American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's the kitchen scale?

(This post has nothing to do with Frugal Month. It does have something to do with my recent obsessing about kitchens though.)

I like the cooking videos on the New York Times web site quite a lot. I especially like the ones from Apartment 4B, starring Jill Santopietro in her tiny kitchen. She’s adorable, and the recipes look workable.

But as I was watching this latest video, where she makes a pizza in that tiny kitchen, I was shaking my head in disbelief many times.

Well first, go and watch it if you haven’t yet. I’ll wait.

(Waits.)

Seen it? Ok, this is what’s bothering me.

  1. She recommends ‘fluffing the flour up’, before scooping-and-leveling it out with your standard measuring cup.
  2. She then makes the pizza dough with a gigantic Kitchen Aid mixer.

So basically, this girl who has a kitchen barely big enough to turn around in, has a giant mixer, yet has no kitchen scale. I guess there’s some sort of rationale behind the fluffing up the flour step, but - isn’t it more important to have an accurate amount of flour in the dough? What if you fluff more one day than you do another, and your dough doesn’t turn out the same?

Which leads to a question that’s been bugging me for a long time. Why don’t American cooks like to weigh their ingredients?

Now, while I did spend a number of years living in the States, I essentially learned the fundamentals of cooking in Japan, with some England and Switzerland thrown in there. (This is mainly because when I lived in New York, I either was too broke to cook much beyond the basics, or (later on) I had a crazy 100 hour a week type of job which left me little time or energy for cooking. If I’d had a food blog back then, it would have been about the wonders of NYC takeout.) Anyway, the point is, I learned to cook with this basic understanding: For complete accuracy, you need to weigh out ingredients, especially for baking.

But every single American cookbook or recipe site has measurements in cups and spoons. This makes sense for liquid ingredients. And most recipes are forgiving enough so that a few grams or ounces more or less don’t make a big difference. But if you have a complicated recipe for cake or something that you want to be able to replicate reliably, in my mind cups don’t really make a lot of sense. Commercial recipes, which must be reliably reproduceable, don’t do cup measurements.

I do write out most of the the recipes on my sites with cup measurements (as well as ounces and grams) for U.S. readers. I have memorized archaic U.S. only measurements like a stick of butter = 8 Tbs. of butter = 4 ounces of butter. Still, I don’t really see that it’s totally logical.

A fairly fancy kitchen scale doesn’t cost more than $50 or so, $100 at most. (This list of kitchen scales on Amazon.com shows many in the $25 range.) That humongous KitchenAid in the video probably cost what - $400? $500? More? I did not have a very big kitchen in the house we just sold, so I couldn’t find the space for a mixer, but I only needed a tiny narrow shelf to house a good kitchen scale.

So, my U.S. based readers - what’s your opinion? Why do Americans love cup measurements, and not weight measurements? Do you have a kitchen scale? Do you use it? (Do you have a KitchenAid or other big gadget, and bake often, but no scale?)

(Disclaimer: I have nothing at all against KitchenAid. My sister has one, it’s beautiful. I admire it when I visit her.)

(Oh, and one more thing that bugged me about that video, though it’s not unique in this: Carmelize onions?? Make them smell like Carmel, California? Isn’t it caramelize??)

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Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

I bought my scale the day after I received my KitchenAid (and then threatened each of my housemates with severe consequences should either be mis-handled). It drives me crazy when baking recipes do not give weight- and as an American, I don't care what weight measurement is used, as long as any weight is given (scales that have multiple options are my friend). Even when cooking, I'd rather have weight than "1/2 c. of chopped onions". What if my chopping is different than yours? Just tell me that you used 3 oz. of chopped onion and be done with it!
So- I am at least one American who concurs that weight is most important for baking ingredients.

Added bonus: I am so lazy that if I weigh it all into the bowl I am using to mix, I have fewer dishes to wash).

Jenn | 20 April, 2009 - 23:28

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

Yes!! I love to weigh everything into one bowl. TARE FTW!

maki | 20 April, 2009 - 23:46

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

Maki-san,
Perhaps it's the 10 years I spent in Japan or the fact that I have a Japanese husband though I now live in the Midwestern US; in any case, I have a kitchen scale AND a Kitchen Aid mixer. Though I thoroughly enjoy the latter and am thankful I have the space for it, it's the former I can't do without. Thankfully, my scale came with a conversion chart, so those annoying American recipes that give me nothing but cups to work with can be salvaged. I agree with you; everyone should cook/bake with a scale!
Jamie

Jamie Matsuoka | 20 April, 2009 - 23:48

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

I don't have much to say on the subject of the weight vs cups issue other than the fact that it's just something that started a long time ago and never was fixed. I'd assume it's probably because it was a lot cheaper to buy measuring cups than a scale ages ago. And after time, we'd developed recipes around what was more readily available than what was accurate. I'd assume, anyway.

I have a scale, but I don't use it often. But then again, I don't need to use it often as I'm not really hardcore into baking at the moment. So, what I have is fine. I do use my scale for measuring soy beans for soy milk, though.

On the comment about the pronunciation of caramel: There are at least two different ways Americans pronounce caramel-- maybe more. One sounds like this: car-a-mel. The other is more like this: carrmul. Sounds like she's in the latter camp.

Arianis | 21 April, 2009 - 01:00

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

And CARE-A-MEL

And that city in Calif is CAR-MEL which some people do think is the candy you pop in your mouth, LOL.

anon. | 22 April, 2009 - 20:28

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

I have a kitchen scale. I use it when I bake fiddly things, and don't bother when I bake forgiving things. I don't break it out often -- it's a largish mechanical scale with a fitted bowl, so a) I don't trust it because it's old and mechanical, and b) it takes up too much space to leave out on the counter.

When I'm cooking, as opposed to baking, I don't usually bother to weigh or even to use measuring cups a large part of the time. I can estimate anywhere between a quarter-cup and four cups fairly accurately for solid food. For liquids, I generally break out the measuring cups.

I have a Kitchen-Aid mixer. I got it for my wedding, so it cost me nothing. It fits under the sink, which I think is where most people keep theirs. (; It is emphatically not a gadget. It is a lifesaver -- handles everything I want mixed or kneaded or whatever. (:

Aaaanyway ... to the real meat of your question:

I suspect most people in the US don't like weighing their ingredients because it seems like an extra step. Rather than just spooning out exactly what you need, you have to adjust your scale for your bowl, put your food on the scale, see how much it is, add or take away ... too fiddly! (:

(and yes, CARAMELIZE. I wish people would use their spellcheckers. Oh wait, too fiddly. (; )

Leanne Opaskar | 21 April, 2009 - 01:10

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

Leanne Opaskar wrote:

Rather than just spooning out exactly what you need

Logically, this makes no sense. The whole purpose of the scales is to ensure you 'get the right amount'. If someone can already 'spoon out exactly the right amount' without scales, then obviously they have no need for scales, which in the real world more often than not isn't the case.

anon. | 27 January, 2013 - 20:36

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

Ummm, that's a stick of butter = *8* Tbs= 4oz, I think...

Hate to have you short yourself on the lovely, lovely butter :o).

Kathy

Kathy in S.B. | 21 April, 2009 - 01:15
maki | 21 April, 2009 - 06:22

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

Why do Americans speak English that's not the same as they speak in England?

