# Metric recipes use mass not volume?

I was reading a discussion and I was getting the vibe that recipes in countries that use the metric system use grams to measure how much of certain ingredients is to be used.

This makes no sense. If you are using sugar, salt, flower, etc, these all have different densities so they cannot be measured using a set volume, such as a cup. Does every kitchen have to have a scale? How does this work? This sounds difficult and time consuming.

I thought metric was supposed to be easier!

Yes, kitchens in other countries have scales. You should too! Much more exact and you don’t have to worry about compacting ingredients like flour, which you can measure radically differently by using different methods (just dipping, dip and sweep, sifting, etc.)

ETA - also much less time consuming once you get your scale out.

ETAA - AND fewer dishes!

Yeah, it’s not rocket science either. You put a bowl/whatever on the scale, zero it out, and then add the ingredient until you get the desired weight. Might be a little bit slower and require more dishes, but it is more accurate.

I use a scale in my US kitchen, and try to find baking recipes by weight rather than volume. (When not baking, there’s no need for such precision.)

However I’ve got a lot of Canadian and Mexican recipes (i.e., books/magazines actually from those countries) where the measurements are still in terms of teaspoons, tablespoons, and cups (in Spanish: cucharita, cucharada, and taza, respectively).

I don’t think I’m buying that it is quicker. Taking a cup scoop, ram it into a flour bag, leveling it with one finger, and then throwing it into the mixing bowl is pretty fast. Yea, its +/- 5%. You think the recipe maker baked hundreds of variations of the recipie to optimize each ingriedent to its optimum +/- 5%? Oh heck no, they just rounded to the nearest 1/4 cup, teaspoon or whatever.

Besides, has it always been this way? Cheap electronic scales haven’t been around for forever. Using a two pan balance with standardized weights just to cook must have been murder.

Unless you mis-typed, you answered your own question there: this is precisly why measuring with cups is less accurated then weighing things. My German recipes are almost all done with weight. Only one children’s cake is in cups, and except for one egg, they relate to each other. (That’s why it’s called children’s cake: the mother can measure the empty joghurt cups with the flour, grit, nuts, milk, the child just has to dump all the ingredients into a bowl, mix with a spoon or electric mixer, and pour into the prepared form. Into the oven, and a cake is done by a 3year old. Later the child can start measuring on their own).

A small scale where the bowls folds over the scale doesn’t need much storage room and costs about 20 Euros. (I have a simpler one, but that’s the first image I found similar).

How is measuring on the scale more difficult or more time consuming then measuring with cups?

I do have some measuring cups with different scales for water, flour, sugar etc., but I only use them for water. I never know what kind of flour they used for their calibration and how similar it is to the density of the flour I use; I may use a combination of brown sugar, raw sugar etc. with different densities; flour should be sifted for optimal results (adding more air), throwing volume measurements off…

Converting US recipes is not only difficult because of the imperial system, but because I never know if the official volume measurments are close to what I use (after all, the US recipes take into account different sea levels of up to 1 600 m where people still bake - we’re much closer to ground here).

Yes, it is. I know that 1/8 of a liter is equivalent to 125 ml, no matter which form the recipe uses, and can estimate how much is left in my 1 l milk bottle.

What does the measuring method have to do with metric?

Well, if you are comfortable with your measurements all being off… We prefer it this way.

Um, what kind of balances are you thinking off? Nobody uses apothecaries two-pan balances; it’s a normal analog scale where you put the bowl onto the scale, turn to zero, add the flour and watch. Look at the linked pictures for examples. (Why should I spend a battery for an electronic one if an analog works as well?)

The only thing that bugs me about my cheap analog one is the size of the scale - it’s 20 g which is often not exact enough when doing smaller sizes. But a proper scale with 5g would cost much more, so I get by.

It isn’t just metric recipes either. British recipes when I was growing up were all in imperial weights rather than volumes.

