I have just finished a video on How to Measure Food, the American way! Unfortunately there is no single standard way of measuring cooking ingredients that is used around the world.
Even though the three most common systems are Metric, US Standard and Imperial, it’s almost impossible to cover all the differences, since there are an almost infinite number of variations. I’m going to focus in this blogpost on comparing Metric and US Standard.
We’ll look at the Imperial system another time. (British cooks, or Americans trying to use British recipes, can become very confused because the British and American systems used many common measurement names, yet the measurements aren’t always the same!)
It’s important to remember that, in any system, there are measures of both solids (so-called “dry measures”) and liquids.
In the US, volume measurements are usually given for most ingredients, weights are sometimes used for others, and (just to make it even more awkward) amounts are sometimes expressed in both terms. For example, you’ll sometimes see a reference to “one pint (8 ounces) of milk” or “four tablespoons (two ounces) of butter.”
Beware! The liquid “ounces” in the first example (milk) and the solid “ounces” in the second example (butter) have the same name, but reflect two different measurement systems. A liquid ounce is a measurement of volume, and an ounce of butter refers to an ounce by weight. Yes, recipes should always say “liquid ounce” when they refer to a liquid, but it usually gets left out. You have to interpret it using common sense — is the item usually liquid (volume) or solid (weight)?
The Metric system
The most important difference between the US and European (Metric) systems, apart from the terms used, is that the US tends to rely predominantly on volume to measure ingredients, (i.e. when measuring flour Americans tend to use the “dip and sweep” method shown in my video while in Europe they usually measure dry ingredients by weight and only liquid ingredients by volume.
So, you can sometimes see dry ingredients measured by weight (e.g. ounces, pounds, grams, kilograms) or by volume (e.g. tablespoons, cups, milliliters, liters).
If you are using a recipe from one system (US, Metric or Imperial) that is not the one you normally use, I’d strongly recommend converting all of the ingredients into your familiar system before beginning to cook. Otherwise, you could end up with really confused proportions!
I know this all sounds really complicated!! Hopefully some of the other posts that I have written on measuring will help to clarify the topic:
- How to Measure Food ( Video)
- Food Measuring and Equivalents and Conversions (Charts)
- Measuring Food around the World
- Measuring Liquids
- Measuring by Weight
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