We like to be different.

And we hate the metric system, too.

Other than that - I've got nothing ;-)

LizAndrsn | 21 April, 2009 - 01:20

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

Thus is why America is the only place to refuse to adopt the metric system. We are all doomed as Americans to suck at baking (because we use cups) and use obscure measurements that only, we, Americans understand. I don't know the justification. I bake a lot BUT! I'm too use to this measurement style and too lazy to change my ways...I wish I was accustom to scale measurements. Also...you ask why we use cups, I don't know...just like I don't know how we had such a lame president for so long.

Mitsu | 6 May, 2009 - 07:37

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

I worked for a famous American pastry chef in London and she'd adopted the metric system. It's really not hard to adapt to. You put item on scales. Number goes up as you add mass. Number goes down as you subtract mass. Achieve number described in recipe. Job done.

If Americans won't do this because they are lazy, then fair enough.

If Americans won't adapt to this because they stubbornly want to be different, then it isn't my loss. Do things the hard way and make mistakes in tricky recipes if being unique(ly handicapped) is that important to you, for the mere sake of 'being different'.

anon. | 27 January, 2013 - 20:39

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

You speak differently due to the many different nationalities involved in the founding of your country.

We measure in Imperial.

IMO, even cup conversions are a waste of time as density is not accounted for.

If I see 'cup' mentioned in a recipe, I won't use it as the author usually has a poor understanding of cooking principals...

anon. | 17 January, 2012 - 21:46

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

I can't speak as to why more American's don't use kitchen scales. I grew up not using one, so it is my first nature to not measure ingredients. What is funny is that when making pizza dough (or any bread products), I use measuring cups for a guideline, but use the "feel of the dough" to determine how much flour is needed. My mother taught me that the feel is more important than the recipe. My mother was a professional baker who used very large, old fashioned scales in her kitchen (that used removeable cast iron weights)since she was always cooking in bulk. I'm going to need to purchase a scale because some of her best dessert recipes are still designed to use 26 lbs. of flour at a time. It would be easier to break that weight down using weight, rather than cups.

The Carmel issue? I think it is just one of pronunciation. Some say car-muls, other say cara-mels. Or, Pea-cahns versus puh-cahns versus pea-cans for Pecans. Too many states and too many dialects. :-)

Angela | 21 April, 2009 - 02:21

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

After living in USA for 8 years, I am quite comfortable with the usage of cups and infact I find myself very lazy to scoop the flour and measure it on the scale and have to pour it back into the mixing bowl. I love cooking and sometimes refer to Asian and British weight measurements but most of the time, I find that using the cup method saves me a lot of time!My way to do it is just learn both ways.

LilyAnette | 21 April, 2009 - 02:48

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

I love this discussion! I have never been able to remember conversions between teaspoon, Tablespoon, cup, quart, pint, etc. I keep a list of equivalent measures in the front of my recipe box.

I've always had the stereotype that food scales are for people on specific diets, like body builders measuring out their protein. I'll admit I didn't know people did "regular" cooking with a scale! My mother in the US and my mother-in-law in Japan both cook freestyle (practically no measurements going on), and they are who I learned from :)

Laura | 21 April, 2009 - 03:12

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

But the cup system has a long history! Marjorie Husted (the voice behind the original Betty Crocker radio show) taught two generations of women to fluff, scoop, and scrape, not tamp, their flour. My mother taught me exactly how you fluff - two times round the flour bin, then you level the top of the cup with a butter knife. The only reason a woman of her generation would have a scale in her kitchen would be if she was dieting. If you're being fancy, you sift your flour before you measure it because the sifter makes the loft in the flour consistent.

And no, it is not the best way of doing these things scientifically. But if you ask women who were raised by women who were raised by women who learned to bake from Betty Crocker's radio cooking school to weigh their ingredients their heads would probably spin straight around.

purpleshoes | 21 April, 2009 - 03:23

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

This American likes the metric system, but doesn't own a scale--you're right, too fiddly. But then, I am an engineer, and metric is powers of ten while standard cup quart gallon is not.

My first major purchase after I went back to work after staying home raising my kids to kindergarten age was a red KitchenAid stand mixer. I used to work in commercial kitchens when I was in school back in the day, and nothing whipped a batch of potatoes or whipped cream like a KitchenAid. I always wished they made a slicer for the little KitchenAid that worked as well as the slicer attachment for the 5 foot tall industrial model, but they don't, so I use a knife. I used the KitchenAid for batch after batch of whole wheat refrigerator rolls when I used to bake. Now the poor thing is lucky to get to mix a batch of waffle batter every 6 months, because, sadly (or not so sadly?) my kids grew up and moved out. My daughter covets my KitchenAid--but she'll have to pry it from my cold dead hands!

anon. | 21 April, 2009 - 04:02

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

It's inertia, mostly, and a feeling that the lack of precision in the kitchen isn't particularly important. In the few places that the precision does matter, they're willing to fail a few times until they've got the volumes mentally adjusted to meet the conditions of their own measuring. It'll change. 30 years ago, the English didn't weigh things for recipes either, and I've got the cookbooks that prove it.

Peter H. Coffin | 21 April, 2009 - 04:53

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

Any baker who really cares about their bread should be using a scale to measure ingredients. I've worked in several restaurants over the years, in addition to being head baker at a bagel shop back on the East Coast, and anything that was going to be baked in an oven was carefully weighed beforehand.
I'm no longer in the food industry, but I nearly exclusively cook Japanese food at home, so I am never without my scale. (I don't even own a mixer - all my mixing is done by hand). Why risk the off chance that the flour will be a bit more dense then usual? Old-school bakers weigh their ingredients. Baking is straight-up chemistry, and weighing everything makes for a consistently good product every time.

tangentbot | 21 April, 2009 - 05:31

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

I care about my bread- but I do it by feel so much more than anything else. There is so much that can affect your baking- how fresh your ingredients are (including flour), the particular oven you're using, the weather that day.... If you always stick with exact proportions it will get thrown off sometimes.

I do have a scale and I do have measuring cups. I've used both, but when I'm making bread I watch the feel of the dough more than anything else. (the last batch of rolls I made I had to use twice as much flour as usual, but they still came out great.)

cmtigger | 19 May, 2009 - 06:05

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

I have a KA mixer, KA processor and kitchen scale in nyc. quite silly but true. I do love recipes with weights since the whole fluffing and leveling thing is fussy. and I forget how many 1/2 cups I've measured...

lots of ppl pronounce caramel as 'carmel' over here.

tiptup | 21 April, 2009 - 05:48

Carmel vs. Caramel

I get that some people pronounce 'caramel' as 'carmel'...but but but...a lot of people pronounce 'herb' as 'erb' too, but you don't see the H getting dropped in writing...

maki | 21 April, 2009 - 06:09

Re: Carmel vs. Caramel

It's the infamous silent H, I think a major confusion in the English language is that we take words from various sources/countries:

Why do such words as hour and honest have a silent h? Is it because they would be difficult to pronounce with an audible h?