This is something that really annoys me when I’m trying out metric recipes. It is too much trouble to take out a scale and weigh ingredients when I have an array of cup measures all ready to go. And the trade-off in accuracy is not worth it. I don’t bake, so I don’t need that degree of accuracy. I just need to know roughly how much water (measured by volume! Yay!) and how much oats (fucking measured by mass? Goddamit!) to dump in the pot.

Baking is all about the precision and science. For decades, bakers have used formulas, not recipes. Relatively recently, bakers have started to weigh liquids as well. In 1950, a basic bread formula might have called for 50 pounds of flour, 1 pound of salt, .6 pounds of yeast and 4 gallons of water. Now, it’s more common to call for 33 pounds of water in that formula. The point is that the baker’s kitchen is geared around weighing things, so it’s easier to weigh everything. Also, having everything expressed in pounds greatly simplifies scaling recipes up or down.

Cooking, OTOH, is more of a “Hey, that tastes nice” process and exact measurements are normally not critical.

Of course it is easily possible to write a metric recipe and use volumes instead of mass, and write to add .5 liters of flour instead of 500 grams of flour, and it’s possible to write non-metric recipes using weight instead of volume, and write to add 1 pound of flour instead of 4 cups.

In fact, professional bakers almost always use recipes specified by weight instead of volume. You can see the advantage especially in large batches. And this is the way most ingredients are sold, so when a recipe calls for 10 pounds of flour you can get a 10 pound bag and just dump it in.

Measuring by weight rather than volume produces more consistent results. Note that this is really important only for things like baking. If you get twice as much garlic in your sauce it’s just going to taste only a bit more garlicy, it’s not going to change the texture or structure of the finished product. Twice as much baking soda means the finished product could be radically different.

Yeah, it’s nothing to do with metric vs. imperial per se, and it cuts both ways. I hate the way US recipes say things like “a cup of broccoli”. Google tells me that a cup is about 200-250ml, so no problem there, but how can you measure a solid, irregularly-shaped object like broccoli by volume? Are you supposed to mash it up so it fits in the cup? Immerse it water to find its volume?

You don’t have to worry about it. That degree of precision isn’t called for in cooking. I can’t imagine any recipe including broccoli would binge on a little more or less.

I dunno… The first time I made an apple pie from Gramma’s recipe, the recipe called for three cups of apples, or some such. Even with an American kitchen, it’d be a huge bother to measure out three cups of apples, and the grocery store where I was buying them had a scale in the produce section, anyway. So I figured, apples have the same density of water, so three cups would be a pound and a half, and put apples on the scale until it hit 1.5 pounds. Which, of course, was about twice as many apples as I needed, since Gramma meant that the apples fit in three cups, not that they displace three cups. Result, I still measure the apples by weight when I’m making pie, except that now I’ve cut the weight in half.

Concur. Scales have been a standard item of equipment in British kitchens for centuries. So it’s nothing to do with metric - it’s to do with basic methodology.

Exactly, Sweden has been metric since the 19th century and most of our cook books use volume(for dry ingredients at least), I don’t think we even have a kitchen scale in the house.

Let me help: a tablespoon is near enough an ounce (which is just a shadow under 30 grams) of most things. Normal dry ingredients, that is, like flour, sugar or oats. Not molten lead or anything like that.

I love my kitchen scale. It is vastly, vastly, vastly easier to use and less messy than measuring cups.

Any German kitchen I have been in had a measuring cup with several weight scales for common ingredients. They were also cone shaped so the accuracy/precision was a fairly constant percentage of the amount measured.

It’s the same whichever way around - I’m in the UK and use metric measures and weights where possible - when I try an American recipe that calls for ‘sticks’ of butter and cups of cheese, it’s awkward. Not impossible, and conversion tables exist, but the difficulty isn’t in the conceptual unit of measurement (unlike other problems with metric systems vs the others), it’s in the unfamiliarity of method.