AND MEASURES USED IN RECIPES AND COOKING
& COOKING ARTICLE
me, one of the most frustrating times is when I give
someone a recipe and the first thing they ask me to
do is to convert all the measurements. Theyre
not asking me to convert tablespoons to teaspoons, but
some weight measurement to a volumetric measurement.
For example, how many cups of flour should be used when
the recipe calls for 750 grams? Or, how many tablespoons
of salt is 20 grams? In cooking, various measurements
are used depending on need. These include volume, length,
weight, temperature, and descriptive measurements. Then,
there is added confusion when Americans use English
units of measure while most of the rest of the world
uses the metric system.
Measuring by weight instead of volume:
home cooks have a tradition of using volumetric measures
for dry ingredients. Home recipes will list ingredients
such as flour or sugar by volume, e.g. cups or tablespoons,
whereas commercial recipes will measure these ingredients
France, weight is generally used for larger quantities.
Volume is used for a few tablespoons or less, especially
if the amount is not critical. The problem with measuring
dry ingredients, such as flour, by volume lies in
the fact that the type of flour, humidity, and whether
or not it is sifted can affect the amount of flour
actually used. Whether sifted or not, a pound of flour
is always a pound of flour. Lack of precision in ingredient
specifications can also lead to differences when using
salt as an example, I measured two tablespoons, five
times, of two different types of salt commonly used
in French cooking, fin sel (fine salt) and
gros sel (coarse salt). For each measure, a
two tablespoon measuring cup was dipped into a larger
container of salt to produce an amount greater than
two tablespoons. A small spatula was then used to
level the top of the salt. In the case of the gros
sel, the salt was also packed into the measure
slightly to make sure there were no air pockets. The
five gros sel measurements ranged from 21 to
24 grams (g). All of the fin sel measurements
weighed 25 g. On average, two tablespoons of fin
sel weighed 12% more than the gros sel.
Additionally, because of the structure of gros
sel and its inherent moisture, the measurements
had a fair amount of imprecision. If a recipe calls
for 20 g of salt, it is possible to measure 20 g of
salt without the imprecision induced by a measuring
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shaped dry objects like dried fruit and nuts are also
difficult to measure precisely with volumetric measures.
I have seen too many recipes call for a cup of walnuts
without specifying whether they were coarsely chopped,
pieces, halves, or whatever. By weight, no matter
which type of nut was measured, the result would be
the same amount of nut meat, whereas measuring with
a measuring cup, varying results would be produced.
Simply weighing ingredients increases the accuracy
of the measurement process compared to using volumetric
measures, if good weighing technique is used.
the right scale:
are a number of types of scales currently available
for kitchen use.
scales are the easiest to use and the most accurate,
assuming the user remembers to zero the scale
scales are less expensive than electronic scales,
but lack precision when measuring small quantities.
are traditionally the most accurate kitchen scale,
but these are usually only found in commercial
kitchens, and even less and less there.
choosing a scale suitable for home cooking, be sure
to get one with a resolution of 1g (or 0.125oz). There
are scales with resolutions of 2g (0.25oz) or greater,
but this resolution is not good enough for small portions
of dry ingredients. The maximum capacity should be
at least 2000 g (4 pounds). There should also be a
'tare' feature so you can zero out the weight of the
bowl being used to hold the item being measured.
scale I use measures in either English or metric units
to a precision of 1g or 0.1oz. It has proved to be
invaluable on many occasions, and after my knives,
is probably the most important device I use in the
kitchen, and I use it daily. Grams are more convenient
to use for most weight measurements because in the
quantities used for cooking, fractions are not required.
With the English system, fractions of ounces would
be required to equal the precision obtainable with
whole grams. Although less common, it is not unheard
of to measure liquid ingredients by weight instead
the French havent settled on a single unit for
fractions of a liter (l). Some recipes will be in
centiliters (cl) or 0.1 l. Others will be in deciliters
(dl) or 0.01 l, while some are even in milliliters
(ml), or 0.001 l. By design, one milliliter (ml) of
water weighs 1g. If you are already using a scale
to measure the dry ingredients and the recipe calls
for 250 ml of stock, this will weigh very close to
250g and can be measured quickly on the scale without
getting a measuring cup dirty.
America, where liquid measurements may be in cups,
pints, quarts, etc., or fractions thereof, the conversion
to weight is more difficult. The old saying, A
pint is a pound the world round, is close
to the truth, but the error is about half an ounce
(or one part in 32). But using a pint to measure a
pound is often close enough. Two volumetric measures
that French and American recipes have in common are
the tablespoon, cuillere à soupe, and
the teaspoon, cuillere à café.
In France, a tablespoon is equal to 15 ml, and a teaspoon,
to 5 ml. In the United States, these measures are
slightly smaller - about 1%. In older French cook
books, sometimes a verre, a glass, or tasse,
a cup, is found as a unit of measure. I have not found
a standard definition for either of these measures.
