwavable some or not. Some can be cleaned in the dishwasher and some can’t. They usually have a poor ability to stand up to heat. Although they are light weight plastic will scar and scratch easily and this can lead to retention of earlier foods flavors and odors and possibly bacteria. The plastics can be stained with certain types of foods, like tomato sauces. Additionally current belief is that they give off chemicals that can be absorbed by certain foods and could be harmful to your health. Although this is a theory with much debate, why take a chance.
Glass bowls are highly functional, either clear or colored. If your concerned with style and design go for the colored bowls. Strictly functional the clear will work just fine. Glass or Pyrex have an ability to withstand fairly hot substances but cannot be placed directly on a heat source. Glass is a hardy substance not easily scratched and quite easy to clean. Most are dishwasher safe and microwavable. The down side is the weight of the bowls. In larger volume bowls the weight with ingredients in it can be intimidating to some. Clear or colored they don’t keep odors or flavors.
China or ceramic bowls are usually quite decorative. For food preparation you should check to make sure the glaze on the inside of the bowl is intact. Chips, nicks and flea bites in a china bowl can easily be a breeding ground for bacteria. Like glass, the weight can be a problem for some people, and they chip and shatter easily. Depending on the style and decoration some may not be dishwasher safe or microwavable. For style and design these bowls are more useful as serving pieces and kitchen decoration, with the occasional use in limited prep work.
Metal like glass is a fairly sturdy material that doesn’t lend itself to absorbing tastes and odors. A stainless steel bowl is light weight. Metal however is an excellent conductor of heat and will keep heat. A smaller metal bowl that fits over a pot is a good double boiler. A downside is that with certain foods you can get a metallic taste added to the food, as the steel reacts with acids and salts. They are not microwavable, but are dishwasher safe. They don’t scratch or chip and can last a life time, with the further luxury of being dropable.
What are you going to do with your bowl? Hand mixing or stirring, the flattened base of a glass or ceramic bowl with the added weight of its manufacture make them the best for that chore. Like a small metal bowl, a small “heat-resistant” glass bowl over a pot of water is an excellent double boiler. I am not a fan however of using a bowl that will “just” hold the amount of food your working with. I like big bowls that have plenty of room after everything has been added. For sizes, a one or two cup up to a 3 1/2 to 4 quart are good sizes for a starter set.
If you have limited resources I suggest a compromise. Glass bowls can be purchased for less than $40 for a four or five bowl set and with one manufacturer, I found a 10 piece set for under $50. Be sure that they are tempered and able to withstand oven temperatures. Good glass bowls can be frozen, refrigerated and placed in the oven and are microwavable, but be sure not to subject them to extreme temperature changes, i.e. don’t go from the microwave right into the freezer. Some are only suggested to withstand up to boiling temperature, which should be alright as 95% of chores done in a bowl won’t be placed in a hot oven. The compromise is, for the largest of the bowls you need, buy one or two stainless steel or search for deals on a small inexpensive set that has larger bowls than your glass bowls. This way you can experiment and find out which preparations you prefer to do in certain types of bowls.
I do keep a small set of plastic bowls with lids also. I find they are useful as stackable storage for leftovers in the refrigerator, and unless your cooking for the 3rd Army they needn’t be too large.