cooking measurements: American & British

e2efour

Senior Member
UK English
This discussion was split off from: a cup of sugar
Cagey, moderator

My reply was only a guess since in my experience a cup of sugar is the kind of annoying phrase using in recipes (because it makes more sense in grams).
I would expect some sugar if you ask a neighbour for some (but see below).

Here is an article about borrowing sugar: The History of Asking Your Neighbors for a Cup of Sugar

It includes "knocking on a door and asking for that extra cup of sugar or dolling out surplus tomatoes from an abundant yard garden were part of the rhythms of life."

The conclusion is that people don't borrow food as much as they used to.
 
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  • GreenWhiteBlue

    Senior Member
    USA - English
    (because it makes more sense in grams).
    Only if one is apportioning the ingredients in one's recipe by weight. If one instead apportions them by volume (which is often easier, as it does not require the use of a scale), then it makes more sense to use an appropriate standard of measurement for that method. Since a "cup" is a measure of volume (it is approximately equal to .237 liters), it would make far more sense to use that instead of grams.
     
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    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    Only if one is apportioning the ingredients in one's recipe by weight. If one instead apportions them by volume (which is often easier, as it does not require the use of a scale), then it makes more sense to use an appropriate standard of measurement for that method. Since a "cup" is a measure of volume (it is approximately equal to .237 liters), it would make far more sense to use that instead of grams.
    (I was surprised when I moved to the US at the almost absence of scales in recipes: a set is a basic component in the UK kitchen. The AE/BE differences are not restricted to words:) Obviously volume is handy if you don't possess a simple set of scales. However, it only works well for things like sugar that pack reproducibly and uniformly. The amount of many things that are "chopped" or "fluffy" and depend on how much you compress them into the cup will be better described by weight. That issue may be source of irritation in post #4:D )
     

    GreenWhiteBlue

    Senior Member
    USA - English
    (I was surprised when I moved to the US at the almost absence of scales in recipes: a set is a basic component in the UK kitchen. The AE/BE differences are not restricted to words:) Obviously volume is handy if you don't possess a simple set of scales. However, it only works well for things like sugar that pack reproducibly and uniformly. The amount of many things that are "chopped" or "fluffy" and depend on how much you compress them into the cup will be better described by weight. That issue may be source of irritation in post #4:D )
    You are correct; it is an exceedingly rare American kitchen that has a scale in it, or American cook who thinks of ingredients in terms of their weight rather than their volume. For years I was baffled by European recipes that said "take 300 grams of x, and 50 grams of y"; my thought always was "how in the world are you supposed to know how much it weighs?" It simply was completely outside my experience that someone would actually have a scale in the kitchen for weighing ingredients.
     

    e2efour

    Senior Member
    UK English
    And I thought the USA was supposed to be a developed country.

    (Note to writers of American cookbooks: a cup is a US measure and has to be converted in the UK. It is frustrating to have to cope with volumes when a cup of uncooked rice weighs 110 g, while a cup of sultanas/raisins weighs 200 g. :))
     
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    siares

    Senior Member
    Slovak
    Since a "cup" is a measure of volume (it is approximately equal to .237 liters)
    Hello,
    could you please advise whether 'cup' or 'glass' or some other word can be used also as arbitrary volme unit in US recipes? Or is it ingrained that 'cup' is 240 ml?
    The ratio of X to Y should be 1 to 2. = Boil one cup of grains in two cups of water.
    Thank you.
     

    e2efour

    Senior Member
    UK English
    Hello,
    could you please advise whether 'cup' or 'glass' or some other word can be used also as arbitrary volme unit in US recipes? Or is it ingrained that 'cup' is 240 ml?
    The ratio of X to Y should be 1 to 2. = Boil one cup of grains in two cups of water.
    Thank you.
    A "cup" in recipes is a special measure that is not the same as an ordinary cup or glass, which varies in the amount it contains.

    For example, since I weigh the ingredients in recipes, I have to use a conversion chart, which says that 1 cup of uncooked rice = 200 g/cooked rice = 150 g; 1 cup of ground almonds = 110 g; 1 cup of sultanas/raisins = 200 g; 1 cup of currants = 140 g, etc.
     