H is often silent in English, for different reasons according to the derivation of the word concerned (Hebrew messiah; Greek rhapsody) or by elision (shepherd, exhaust), and so on. The words you mention are derived from French, and English took over the French pronunciation as well as the word. But in other similar words we have come to pronounce the h over the centuries: horrible, hospital, host, hotel, human, humour. And in yet other cases we have added an h where French has none: hermit, hostage.

source: http://www.askoxford.com/asktheexperts/faq/aboutother/silent?view=print

anon. | 21 April, 2009 - 06:33

Re: Carmel vs. Caramel

You DO see "e"s and "u"s getting dropped, as in gray v grey or color v colour. It's a regional and historical thing, and is also considered proper spelling. American English is as similar to the Queen's English as Latin American is to Spanish (where "s"s turned to "th"s because King Ferdinand has a lisp. Nobody has a monopoly on the right way to spell these words. You'll notice that the extra "i" in Aluminium is on it's way out here as well, since "Aluminum" is the common pronounciation here.

Katie | 17 May, 2013 - 08:13

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

I have been dreaming of owning a KitchenAid mixer for many years, but my rice cooker, toaster oven, coffeemaker, and deep-fryer have already claimed all of my counter space. And every time I consider plunking down the cash for a fancy mixer, I just can't bring myself to justify the outrageous sum of money... a sturdy wooden spoon works just as well.

I don't have a kitchen scale either - although for some of my more difficult cake recipes I really should use one. I eyeball nearly everything, just how my mom and grandma taught me. And I have a few extremely old cookbooks passed down from my great-grandmother that call for "a fist-size amount" of this ingredient or a "dollop" of that ingredient, all baked in a "hot" oven! Worse than cups and teaspoons!

Beth | 21 April, 2009 - 06:10

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

Beth is mostly correct. Americans for generations measured by eye, by hand, by spoonful. The early settlers in the 1400s, 1500s, 1600s, etc., didn't bring scales along with them for cooking. Can you imagine later crossing this enormous country in wagons and on foot? Can you imagine how impractical measuring things on a scale would be under all of these circumstances? Let alone hauling scales along? Those crossing the frontier learned their cooking from their mainly European ancestors, who didn't own scales either. How old is the metric system? Not anywhere near as old as the spoon, cup, handful. So, when you trumpet the accuracy of the metric system or weighing ingredients in cooking, you are speaking of much more current practices rather than of some ingrained obstinacy. My mother gave me a largish spoon identical in size to her silverware spoon that she used to measure flour for pie crusts. She "eyeballed" or knew by "feel" -- and baked the flakiest of all pie crusts. That's how we learned. Scales were owned by dieters, not by cooks. She had a post-war KitchenaAid that we learned to use. Those things never broke. I have an old cookbook that lists ingredients as "10 cents worth of meat" -- long before Betty Crocker. "Scruples?" Yes, those also. Precision is fine for some things; a little art is also appreciated. And Carmel, California is pronounced with the accent on the second syllable: car-MEL! Betcha 90 percent of us say "car-mul" for the candy.

SBS | 23 April, 2009 - 06:28

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

Hi, I'm 62 years old and British my grandmother was a baker by profession and she always used scales both at work and at home and I can assure you she never dieted, in fact I think the whole diet crap didn't happen until the mid-seventies over here, I use scales for baking and for recipes that are complex otherwise you can never be sure your cake will have the same consistency that is why we have recipes in my opinion.
About your ancestors, I believe my ancestors would have been quite the same given that they were the same people except mine decided to stay home and yours didn't, what you say is quite true about them not using scales it's also true that most of them were illiterate and probably washed once a week and had little or no education.
However we do! And I really don't live like my ancestors nor would I want to.
To your point about how long the metric system has been around, how long have people had ten fingers? and there you have your answer.
My 84 year old mother on the other hand still measures everything using the Roman system (for people with 12 fingers) pounds,ounces,pints.gills,quarts,gallons, inches,feet,miles etc... I prefer my arithmetic based on 10 because it's much simpler to calculate.
Plus the Dollar I believe has 100 cents correct me if I'm wrong and not 144, so somebody state side must have thought that there was some advantage to using the metric (10) system. PS: to the other person who wrote that most English cookbooks 30 years ago didn't use weight measurement’s, I don't know where he got them but having lived through the 80's in England I can only say what nonsense, perhaps he meant 130 years ago ? And finally to Caramel, English people make lots of grammatical errors too and they also blame this on dialect.
Jim, Liverpool

Jim | 9 September, 2011 - 17:33

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

Many of these dialect errors are now taught as proper English in school as well. Keep in mind that language is fluid- a word may still be right even when the prounounciation/spelling doesn't match the Queen's English.

Katie | 17 May, 2013 - 08:17

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

Thank you for this post. :)

In addition, remember all of the varied climates that make up America- we aren't anything like France or England in that the entire country is so similar. We have regional dialects, habits, and histories that are all different. That's the unspoken definition of being "American".

Most recipes have to be adjusted unless they are local anyway. Ingredients have to be switched depending on availability. Cooking time and temperature needs to be changed depending on altitude. The amount of liquid/solid needs to be adjusted based on humidity. I know folks in Arizona that add twice the liquid I do to a recipe so that they can have a comparable result. Another way to adjust a recipe to suit? Change the amount of flour from XXX grams.

Really, what's the point of fussing with a scale to get an exact measure that you'll have to change anyway? I can see where companies might use them, but that seems more because everything is standardized in industry. That's one of the cornerstones of building a brand, and helps with portioning, pricing, ordering, and so on.

I really don't get if other countries are homogenized enough that factors like this don't have to be considered, or if the cooks over there don't bother to monitor food past the instructions posted in front of their face. While I expect that scales will become more common in the United States over time, there is nothing wrong with using a cheap cup set that won't break or go inaccurate, saves fuss, is portable, and less cleanup.

Most citizens DON'T try for 5 star gourmet meals every time. We have work, and play. A good meal is what we look for, and we can do that without a scale perfectly fine. Maki, you said yourself that you were too busy to cook or didn't have what you needed, why is everyone else expected to use the methods that you didn't even use until leaving? That lack of time/experience/supplies is not something unique.

Katie | 17 May, 2013 - 08:31

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

When I lived in Canada, I only used cups and spoons. It made so much more sense and I hated it when the recipes were written with measurements in grams. I've now lived in Japan for four years and I'm totally addicted to my kitchen scale. There is no turning back! I love usind the scale because I can mesure everything without getting a lot of utensils dirty. I guess we don't use scales because we don't know better?

kanmuri | 21 April, 2009 - 06:10

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

I feel the same way...but about the American system vs. the metric system. As a Canadian, I've had to learn that one cup is 250 mL and I always have to double check how many millimetres a tablespoon is. But we don't weigh any ingredients. I guess it is the same thing, I never learned how to bake using weight, but using cup and tablespoon measurements (and later, mL ones when I forced my mom to buy them). Few of our cookbooks have weight measurements, and the recipes that have been passed down through family definitely don't.

Where I live it is so dry that flour wouldn't actually gain any mass from humidity. We never have to sift flour to remove lumps and we have to ADD moisture sometimes to our brown sugar when it dries out. I always assume that one cup of flour will always weigh the same the next day. It would be an interesting experiment to see if weighing makes a difference.

