Sunday, 5 August 2012

It's a measuring minefield out there! And an exciting reader giveaway!

Please note that Everyday Life On A Shoestring is on holiday until Friday 10 August!  However, don't go away!  During the week why not browse some older posts and please feel free to enter the amazing reader giveaway below.   Normal service will be resumed on Friday!

Our adventures in measuring began when Daughter decided she’d like to bake some Peanut Butter and Oat bars that she had seen on Frugal Girl’s Baking with Lisey blog.

Great idea!  We’d got most of the ingredients, bar corn syrup (we couldn’t find this locally and settled for rice syrup instead). I’d noticed that American recipes are in cups, but surely it wouldn’t be too difficult to convert?  After all, my own measuring system is very idiosyncratic. 

I learned to cook in the days when metric measurements were just starting to be used in recipes at my school.  I can swap ounces for grams easily, but rely on a decent measuring jug for converting fluid ounces to millilitres. 

I also get by with a certain amount of scooping and measuring by eye.  For instance I know that a matchbox sized piece of cheese or butter approximates to an ounce or 25g, and a heaped dessert spoonful of sugar or flour is also roughly an ounce or 25g. 

So we thought the Peanut Butter bar recipe would be easy.  Wrong!  For a start, I found that none of my recipe books includes a conversion table for ‘cups’.  Online, I discovered that ‘one cup’ has a different conversion depending on what you are measuring.  For instance, ‘one cup’ of rice is 225g whereas ‘one cup’ of flour is 115g.  We needed to measure decided to work on the basis that a cup of oats would fall somewhere between 115g and 225g.

Sugar should be easy, yes?  No! ‘One cup’ of brown sugar is 180g, whereas ‘one cup’ of granulated sugar is 225g.

Butter? The recipe called for ¾ cup of  butter, but the conversion table I was using only talked about sticks of butter…so now I needed to convert from sticks to cups to grams…

By this time I was getting a headache. Especially when I read that if I ever want to cook an Australian recipe, they also measure in ‘cups’ but their ‘cups’ are different to American ‘cups’!  Despite metric measurements supposedly having swept around the world after the French revolution, the reality seems to be that things have not moved on much from the days when measurements were defined locally, according to the size of the King’s thumb or big toe.

We found some conversion charts online, but not all were thorough enough and listed the ingredients we needed.  The most useful charts we could find were at The Metric Kitchen.  There are also online conversion calculators such as, where you stick in your ingredient and it will convert the amount for you.  This is a little tedious to say the least!  My lovely blogging friend Lili at Creative Savv and I discussed measurements and she has also written a great ‘measurements’ blog post today which includes some conversion charts.  She has kindly started including metric measurements in the recipes which she posts on her blog.

My own conclusion is that if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em!  The US will probably still have ‘cup’ measurements for some time to come (even though metrification is now complete in most countries except the US, Liberia and Burma), so if you are frequently going to be using American recipes, the best thing you can do is to acquire a set of measuring cups or a Tala cone.


In the interests of fostering transatlantic recipe relations, I have one fabulous secondhand Tala measuring cone to give away to UK readers! (I did promise that my next reader giveaway would be something exciting and things don’t get much more exciting than a secondhand measuring cone!) If you would like to be in with a chance of winning, please leave a comment below.  Just your name will do. If you'd like to subscribe to the blog too, that would be great but I'm not going to force you to! This competition will be open until midday on Friday 10 August.

Meanwhile Lili thinks it’s very quaint that in Wiltshire I measure everything out so precisely, and I imagine her in Seattle scooping and splashing away, rather like the Swedish Chef from the Muppets!


  1. I have a set of measuring cups - one of the best presents I was ever given!!

  2. Most liquid measuring cups we have here in the US have both ml and ounces marked on them. However, I just noticed the other day that one of mine has a different kind of cup on it. You've cleared up that mystery for me.
    Have a good trip.

  3. Hi all, I do have a question about determining how to measure something.(I must preface, I'm in the US, so forgive my ignorance). How do I determine, when I'm making a conversion from US to metric for a recipe, whether to measure in mL, or grams? For instance, I was trying to figure out how to state a measurement for canned tomatoes. It's tomatoes in sauce, so do I do that as a weight or as a liquid measure. (I know, those of you in the UK are laughing yourselves silly over my pathetic question, but I couldn't figure out the answer to that this morning. And here in the US, for large quantities, the measure would likely be as a liquid. ) Thanks, I appreciate input from those of you across the pond.

    1. I'm the same side of the pond as you, but scientifically ml measures volume and grams measure weight. I just so happens that 1 gram of water equals one ml of water. I think that confuses things sometimes.
      It's also confusing that we have both a fluid ounce and weight ounce. I think tomatoes are measured by weight in the cans. The liquid with them is liquid that cooks out of them. So, if it were me, I would convert tomatoes into grams. There. My non-expert guess of an answer.

    2. Yes, we would measure tomatoes in grams. A standard tin over here is 400g. Sometimes they put the drained weight as well as the overall weight on the tin, for plum tomatoes. I think the better quality, more expensive tinned tomatoes will probably have more tomatoes, less juice and vice versa. Anything liquid in ml, and anything solid in grams! Even passata (sieved tomatoes) is measured in grams.

    3. Thanks, both of you. It's odd, but many of my recipes, for those that use summer produce, state measures in pints or quarts, like a quart of tomatoes. I'm learning.