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    kentix

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    A cup in cooking is a standardized measure. Every "1 cup" measuring cup you buy in the US will be exactly the same volume. It's not called anything else. You can buy one, too, e2. I even bought US measuring cups in Africa.:)

    Measuring cup - Wikipedia

    A set of plastic measuring cups which usually include one full cup measure, half a cup and one third of a cup

    And invariably it includes a quarter cup measure also.
     

    e2efour

    Senior Member
    UK English
    They're are easy to find over here, but I find it difficult to use them for fractions of a cup. :)

    But the use of this cup does not solve the problems addressed by Julian in #8. In the digital age we need an accurate read-out, which is only possible with digital scales.
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    They're are easy to find over here, but I find it difficult to use them for fractions of a cup.
    Difficult to use a set of cups? That's no harder than using a set of measuring spoons. Many recipes use a mix of volume and weight - x oz of flour, 2 eggs, 1/2 tsp vanilla essence, 1 pt milk - or whatever it might be.
     

    kentix

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    Half a cup is one stick of butter. Unwrap it and you're done. :)

    Here's a line from a cookie recipe:
    • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
    If you need a quarter cup, you just slice right through the packaging at the mark with a knife. It goes through it like butter.:D
     

    siares

    Senior Member
    Slovak
    A "cup" in recipes is a special measure that is not the same as an ordinary cup or glass, which varies in the amount it contains.
    OK, thanks. When I need to express naturally ratio of ingredients, which term fits?
    Put 1 glass/unit/measure/quantity of milk, 2 ? of flour, 3/4 ? of oil and one or two bananas, depending on how much you are baking.
    Thank you.
     

    Keith Bradford

    Senior Member
    English (Midlands UK)
    It's marked on the packaging:
    View attachment 23302
    No it's not, I've looked:



    And anyway, when your cat licks the corner off, it messes up all the calculations...

    But, referring back to Siares' question in #11 (keep on topic, keep on topic), I would take that as a general principle. Cooking for two people, I'd never use an entire cup of rice or couscous, that would be far too much.

    I'd suggest: Put 1 measure of milk, 2 measures of flour, 3/4 of a measure of oil and one banana. Taking a measure to be X grammes, this will be anough for Y people. I'm always annoyed by recipes that don't specify the number of servings. It makes it hard to judge, the first time you try it.
     

    kentix

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    To that point, you'd have to be doing some pretty serious baking to need a full cup of sugar.
     

    siares

    Senior Member
    Slovak
    Thank you, Keith Bradford!

    (Besides cooking, there is another cultural gap between Englishes, in crocheting (BE double crochet = US single crochet). There is one lady on youtube who warns: don't pay attention to my British accent, I use American terms)
     

    GreenWhiteBlue

    Senior Member
    USA - English
    OK, thanks. When I need to express naturally ratio of ingredients, which term fits?
    The problem is that you need to know whether your ratios are ratios of weight, or ratios of volume. One cup of butter weighs more (= 228 grams) than one cup of sugar (= 200 grams). If one "unit" or "measure" of sugar is equal to one "unit" or "measure" of butter in volume, it will not be equal in weight -- and if they are equal in weight, they are not equal in volume. You need to know whether your cook is thinking in terms of ingredients by weight or by volume, because otherwise the result will either have too much butter, or too much sugar (or whatever else you are considering as measured in unspecified "units.")
     

    kentix

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    You don't need a cup of sugar if all you're doing is trying to sweeten your coffee and discover you're out of sugar.:)

    I can make six dozen cookies with a cup of sugar.:eek:
     
    American cooks though, and I am a home one, face the same problem if we go on the internet and find international recipes using weight ratios. I got so tired of guessing that I got a flat battery-powered one to convert back and forth between systems as needed.

    You place whatever generic non-measuring container on the weighing circle, turn the unit on and automatically set the weight of the container itself back to zero so it won't be counted.

    Then you put whatever ingredient, solid or liquid, in gradually while you watch the LCD scale digitally fluctuate up and down until you reach the goal, and you can push a toggle button back and forth in seconds between systems to see what you've got in either. It's fun.

    Minus this contraption, if you're following an American recipe, and your butter is not marked off into measurements, you just let if soften, start eyeballing it and then use a use a spoon until you fill to level an American standard 1/4 cup with butter.
     

    siares

    Senior Member
    Slovak
    The problem is that you need to know whether your ratios are ratios of weight, or ratios of volume. One cup of butter weighs more (= 228 grams) than one cup of sugar (= 200 grams). If one "unit" or "measure" of sugar is equal to one "unit" or "measure" of butter in volume, it will not be equal in weight
    The specific cake is called 'cup cake', all ingredients are measured by being poured into a cup. If one wants to use butter instead of oil, it is a problem. The cup cake recipes exist specifically for when one doesn't have time to take out a scale from a cupboard in a small kitchen, and just wants to throw together something quickly.
    I really like the American system, measuring spoons are easier to store handily.
     

    kentix

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    A cupcake in American English is just a small, individual-size cake. It's made in a big batch like any other cake but then divided into small cups after all the mixing is done.
     