Nati | 21 April, 2009 - 06:14

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

it's not that we love cups haha. by all means, almost ANY decent chef in the US will use weight as a measurement, watching Good Eats with Alton Brown will tell you that. But for the common person, cups and spoons are just cheaper than a 50 dollar scale, and also take up less space. maybe in that particular video she had a small kitchen and a big mixer, but most American kitchens don't have one. I was a baker for many years, for a few different chains and also independent bakeries, and we ALWAYS baked in weight.
Mainly, it is the convenience and tradition. It's been that way since before scales and things were made readily available and that's just the way it has stayed. and as you stated before, in most recipes, excluding baking, the little extra weight doesn't make much of a difference.
Hope that helped!

anon. | 21 April, 2009 - 06:40

Different sizes for cups!

Yes, this drives me nuts, especially on Just Bento where I calculate the calories for each complete bento.

1 US cup = 236ml

1 Imperial cup (old UK measuring system) = 284 ml

1 Canadian or Australian cup = 250ml

1 Japanese cup = 200 ml... BUT

1 rice cup in Japan (or 'go' 合), used in most rice cookers, is 180 ml!!!!!

I'm losing my hair!!!! :P

maki | 21 April, 2009 - 13:46

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

I think in America it's easier to use cups and spoons instead of scales when we need to double/half/etc the amounts of the ingredients needed in case we have to double/half/etc a recipe. In my early cooking days (not in the US) I'd measure everything with a scale. Now that I live in the US, I use cups most of the time because I hate to do the math with pounds and ounces and whatnot. The English system just doesn't make any sense to me. I'm used to it but I hate it. My food comes out alright (I think). My hubby never complained! :)
I don't own a KitchenAid because I don't have enough room in my kitchen. I'd rather use my handheld mixer or knead by hand (It's good exercise!)

anon. | 21 April, 2009 - 06:54

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

Honestly? That's how I was raised to cook, and my mother is English (my folks met, married and had my brother and I over there!). I can't say I've ever had an real issues with using cups, and the only time I used a scale (when I had one) was if the recipe used weight instead of cups, teaspoons, etc. And to be perfectly honest, I've had many, many wonderful meals that don't even get that exact!

There are many wonderful cooks with family recipes that use "a pinch of this," "a little of that," and other amusing phrases, handed down from parent to child and frustrating those of us outside the family from getting the recipe! Trust me. I lived in the south for 9 years, and could never get an actual recipe for southern biscuits, as everything was memorized and eye-balled. But oh jeez was it good.

Maybe scales were expensive, unreliable, or hard to come by "back in the day"? I'm not sure. But, cups can be dead simple, inexpensive, durable and compact. I love American food, but lets be honest - its generally not the most sophisticated stuff out there - so the perceived need might not have been there. Scales and other such things might've been viewed as only being needed for restaurants, cooks and bakers (ie, "the pros").

Chikahiro | 21 April, 2009 - 06:58

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

Goodness yes, this has always puzzled me! Especially the 'stick of butter' thing. Do all butter manufacturers in the states package their butter in the same size? Are you obliged to buy them in 'stick' sizes, and how do you know the amount to use if you'd get a 'jumbo' package? And when you're buying dry ingredients, such as shredded coconut, does the packaging says 'X cups'?

kim | 21 April, 2009 - 07:29

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

Most packages of butter in the US come in 1-pound boxes containing four sticks each, with each stick weighing in at 4 oz (:

Things like shredded coconut usually have the number of oz listed on the bag, but sometimes cups.. I usually use the 8oz=1 cup for those sort of things.

Eve | 21 April, 2009 - 23:57

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

This really confused me, back in the day. I'm from Canada, where butter is standardly sold in one pound blocks (not divided into 4 sticks), with cup divisions printed on the side of the packaging.

Reading American recipes, I was hugely frustrated that they often measure butter in tablespoons, or in fractions of sticks, because then I'd have to do the tedious conversion (four sticks to a pound, so each stick is half a cup, so 1.5 sticks is 3/4 cup).

Not to mention that in Canada you mostly get metric cup measures now (I was surprised to learn that an American cup is only 236 mls), but not exclusively, so you need to check to make sure that all your different cup measures are on the same standard.

It almost makes me want to convert to baking by weight! Come to think of it, this is probably why my Angel Food Cake never turns out properly...

Bronwyn | 1 May, 2009 - 19:20

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

In general you buy butter in the US it is a pound of butter which is 4 sticks. But you can find varying amounts at different stores, like 1/2 lb or the wholesale sizes (I find it rather obscene to buy 5-10 lb of butter at a time, so I am not as familiar with the sizes).

From what I can remember butter from a wholesale stick is a pound, which can make use rather difficult (I think my mother bought it once, and found it difficult for cooking and everyday use so I don't remember her buying it again).

Stephanie | 22 April, 2009 - 01:22

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

I agree!! When you did not actually live ever in US, it's quite confusing when you get a recipe that stated one stick of butter and whatnot. When I tried my first baking, I have no idea what the measurement is talking about I have to google it down and count on the calculator (that's much worst than weighing things). As you see, different country might have different kind of product packaging, even when they are on the same brand. So it was rather confusing. We always have grams for food and ml or liter for the liquid...

My mom always use scales for baking. She claim that exact measurement would make the cake/bread/pastry she made more consistent, and I believe her. So scale is a must, for me at least. As for kitchenAid, well, I never actually see anyone here use one, or even own one. We use the handheld mixer. After all, at least for me, what's nice about cooking is the process itself (measuring, holding those mixer, or mix it with spoon, etc).

anon. | 13 August, 2009 - 16:32

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

kim wrote:

Goodness yes, this has always puzzled me! Especially the 'stick of butter' thing. Do all butter manufacturers in the states package their butter in the same size? Are you obliged to buy them in 'stick' sizes, and how do you know the amount to use if you'd get a 'jumbo' package? And when you're buying dry ingredients, such as shredded coconut, does the packaging says 'X cups'?

yes...the packages actually do often say "x cups", especially shredded coconut. no joke. and all the butter sticks are a standard size! if you get a large package, it is still made up of standard size sticks...

a. u. | 23 April, 2010 - 06:58

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

I think it's essentially inertia, and we prefer to use (as someone said upthread) what our mothers used, and our grandmothers and our great-grandmothers ... all the way back to the seventeenth century or so, when English-speaking America was a tiny line of little settlements on the fringes of the eastern edge of North America, four thousand miles away from civilization. You couldn't *get* scales. But almost everybody had a few cups.

And now we're used to thinking in cups, or in measuring spoons, or (if it's a forgiving sort of recipe) the palms of our hands. When I make biscuit dough, for instance, I measure the flour and the sour milk in cups. I pour the baking soda and the baking powder and the salt into my hand, until it looks like enough. I do have a scale. I use it when I have a European recipe that calls for weights -- which isn't often.

djheydt | 21 April, 2009 - 07:47

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

I think djheydt hit it on the head as to why North American recipes are in cups and spoons. You just wouldn't find such precise scales in a kitchen even just 100 years ago. Maybe the question should be why isn't everyone converting to weight? I guess old habits die hard.

litterbox | 22 April, 2009 - 03:43

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

... Alton Brown when you need him? I used to live in the US, and became quickly addicted to Alton and his scientific-ey approach to food, heat and the processes by which they combine to be cooking. I've got a couple of his books, and the one that concentrates mainly on baking? He insists that scales are used for best results.

