Confusing Conversions – Make it Stop!

Confusing Conversions
Confusing Conversions

In a perfect cooking world, measuring ingredients would be the easiest part of the process. But, it can actually be one of the most confusing.

Measurement standards seem to be all over the map, with no rhyme or reason.

Yes, they are all over the map – but there is a good reason: recipes come from all over the world.

I often see website commenters asking a recipe author about their measurements. The most common questions I find are:

Your ingredients are using grams and ml, what is it in cups?

The ingredients are written in cups, what is it in ml?

How many cups are in a pint?

It goes on and on, making cooks and readers increasingly frustrated.

With this vagueness comes the inevitable: recipe failure. Readers are frustrated because they followed the instructions, and yet it didn’t work out.

What Information am I Missing?

For the majority of people reading a recipe in a cookbook or online, the measurements used will be either:

  • Imperial – used in the United Kingdom (the UK also uses the Metric System)
  • US Standard – used in the United States
  • Metric – used virtually everywhere else

It must be said, however, that this is not always the rule. Many people will use a standard they are comfortable with no matter where they live.

Who Cares?

Knowing which measurement standard is being used in a recipe is incredibly important because each standard is different, even if they use the same labels. This can best be seen with the US and Imperial use of terms like “cup”, “pint”, “quart” and “gallon”. They are the same labels, but have different values.

(Don’t worry, we have created a handy chart below. There is no need to memorize the values.)

Once this is understood, the following becomes crystal clear:

  • All measuring cups are manufactured with markings that correspond with specific measurement standards. For example, a Metric measuring cup will have the “1 Cup” marking at 250 ml, whereas an Imperial measuring cup will have “1 Cup” marked at 284 ml.
  • When baking, precision is very important and consistent measurements between the cook and recipe author are a must.
  • Many recipes will fail because the cook is inadvertently using the wrong measurement tools (ie, the cook is using US measuring cups while the recipe author is using Imperial recipe amounts).

For years I cooked with my favourite measuring cups. But, after taking a closer look, I realized that they were actually US Standard cups. This was not an issue if I was using an American recipe, but it created problems if I found a recipe that I didn’t realize was written in the Metric or Imperial system.

Now I understand why some recipes I’ve made came out hit or miss. Especially when I doubled or tripled recipes.

What Do We Recommend?

If you are a recipe author, you want your readers to be successful. But, all of your hard work will be for naught if your readers are using different measurement tools.

  • Make sure that you clearly state what measurement standard you are using.
  • Provide conversions to accommodate those who may not be using the same standard.
  • If a reader is having problems with a recipe, make sure you ask them what measurement standard their tools use.

If you are a cook, you want to be able to explore and experiment with recipes without measurement confusion.

  • Consciously look for a note from the recipe author regarding the measurement standard they use (look in the cookbook’s Introduction, the website’s About page, FAQs, or within the recipe itself).
  • Look at the tools you use. Which measurement standard are they made for? Make sure that you know for sure.

My Strategy For Wet Measures

Metric Measuring Cups
Clearly marked ml measurements.

To keep everything clear and simple, I just stick to millilitres (ml) – no mystical “cups” for me. Millilitres act just like weight measures – they stay constant. A ml is a ml. As long as I know what measurement standard the recipe is using, it is so simple. For example:

  • A US Standard cup of milk? That would be 240 ml (the chart below says 236.59 ml, but many US cups round up to 240 ml)
  • A UK recipe calling for a pint of chicken stock? Easy, it is 568 ml
  • A Metric cup of whipping cream? That’s 250 ml

I make sure that I have a liquid measuring cups that have lots of ml markings. I ignore any markings that say “cups” and just go by the ml. Doing it this way is so much easier. I encourage you to give it a try.

What About Dry Measures?

Measuring dry ingredients can be quite the task when dealing with recipes calling for “cups”.

  • Are the ingredients packed down or fluffed up?
  • Is it humid?
  • How well do the ingredients fit in these cups?

The first thing I did to eliminate these puzzles was buy a scale. This is the easiest and most accurate way to measure dry and cumbersome ingredients.

If you want to see this in action, check out this video.

An added bonus is that no matter which measurement standard is used, all weight measures are constant. Ounces, grams, and pounds are all the same no matter where you live.

What’s the Deal With Ounces?

I want to touch on the whole fluid ounces versus ounces situation. The most important thing to understand is that they are NOT the same thing.

  • Fluid Ounces (fl. oz) measure liquids using volume (how much space something takes up)
  • Ounces (oz) measure – usually dry ingredients – using weight

There is only one ingredient where both the fluid ounce and the ounce measurement are equal: water.

8 (US) fl. oz (volume) of water = 8 oz (weight)

This does not apply for any other ingredient though. Here’s an example:

8 (US) fl. oz (volume) of water = 8 oz (weight)

8 (US) fl. oz (volume) of flour = 4 oz (weight)

Although they take up the same amount of space (volume), they do not weigh the same.

Make sure that you are using the correct measurement tool (volumetric cup or scale) when working with recipes.

We’ve created an infographic showing the differences between the three measurement standards we have discussed. Use this instead of conversion charts and diagrams. Simply measure using millilitres. Then you can focus on cooking.

Let's clear up the confusing conversions once and for all.
Confusing Conversions

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