    Edinburgher

    Senior Member
    German/English bilingual
    The specific cake is called 'cup cake',
    As kentix says, a cupcake is something else. You must be confusing it with what we call a pound cake (because it is made using a pound of each of the four principal ingredients flour, sugar, butter and eggs).
    Apparently, pound cake is quite popular in America, which is surprising because it is obviously impossible for them to make it, if they can't weigh the ingredients. :rolleyes:
     
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    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    As kentix says, a cupcake is something else. You must be confusing it with what we call a pound cake (because it is made using a pound of each of the four principal ingredients flour, sugar, butter and eggs).
    Apparently, pound cake is quite popular in America, which is surprising because it is obviously impossible for them to make it, if they can't weigh the ingredients. :rolleyes:
    When do you think it will be called the ½ kg cake?:)
     

    siares

    Senior Member
    Slovak
    You must be confusing it with what we call a pound cake
    It was a mechanical translation from Slovak, where we don't have pounds to confuse with anything.:)
    'Cup cake' in Slovak tells you you don't need weighing equipment, only a cup.
     
    Flour, sugar, and butter are sold by the pound here. (Eggs by the dozen, though, not by weight.)

    Many American recipes for "pound cake" will note that the original concoction called for a pound of each ingredient, butter, flour, sugar and eggs, whence its name, but that most cooks found those proportions not to be the best, and began to offer different proportions for a lighter result.

    ****

    Yes, this should not be confused with "cupcakes." They are formed by taking any kind of cake batter whatsoever and then carefully pouring or spooning the batter into the recessed wells of standard cupcake trays, 12 to a tray is typical, and then baked.

    They can be small or large depending on the tray or other vessel.

    In fact very large/tall "cupcakes" can be baked in an actual coffee cup. They vary in width and height, so the name refers to the vessel, not the measurement.
     

    RM1(SS)

    Senior Member
    English - US (Midwest)
    For example, since I weigh the ingredients in recipes, I have to use a conversion chart, which says that 1 cup of uncooked rice = 200 g/cooked rice = 150 g; 1 cup of ground almonds = 110 g; 1 cup of sultanas/raisins = 200 g; 1 cup of currants = 140 g, etc.
    But why waste time fiddling with a scale when you can just grab a measuring cup and fill it?
     

    Edinburgher

    Senior Member
    German/English bilingual
    But why waste time fiddling with a scale when you can just grab a measuring cup and fill it?
    Because I can't just grab a measuring cup, because it's stored away in a cupboard together with other rarely-used things, like a citrus squeezer and a mortar and pestle.
    Why waste time fetching the measuring cup out of the cupboard, when the scales are right there on the counter-top, ready for immediate action?:)
    Besides, recipes in this part of the world measure dry goods by weight. It just boils down to what you're used to.

    Mind you, I do measure rice by volume. That is, I have no idea how many ml or floz I use, but I put a certain (or uncertain, truth be told, i.e. arbitrary) amount of uncooked rice into a mug, remembering how far up it went, then tip it into the cooking pot. Then I pour tap water into the same mug, to the same level, and pour that into the pot too, and then I do it once more, thereby giving me the 2:1 volume ratio that suits my absorption method.
     

    Myridon

    Senior Member
    English - US
    Why waste time fetching the measuring cup out of the cupboard, when the scales are right there on the counter-top, ready for immediate action?:)
    So you place flour, butter, sugar, milk, ... directly on the scale with no container? Wouldn't you get out something to measure most things into?
     