If I'm being lazy and just making a dough, I'll scoop. If I'm baking I'll weigh. Baking always works, doughs don't always rise. I'm sure there's a lesson in there somewhere.

Ginster | 21 April, 2009 - 09:21

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

I'm Australian (and therefore metric) and most of my baking cookbooks give both volume and weight measurements. I learnt to measure by volume, bake often and don't use scales. In fact, if I have a recipe with just weights, I generally convert it to volume before starting. I've never had a problem with this style of baking and my cakes turn out fine :)

Something to look out for though: Australia and US have different sizes for cups, 250ml for Aus and 225ml for US. (I believe UK is 250ml as well.) I brought my Aussie measuring cups with me when I moved over to Switzerland two years ago and they get used all the time.

KitchenAid: I want one! But I can't justify the cost and I don't have room in my little Swiss kitchen. It's going to have to wait until I have a bigger space to play in.

anon. | 21 April, 2009 - 09:57

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

Oo! Oo! I know this one! We covered it in culinary school!

Fanny Farmer started the tradition, because at the time she was writing, the scales available to most home cooks were so inaccurate that she considered volume measures to be more precise and scientific. We stick with it because there hasn't been anybody who's been both in favor of weighing dry ingredients and influential enough to get it to stick.

Mrs. Farmer was a huge advocate for domestic science, especially the science of cooking. Volumetrics really were the better option at the time.

MadGastronomer | 21 April, 2009 - 10:56

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

Fascinating. And logical.

I don't think I've ever owned a kitchen scale. All American recipes measure by volume. I can usually eyeball volume pretty well, too. I'd probably weigh things if I were baking, though.

And I was also taught that stir, scoop, sweep is the proper way to measure flour by volume. I wasn't even aware that there was any disagreement on this point.

We're about to get a scale, because my fiancée does Weight Watchers and I'd like to be able to follow foreign recipes that only give weight.

marnen | 26 August, 2011 - 05:48

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

I do have a kitchen scale, but I don't use it too much for flour, etc., since I don't do too much baking anymore. The next time I make some bread, I shall have to try it.

My guess would be that we use volume measurements because that was the way it was done for a long time in the past and by the time it became practical for every home cook to have a kitchen scale, God help any outside force trying to tell us to be like the rest of the world. (Thus the prior jab and the US and the metric system.) Personally, I think it would be great, especially when a recipe calls for a "large" onion or something like that. What does "large" really mean, because a large onion in my grocery store might be a behemoth compared to the source of the recipe writer.

But I also wish in the US we had things labeled accurately (none of this rounding to the nearest gram or 5 calories) by 100 grams of milliliters. That would be so much simpler than trying to figure out by servings, etc., but of course would also require a kitchen scale to replicate accurately.

Katie | 21 April, 2009 - 13:14

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

I totally agree about the "large" onion or whatever size, especially in the US where produce tends to be on steriods. I wish those recipes would give weight or approximate dimensions like 3" diameter or something.

I don't own a scale or mixer, but if I bake often I would buy them. Baking needs precision, and a scale gives that.

Pat | 22 April, 2009 - 21:50

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

This *is* a good question. I'm an American in the UK and before moving here I would've never thought of using a scale. It seemed really time consuming to me (I've only used one twice and I sit and add teeny tiny amounts of flour/sugar/whatever and it takes like five minutes because I don't know what 300 grams looks like), and I didn't bake very often. We never used the system in school either.

I would like to have a scale when I get a house, but I'd also like to use cups. Part of the reason for this is because American cookbooks don't use metric measurements that often, so I'd have to convert to metric just to make a cake or something.

This isn't to be rude or to say that cups are superior or whatever, it's just my opinion. :)

MN | 21 April, 2009 - 13:26

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

I just don't really measure at all. I can't think of a single time I've made something where the ingredients had to be THAT exact. I have a cooking style my husband calls "diva-ing" where you just kinda toss stuff together, sniffing and tasting as you go, to come out with something yummy! Do I fail sometimes? Horribly! Do I major win? Mostly :D

That being said...I don't know why we use cups v. weights. Why do we still use inches? Why did we just elect our first "minority" president? Why do we still drive Hummers? We're collectively a lil short on the uptake ;-)

erisgrrrl | 21 April, 2009 - 13:26

I guess I should mention...

...that I do use a set of graduated measuring cups, Made in USA (I think...or at least Bought At Williams-Sonoma) for figuring out cup amounts for recipes posted on my sites, as well as a Soehnle kitchen scale. And a no-name plastic measuring cup with markings for litre, ml, etc. And a couple of Pyrex jugs with cup measurements. And a small aluminum Japanese measuring cup too, that goes up to 200ml. All for the blogs! ^_^;

maki | 21 April, 2009 - 13:57

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

Darn, someone got to Fanny before me. :P In the days before digital, scales could get off-balance easier, giving inaccurate results. Cups/Spoons just became easier, less fool-proof.

Personally, I'd LOVE a kitchen scale, if only for weighing portions of meat (because we really do eat too much meat, I feel). It's been on my amazon wishlist for YEARS. No one gets the hint.

Sile | 21 April, 2009 - 14:39

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

American recipes, they make no sense.
a cup of onions? why not just specify how many onions? why be so specific about a volume of onions, but not be for weights of baking ingredients?
what on earth is a fluid ounce? a stick? a furlong? a quart? And my rage is not limited to the USA, the UK needs to sort itself out and move into the 21st century.

tc | 21 April, 2009 - 14:55

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

I've only ever seen one onion or half an onion listed in a recipe; I don't know why fluids are measured differently but a fluid ounce is not the same as a dry ounce; butter comes in sticks so, just like saying "one onion", "one stick" is a standard size in America and, unlike onions, one stick of butter is always the same size no matter the brand; WTF is a furlong?

most of what you're complaining about, in other words, makes sense if you ever used it or if you lived here, or else isn't used in cooking much.

anon. | 18 May, 2009 - 23:44

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

I tried to read through to see if this was said but I don't think it was.

There are two really good reason's why America is still stuck on the Cup measure. First is that when your ancestors moved to America they couldn't bring much (if anything) and one of the first things they had to purchased was plates and cups. So, everyone who would do any baking would have one... even if they didn't have a scale.

And the second reason is that one of the great demarkations of family status was hosting get-togethers and such. You would have people over and they would notice how wonderful your fancy expensive china was. This was so important that even relatively poor people would invest in a set that they would pass down to their children. So in the "traditional" American family, one of the few things that you would recieve was your grandmother's "fine" china. So, when you are making her biscuit recipe with 2 cups of flour then you would be using HER cup. The cup from the set that you recieved when she passed away.

So why haven't Americans changed to weighing instead of cups now that most can afford a simple scale? Because, for a giant group of immigrants, we sure do care about doing things exactly "How momma used to make." Seriously, it is a big factor in where people eat. Homecooked, like Momma used to make.

Personally, I weigh my ingredients when I bake and I use my Kitchen Aid every chance I get. Simple and accurate.

