Measurements Around The Globe

It came up in a conversation on Google+ that folks in some areas can’t buy butter by the stick and don’t want to measure it by the cup, so the question of measurement by weight was raised. For those who need such conversions, here is a handy chart by Ochef that includes butter by the stick, volume, Imperial measurements and metric.

Ideally, I’d love to do all of my recipes in metric, because metric is a vastly superior and more sensible system than Imperial. However, I live in the US, where no recipe books use metric, almost none of the people around me know metric, and even though when I was raised in Canada metric was the default in schools, our mothers all taught us to cook in Imperial. My oven here in the US doesn’t have metric. Other than my Pyrex cups, I have no tools for measuring in metric; I have a drawer full of cups and tablespoons. Just to make life difficult, I do have one set of Australian measuring spoons because the Australian tablespoon is larger than the UK/US tablespoon.

I keep a magnet on my fridge with conversions laid out, partly so if I’m doubling a recipe I can quickly see that I can measure out one tablespoon instead of 1 1/2 teaspoons twice. It also helps with the occasional metric recipe I find online, or when I am unable to fathom the bizarre contortions of Imperial (I still don’t really get ounces, quarts, or pints). If the magnet doesn’t have the information I need, I know I can type most conversion requests directly into Google’s search bar and it’ll do the calculation for me. For instance, if I had a recipe that called for 1.5 litres of something and I wanted to measure it in cups, I could just type “1.5 litres in cups” into Google’s bar and it’d tell me that it’s 6.34012926 cups. Then the hard part of converting the decimal to a fraction comes into play, and I’m really bad at that, so a lot of estimating happens in my kitchen.

Some food blogs post all of the conversions right there in the recipe for you. I find those recipes annoyingly difficult to read, and they make me error-prone because there are numbers all over the place. I’m not going to do that.

In an ideal world, the US would get on board with the rest of the civilized world and convert to metric. That is not going to happen. The sheer cost alone to convert packaging and labels would ensure the food lobby – the same people who have undermined nearly every attempt at requiring fair, consumer-friendly labelling for decades – would have a total fit. Such legislation isn’t even on the table, let alone likely to pass. Don’t bother to make points about the scientific usefulness; this is a country where in many areas politicians still win by being anti-science. On every front, the notion of the US changing to metric is implausible for the foreseeable future.

Thus, while I fully acknowledge that it’s a pain for those not in the US to have to convert, the fact remains that I’m cooking in Imperial and the majority of my readers are as well, so I’m sticking to that for now. I’m truly sorry if that’s difficult for those in more sensible locations, but there are conversion tools aplenty. All recipes should be tested in other regions anyway, since there are significant differences between regional ingredients. Dairy products can vary widely in fat content, eggs vary in size, flour varies in consistency and protein levels, sugar grain size varies, sometimes flour and/or sugar have anti-caking additives as standards in one country and not in another, etc. These things can vary even within one country: we learned when we moved to Texas from Nevada that all-purpose flour is different in the US south versus the rest of the country and were advised to stick to national brands for consistency.

So I absolutely advise all cooks to become familiar with the differences between regional measurements and ingredients so they can better share non-local recipes accordingly. We all have to grudgingly accept these issues as some of the downsides to the otherwise fantastic ability to so easily share things on a global scale.

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