    Edinburgher

    Senior Member
    German/English bilingual
    So you place flour, butter, sugar, milk, ... directly on the scale with no container?
    Of course not.
    Wouldn't you get out something to measure most things into?
    No. I have two kinds of scale. (1) A nice old-fashioned one that is an actual balance. It has a brass plate on the left onto which to place weights, and a brass bowl on the right for the stuff to be weighed into. The brass bowl "lives" on the balance when it's not in use, so it doesn't need "getting out"
    (2) A flat electronic gizmo similar to the one shown in #42, but without the bowl. I put the mixing bowl in which the ingredients are going to be combined onto the scale, press a button, and it zeroes itself. Then I measure in the flour, zero it again, then the sugar, etc.
    Here I don't need to "get anything out" specifically for measuring, I only get out the mixing bowl which I or you would need anyway.
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    Yay! Seeking relief from the problems in #8 above, I found a conversion chart for various recipe items like "1 cup shredded carrots", 1 cup Julienned carrots" and "1 cup thinly slcied carrots" - these are converted in to 2, 5 and 3 "medium carrots" respectively :eek: I still have problems with recipes the eschew weights but seem to think there is a "standard medium carrot" or a "small cucumber" or a "medium potato. Now all I need is another chart to conver "1 standarrd medium carrot" to a weight:D
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    What about this one, Julian?

    Weight Equivalents: Carrots

    Carrot, Common

    Small, average about 5 1/2 inches length - 50g - 1.8oz
    Medium, average about 6 to 7 inches length - 61g - 2.2oz
    Large, average about 7 1/4 to 8 1/2 inches length - 73g - 2.6oz
    And it would need to be a typical variety of medium width, too:) No question, scales are useful - although much of my cooking is probably not precise enough for it to matter too much.
    .
    carrotshapes.jpg

     

    Edinburgher

    Senior Member
    German/English bilingual
    Julian might wish to "julienne" his carrots (rather than slice or dice them), i.e. cut them into thin long strips. He might wish the strips to be longer than the length at which they can lie horizontally in the measuring cup, and also longer than the appropriate height in the cup if he piles them in vertically (He might want half a cup and the cup is 4in high and he wants them 3in long). It's just totally impractical to measure carrots by volume.

    Unless you put half a cup of water into your one-cup cup, and pile in carrots until the water level reaches the "full" mark.
     

    RM1(SS)

    Senior Member
    English - US (Midwest)
    But why waste time fiddling with a scale when you can just grab a measuring cup and fill it?
    For the reason that it cannot be done accurately with many ingredients (see #8).
    It seems quite accurate when I use one.

    Yay! Seeking relief from the problems in #8 above, I found a conversion chart for various recipe items like "1 cup shredded carrots", 1 cup Julienned carrots" and "1 cup thinly slcied carrots" - these are converted in to 2, 5 and 3 "medium carrots" respectively :eek: I still have problems with recipes the eschew weights but seem to think there is a "standard medium carrot" or a "small cucumber" or a "medium potato. Now all I need is another chart to conver "1 standarrd medium carrot" to a weight:D
    Eyeball it. You know what a large carrot is. You know what a small carrot is. A medium carrot is in between.
     

    djmc

    Senior Member
    English - United Kingdom
    When I am cooking I very rarely measure. If I do I normally go by weight rather than volume except for liquids. Recipes are normally written for people who know how to cook, and for the most part the precise quantities are not important. If I wanted to scrounge some ingredient from a neighbour I wold take a container and say "Can I borrow some sugar".
     

    RM1(SS)

    Senior Member
    English - US (Midwest)
    Measuring something that doesn't need to be measured means additional time/effort. :)
    That's true whether you do it by volume or by weight:)
    Which is why I wouldn't use either method to measure a medium carrot/potato/onion/whatever. :)

    When I am cooking I very rarely measure. If I do I normally go by weight rather than volume except for liquids. Recipes are normally written for people who know how to cook, and for the most part the precise quantities are not important.
    Indeeed. Cooking is an art. (Baking, however, is a science, which is why we never spoke of "recipes" when I was a baker.)
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    [
    Cooking is an art. (Baking, however, is a science, which is why we never spoke of "recipes" when I was a baker.)
    So if I wanted to bake a carrot cake with consistent "moisture" - not too dry, not too wet, I don't think I could guess that "standard width, standard length, medium carrot" regularly. For a stew that contains carrots, who cares, indeed?!
     

    djmc

    Senior Member
    English - United Kingdom
    If I wanted to cook carrot cake, I would use a recipe, grate the weight of carrots specified (it would normally say like n grammes of grated carrots) and use that. It may be that different varieties of carrots would give different results.
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    If I wanted to cook carrot cake, I would use a recipe, grate the weight of carrots specified (it would normally say like n grammes of grated carrots) and use that. It may be that different varieties of carrots would give different results.
    :thumbsup:
    I chose carrot cake because it is a case where precise weight control results in consistent consistency:D
     
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