EvoJ

Evolution J | 21 April, 2009 - 15:00

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

I do like the using Grandmother's cup theory a lot :)

I think homecooked / like Mother used to make is important to people all over the world, not just in America though. (In Japan there's a phrase お袋の味 - ofukuro no aji - which means 'Mother's flavors'. It's what most men yearn for and demand (or wish for) from their wives (to the dismay of many a new bride...)

maki | 21 April, 2009 - 20:41

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

but if you're measuring meat to put into the a recipe, it's by weight. and hamburger's come in quarter pounder, half pounder, etc. i don't think i've read a recipe that said, put in a cup of ground beef. it's always put in a pound of ground beef. but i've seen, put in a cup of chopped cooked chicken. go figure.

michele | 21 April, 2009 - 17:15

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

Honestly, I think that has to do with the scale of ingredients in our history. For much of the United States history, people had family farms- one thing we've always had an abundance of is land. Think of the original settlers, victory farms during the war, and now Urban farms to beautify cities and feed the homeless.

When you harvest a garden for supper, you can get 1 onion, which is around a cup or two (depending on how well you farm ;) ). You can't go get a cup of pig- you have to kill the whole thing, which is about x pounds.

Katie | 17 May, 2013 - 08:43

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

I personally bake quite a bit, around Christmas time my family bakes dozens of cookies and I make various baked goods for occasions. I do not own a scale, nor do my mother or grandmothers, but my mother and I both have mixers. And not to toot my own horn, but people love my baking.

Since all of the recipes that we use have been handed down, or are from Betty Crocker, there is often a mixture of cup and weight measurements. What I have noticed is that when an item comes in a package, it will tell you weight in addition to the measurements because you may be putting an entire container of that ingredient in. An example would be my monster cookies, which call 9 cups of oatmeal and 1 lb of peanut butter (it makes a massive amount of cookies, which only fit in the mixer and would be hellish to mix otherwise).

Stephanie | 21 April, 2009 - 21:22

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

A lot has to do with how we were raised and what materials we can get a hold of. I lived overseas for 6 years but I was too young to really be cooking yet. I love metric measurements, it makes so much more sense.
I never had to deal with grams for anything until I tried your steam buns recipe (Which is why I now have a scale!)
I have to say I was ignorant. I still have my cups and teaspoons and tablespoons. We probably use them because it is quicker and easier. We are a lazy country so sitting there measuring out onto the scale may be too much for us to handle. Most of the mainstream cookbooks are filled with cups and teaspoons. Most of us don't have the choice because we don't know anything else is out there.

I do have a Kitchenaid as well.. PINK!

Beth | 21 April, 2009 - 23:30

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

I have never really given it much thought. I also have not been cooking for very long. (Mom and I always baked together though, she never used a scale either). Maybe I should invest in a scale before experimenting with bread.

On the "carmel" topic...
Growing up in southeast Texas, we are not taught proper English (in my opinion).

(Is it just me or does it seem like America is the only country that is backwards from everyone else?)

chairokuma | 21 April, 2009 - 23:50

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

I can't say why Americans prefer to use cups to scales, but ever since I bought a scale for baking (since most things out there require baking to be exact) I find it's MUCH, MUCH easier to weigh things than to use a bunch of different cups and spoons (no mess.) I also think it's faster since I don't have to spend the time to use all the different measures, I can just pour whatever ingredient it is right out of the box.

Oh, and my (digital) kitchen scale cost maybe $20USD, and considering I use it not only to bake but for dieting I say it's well worth the price. I can't justify the size/price of a stand mixer for myself personally because I don't do huge quantities of baking (don't own a business or anything,) and I don't have the space. As I much as I'd like to have one it's really not necessary, and my hand mixer always works out just fine (:

Eve | 22 April, 2009 - 00:02

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

After spending a couple of years at a US culinary school I figured out that I hate weighing things. Every single one of my instructors admitted that they went far more by feel and used recipes only when forced so I never saw a reason to do things differently.

As students we were expected to weigh things out and use precise recipes, it was eventually the major reason I left. I *like* for my food to be a little different every time, that's part of what I love about cooking.

Of course, I'm also a bit of a freak in that I learnt the chemical reactions involved with baking rather than recipes. I now have a disturbingly good eye for measurement, to the point where friends often like to tease me about being a human scale.

Tobias | 22 April, 2009 - 00:59

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

about measuring cups/ scale
personally i hate using the scale cause its such a menace

if you use an electric flat surface scale the flour has to go into a bowl or something to hold it in you cant really pour it onto the flat surface.

And of basic cheap ones (the one i have) theres a bowl to put your stuff in but its better off to plastic wrap the bowl so that you dont get cross contamination (if theres meat measuring)

the thing about electric scales is that if you have to put it into the cup/bowl in order to measure why not just measure it with cups?

when i use my cheap scale is a hassle to take it out because my kitchen space is limited so i keep it stored in a box

but that's just how i feel

caramel, carmel

what i notice is that in Nyc, no one says "CAR-Mul" unless if its to "carmelize" something like onions or sugar,
we say caramel when its the buttery sugary candy itself.

but spelling wise i dont know which is right.

lilynoob | 22 April, 2009 - 03:25

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

Thank you for bringing up this subject!

As a Japanese who live in the US for 21 years, this wasn't a small issue every time I tried recipes from American cookbooks. I may be wrong, but it seems the same reason why American people don't want to use a metric system. They may want to keep it simple although it is not simple for me.

After I became a professional bread baker, I found out that commercial kitchens use weight in metric. It makes sense because each kind of flour has a different density. So even if you fluff up the flour, the weight of 1 cup of each flour (for example: pastry and bread four) would be different.

Nowadays, there are a lot of nice designed digital scales in kitchen supply stores. I guess more and more people have scales in their kitchen.

Mayumi | 22 April, 2009 - 04:12

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

I'm an American who doesn't own a kitchen scale... I'm sure it'll be an investment for sometime in the future, but right now $50 can buy us a week's worth of groceries, which we need a whole lot more than a scale. I do bake quite a bit, and although I've never had any problems, I've always wished that Americans used weight measurements rather than volume.

The reason I don't (besides being unwilling to buy a scale), and the reason I imagine a lot of people don't, is because I cook/bake the way I learned from my mom, who learned it from her mom, etc. I know it would take a big adjustment now to change the way I've been cooking my whole life.

Regarding the pizza dough in the video (and the various mentions of dough in the comments thus far), I never measure flour for my breads (especially pizza dough, which I make at least weekly), and they always come out perfect. There are too many other variables to factor in to give a concrete amount (weight or volume) that will work every time.

And finally, about the Kitchen Aid- yes, I have one, yes, it takes up a ridiculous amount of my almost non-existent counter space, and yes, I love it and use it frequently. It was a house-warming gift from my dad- no way I could have bought it on my own, but I would gladly make room for a scale in my kitchen if someone wanted to buy that for me too. ^_~

anon. | 22 April, 2009 - 05:06

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

I've been using a scale to cook and bake for the past several years. Weighing your ingredients is the most accurate way to measure your ingredients, especially when you wonder why sometimes your cooking or baking end results are not consistent at times. When I follow a new recipe, I usually measure out each ingredient in cups and spoons and then weigh each ingredient; then write it down. From that point on, whenever you follow the same recipe in weight, you will find that it is much faster, smoother and less to clean because you are using less utensils. Plus your product comes out consistently the same each time. Get a scale that can convert from ounces to grams. Weighing in grams is the most accurate.