Furthermore, for Americans, the use of milliliters
is simple because standard U.S. measuring cups all
have fractions of cups, ounces, and milliliter graduations.
long and the short of measuring:
measurements of length, America and France are also
in disagreement. Americans use feet and inches. The
French use the metric system - millimeters, centimeters,
and meters. Once again, with the metric system, it
is possible to easily measure most things in the kitchen
without needing to use fractions since the smallest
common unit, the millimeter (mm), is approximately
equal to 1/25 of an inch. It is rare that a recipe
specifies a measurement smaller than a millimeter.
With the English system, fractions of inches are used,
and abused, all the time. Most rulers in America come
with both English and metric units, and every kitchen
should have at least one ruler in its armamentarium.
hot and the cold of measuring:
with measurements of temperature, most digital thermometers
read in either Centigrade or Fahrenheit. Although
I find Centigrade measurements more convenient, it
is harder to make a case for Centigrade measurements
over Fahrenheit. This is especially true since ovens
in the United States are usually only able to be set
in Fahrenheit units. In France, some ovens are set
in Centigrade units, but others use 'thermostat' settings
of 1 to 10.
me what you really mean:
least standardized form of measurements is descriptive
measures. Some of these measures, such as dollop,
handful, and spoonful, have thankfully gone the way
of the buggy whip. Others are firmly with us. Adjectives
such as thinly, finely, and coarsely combined with
instructions like mince, slice, dice, and chop are
found in many recipes, including my own. Each assumes
the reader possesses knowledge that only can be gained
by first making the dish described by the recipe!
these descriptive measurements were combined with
standardized length measurements, instructions would
be clearer. For example, 1 mm thick slices".
There are cases, however, where adding a length measure
is inappropriate. If a recipe calls for finely minced,
I assume the instruction means for the cook to mince
the ingredient as finely as they can. Another problem
brought about by descriptive measures is cultural.
A large, medium, or small apple, onion, or tomato
may not mean the same thing to all readers. It is
much better to apply a description of weight to ingredient
specifications like these.
the pros do it:
of my background, I may emphasize precision a bit
more than necessary, but I bristle when someone says
to me that professional chefs dont measure.
In every kitchen Ive been in Ive seen
chefs measuring everything they do. Sometimes it may
not appear that they are measuring, but they use a
combination of their eyes and experience to measure.
If you ask them how much of an ingredient they just
added to a pot, they can usually tell you a quantity.
Sometimes the amount is based on taste, another means
of measuring. Portion control is very important in
a commercial kitchen, so measuring is done all the
time and at all stages of preparation. If measuring
was not taking place, the chef would not know how
much raw ingredients to order for a planned number
of portions. This is especially important when special
dishes are prepared for banquets - the chef neither
wants material left over, nor to finish the meal service
one portion short!
it clear in recipes:
testing and transcribing recipes, I have adopted a
pattern that may not appear obvious to the reader.
First of all, I attempt to work with the units of
measure as they appeared in the original recipe. Metric
units remain metric, except I have standardized on
milliliters for volume and grams for weight. Thus
centiliters and deciliters are converted to milliliters
and kilograms are converted to grams. I have done
this for two reasons. First, using a smaller variety
of units is less confusing. Second, my measuring equipment
favors grams and milliliters. English units usually
a measure is really intended to indicate an amount
purchased rather than an amount to be measured in
the kitchen, I will usually (but not consistently)
state the amount in the form that it is purchased
in at my local market, for example, 1 pound asparagus
or 1/2 pound onions. In some cases, when small amounts
of ingredients are specified as tablespoons or fractions
of tablespoons, I will convert (visit the site to
convert) these measurements to grams to obtain consistency
each time the recipe is prepared. If the amount is
non-critical, I will usually leave it unmodified.
their very nature, recipes tend to be imprecise. In
most cases, this is not a problem because the experience
of the cook will overcome the lack of precision. In
some cases however, the lack of precision leads to
the evolution of a different dish than originally
intended by the recipe author, or the lack of precision
leads to disappointment and another addition to the
trash bin. I hope my efforts at the art of recipe
writing do not contribute to your local landfill.
with this article Peter has created an excellent weight
conversion facility on his web site -
here to use weight conversion.
article comes from the web site of Peter Hertzmann,
la carte. This is one of the finest web sites I have
most of us are keen amateurs who love to dabble, Peter
is truly dedicated to the pursuit of his interest
in and love of cooking. If his web site was to be
published as a book I would be first in line to buy
is à la carte about? This is best described
in Peter's own words:
obsessive. All my life, when something interested
me, I became obsessed with it. I learned all I could
about it. I lived it! .
. . Ive been obsessive about food as long as
I can remember. I am now obsessive with French cookery
- its preparation, materials, history, politics, and
learn more why not visit the à la carte web
site - click
Peter Hertzmann Inc, 2004
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