:D | 22 April, 2009 - 13:23

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

Although this post was addresed to US readers, I must pipe up to say that the idea of not having a set of scales in a kitchen is something that I cannot even imagine! I am not obsessively strict about recipes in general, but I do feel safer with a scale. I guess it is, as many people have said, to do with how you grew up and what you know. However, the only thing that really irks me is when (as Maki mentions) solids are measured in cups - not rice, or even flour per se, but really daft things. I swear to God I was watching Barefoot Contessa and she measured tomatoes in cups?! That just seems a bit mad. I expect most normal people wouldn't do something like that. :)
American pronounciations on TV shows do make me chuckle. Even the difference in the way some people pronounce oreg-an-o instead of the Brit Ore-GAH-no, and shallets instead of shalLOT... however, saying 'carmel' is actually removing a letter, which is just naughty. No excuse! :P

pii_bii | 22 April, 2009 - 13:33

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

It's not uncommon to measure chopped tomato or onion by volume -- which makes sense, because few Americans have kitchen scales.

marnen | 26 August, 2011 - 05:53

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

Although this post was addresed to US readers, I must pipe up to say that the idea of not having a set of scales in a kitchen is something that I cannot even imagine! I am not obsessively strict about recipes in general, but I do feel safer with a scale. I guess it is, as many people have said, to do with how you grew up and what you know. However, the only thing that really irks me is when (as Maki mentions) solids are measured in cups - not rice, or even flour per se, but really daft things. I swear to God I was watching Barefoot Contessa and she measured tomatoes in cups?! That just seems a bit mad. I expect most normal people wouldn't do something like that. :)
American pronounciations on TV shows do make me chuckle. Even the difference in the way some people pronounce oreg-an-o instead of the Brit Ore-GAH-no, and shallets instead of shalLOT... however, saying 'carmel' is actually removing a letter, which is just naughty. No excuse! :P

pii_bii | 22 April, 2009 - 13:35

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

Two things:

First, I'm an American who has lived in various spots in Europe and now resides in the UK. I wish I knew metric measurements innately. The basic bits they make us learn in American science classes is not sufficient nor has any of it stuck with me. I am trying to learn so I have the same immediate understanding of some metric measurements as I do standard US ones, but it's not easy. The matter is further complicated by the fact that the UK has its own uneasy relationship with decimal versus Imperial measure. I will force any children I ever have, regardless of where they are raised, to learn metrics first and then standard US measure to follow, for their own good.

Second, I have quite a time trying to make my British boyfriend understand that a cup measure is not just any cup, that is is not the arbitrary measurement it first appears. I have tried showing him that we have measuring versus any other cups, as well as explaining that a cup of such-and-such does equal however many grams and so on, but to practically no avail. I think he feigns ignorance just to drive me mad and make some point about the absurdity of US measurements, because surely, the cup as a unit of measurement can't be that impossible to grasp once explained, can it?

Shannon | 22 April, 2009 - 13:47

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

I think another reason is american baking recipes are quick easy and pretty foolproof. We don't need precise measurements to make them work so there is no incentive to switch over. The majority of deserts that we bake can be made in a variety of conditions with different amounts of flour etc without much problem. I really noticed this after I moved to France. Recipes here are hard! And everyone is intimidated! If something goes ever so slightly wrong they will fail! I think that the huge popularity of muffins, american style cookies, crumbles, coffee cakes, cupcakes, etc in France is partly because of this- they are so easy! How can anyone fail at baking a crumble because they are a few grams off with the flour?

elizabeth | 22 April, 2009 - 15:14

view from the other side of the pond

Interestingly enough there is a long history in the French countryside where women at home used cups and spoons to measure ingredients as good scales were too expensive. Sometimes they never measured at all, relying instead on their experience to eye out all the proportions.

Cuisine prepared in bourgeois/royal households were held to a stricter standard, with specific proportions. It is for these households that the first cookbooks were written.

It would be interesting to find out if it was during the Industrial Revolution in France that chefs adopted using specific weight based metrics to provide a higher degree of accuracy to the repeated preparations of cooked and baked products (note that the metric system was founded in France in 1791). This might explain the propagation of weight based recipes in cookbooks (the first ones specifically aimed at housewives being written at the beginning of the 20th century in France. I believe there were cookbooks as household references available earlier in the US).

jool | 22 April, 2009 - 15:23

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

I came to the UK from America with a set of cups/spoons measurements and then traded them in for ones with both measurements on them. After 14 years of mucking about, feeling lost and confused, I gave up. Now, I use a scale and go metric. When I started dieting, I thought "A cup of broccoli?? What about all the airspace?" I couldn't get my head around that. Your right Maki, for sugar/flour and liquids the cups/spoons are ok, not ideal but in a jam, for peace of mind and sanity, metric wins hands down.

Lyvvie | 22 April, 2009 - 16:11

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

As an American who has lived in the UK for six years, I HATE weighing stuff out and despise recipes that come in weights instead of size measures. I find it so much easier to use cups, tablespoons, etc and it's not like anything I've cooked has suffered for it.

This past year I finally bought a scale.... but I haven't bothered to use it yet!!

I guess it's just what you're used to.

Kopaylopa | 22 April, 2009 - 18:20

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

Ever wonder why there are times the recipe you follow failed or did not resulted the same way previously made? Weight measurement is the most accurate way to measure. I've been using a scale to measure all my ingredients for years. Whenever I follow a new recipe, I first follow the recipe using measuring cups and spoons to measure each ingredient; then I weigh it and write down the weight measurement. Whenever I repeat the same recipe, I just take out the scale and measure my ingredients by weight. Most of the time, you can just weight ingredients one at a time and adding them to the same bowl. It is that much faster, precise, and easier cleanup because you are using less utensils and bowls. End results of your products will be more consistent time after time. Measuring in grams is much more precise than in ounces so get a scale that can measure in both ounces and grams.

anon. | 22 April, 2009 - 19:40

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

wow!

amazing how many comments you got on this subject. who woulda thunk.

michele

michel | 22 April, 2009 - 21:26

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

I know, right? I guess a lot of people have an opinion about this. I'm really enjoying the answers!

maki | 22 April, 2009 - 22:47

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

I'm Canadian, not American, but the principal's the same I suppose.
I guess it mainly goes back to what you grew up with - I'm used to cups & spoons, though I'm also good at metric (like any good Canadian)
I also think that cooking, and baking to some extent, is largely about your own interpretation on the recipe. So, if something isn't done "exactly" the way another person does it, or even the way you've done it before, it's not that big of a deal.
As for the idea that you need to weigh to do finicky recipes, well, I've never needed to. What type of recipes would that be, anyway?
Oh and I own neither a scale nor a stand mixer.

Aleria | 23 April, 2009 - 08:46

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

I think our insistence on precise weight measurements is rather new. At least in the home cooking arena. It's not just Americans. My grandmother was Greek and her recipes are a usually a mixture spoons, cups and glasses; once I asked her what wineglass she used as her measure, and was told it had broken years ago, but she remembered how much it held. And this was how she baked. Some of her recipes refer to okas (=ca 2.75lb) and frankly, I would take standard measuring cups any day.

calli | 23 April, 2009 - 11:21

Maybe it's...

Why don't they weigh instead of measure? I think it might go back to the country having been colonized and then filled with all those pioneering settlers. If there's only so much room on your ship (or wagon), a precision tool like a kitchen scale probably doesn't make the cut of vital needs. So once they arrived at their destination, they used what they had on hand... cups and silverware.

From there, it probably became a force of habit. Girls learning how to cook from watching their mothers. Then their daughters learning from them, generation after generation, until it became standard to use cups and spoons when cooking, even after the advent of measuring cups. I could be totally wrong, but that's my guess.

I cook far more extensively than my mother or my grandmother, and I can assure you, it's never once crossed their minds to own a kitchen scale for any purpose aside from dieting. Use one for cooking? Yep, never even occurred to them. Personally? I love my kitchen scale. Then again, I'm not quite a normal American and I rather disdain the use and consumption of convenience foods.

Amy | 23 April, 2009 - 18:03

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

It's not just America, and it's not just a metric thing! Here in Canada we use volume-based measurement too - it's not unusual for a recipe to specify 500ml of flour. I own a lot of European cookbooks and a kitchen scale, though, so I bake both ways, and I have to say it's about the same in terms of reliability. It's true that the volume of flour can vary based on how fluffed it is. However, the weight of flour can vary depending on how moist it is or the humidity and barometric pressure of the day!

My theory is that in Canada and the US, with our abundant crop land and cheaper wheat prices, flour and dry ingredients are the element of a recipe that we're most likely to 'play' with, adding more or less depending on how the batter looks. This would mean that rougher, more easily estimated volume measurements are ultimately more useful for us. I've certainly noticed that my European cake recipes call for less flour and a LOT more eggs than their Canadian counterparts.

On a related note, I recently tried the Easter Cupcake recipe from this site and found the texture strange (by Canadian standards) but absolutely delicious - a big hit! Keep up the good work, Maki!

annabannajumpintothestew | 23 April, 2009 - 21:00

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

Well, I suspect it's a combination of all of the above.

Let's take a moment to register most of what's gone before...

The Measuring Cup, in the US, is a standarised volumetric measurment. It doesn't vary by volume. The same for measuring spoons. It may not be as perfect for certain applications (baking comes to mind) as weight, but it generally reliable.

For most of history, the chance that a household would have an accurate scale was roughly equal to the chance that they would have a working and functional magic carpet.

And of course, there is simple inertia.

Also, there is The Joy of Cooking, probably the single most used and constant cookbook in the history of US cookery. It's ALWAYS reliable, it teaches people who have never even HELD a spoon how to cook reliable and tasty food, and if there's a kitchen in the States that doesn't have a copy in it, well, then I for one would not want to go into that kitchen--

And it uses cups.

Weight based measurement may be the standard in most commercial enterprises, but it's really a fairly recent innovation in home cookery. As often is the case, it catches on faster in the rest of the industrialised world than the US, simply because we tend to just stick to what works-- at least, for us. A cup of onions? Hey, there may be a few grams of difference between this cup of minced alium and the next-- but it's not going to have a great influence on the final product.

My two cents on that. ^_^

Kenko | 23 April, 2009 - 22:43

As an American who does not

As an American who does not own a kitchen scale, I have to say that, while I understand the rationale behind using weight measures in theory, in practice it seems like more bother than it's worth––an additional step, another thing to clean, and you have to measure everything in the same implement, whereas it's easy to measure out different ingredients simultaneously if you're using cups. Sure, the KitchenAid mixer costs more than a kitchen scale––but if you're used to cups and use them as default, you don't see the *need* for the scale, and it doesn't seem necessary or useful.

For all that Europeans and other metric-weight users go on about precision and accuracy, I have never found that using volume measurements caused me to have terribly different results in my cooking, and I bake a lot (although admittedly I'm not a perfectionist). Additionally, volume measures allow me to form a mental image of how much of each ingredient I am using––I know how much space a cup takes up, but I can't visualize 200 grams.

I don't quite get why the American system seems to bother other people so much. It's what we're used to and it works for us––and honestly measurements in grams seem just as weird and confusing from the other side. Yes, things like the "stick of butter" don't make sense out of context––but sticks of butter are very much standardized and ubiquitous here, so it's not that surprising that we use them as shorthand. Plenty of people around the world will use the default package sizes––a can of beans, for instance––in their area in recipes. Not to mention that a stick of butter is really just a weight measurement (4 oz) in shorthand.

gen_m | 24 April, 2009 - 01:16

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

The biggest reason for measuring flour by something other than weight is that the amount of flour required to make this or that item depends on more than just the mass of the flour. It depends on humidity and other factors. Furthermore, the measurements are designed to be proportional, so volumetric measurements are as accurate as mass measurements for most things.

As a cook, I don't measure at all. (I don't bake; this information comes from my wife, who does, and some other sources I've consulted.) I put in enough of this, enough of that, some of the other, and I taste, taste, taste. And if I want more onions, I put in more onions!

Jim Hawk III | 24 April, 2009 - 04:24

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

I think too that most Americans are poor in calculating weight measurement which intimidates them from using a scale. At first it is an adjustment, but once you try it, you will learn that this is easier, faster and more precise. Most professaionals use weight measurements because it is the most accurate way of mesuring ingredients, especially in volume.

anon. | 24 April, 2009 - 15:06

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

Being 'merican :-), I grew up using cups, spoons, pinches, etc. without any real catastrophical complaints taking place. I imagine, at the same time, one's eyeball and taste measuring falculties are piqued.

Now, in France, I use a combination of both a scale and the "other way" of measuring ingredients. I keep to the old school, frankly 'cause I'm lazy, but when I am really trying to figure out how to transpose an American recipe into a successful French recipe, well then, I have to weigh ingredients.

I must admit, however, I love my scale with a capital L. Brands of butter, salt, FLOUR can weigh dramatically different. In France, I also puzzle over trying a recipe with various percentages in the flour. 65% organic flour comes the closest to American "all purpose" flour. But the results from a 35% or 45% flour can turn out to be astoundingly better (or not)than the "regular" flour.

As well, someone show me an onion the size normally found in California, (my hometown)and I'll show you 3 onions here that weigh about the same. And eggs? Oh yikes.

Yet, the French recipes are not so easy to understand sometimes for me. Pinches, slices and pieces are commonly used to express an amount of an ingredient.

I would highly recommend, anyone even slightly interested in cooking, especially baking, to try using a scale. It will really open your world. You will have more control with your cooking and it will allow for more improvisation on your behalf. If one knows how much in ozs (or grams) must be used of a type of ingredient, you can go silly with substitutions.

I don't think I will ever give up my nesting sets of cups and measuring spoons. Those are home for me - I understand how much something should be with those. But nope, never take away my grams/oz. scale. It really does make a difference in the outcome of the food - i.e. I get it right every time with the scale.

hs

hs | 24 April, 2009 - 19:45

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

Yes! YOu're right. Look up the no knead pizza dough by Jim Lahey even he ( ab good baker for %%^ sake) gives the measures in Cups!!!!! Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaarghhhhhh.

david | 25 April, 2009 - 09:41

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

Michael Ruhlman's new book, Ratio, actually deals with this question - it gives baking recipes primarily in ratios of mass (e.g. pizza is 5 parts flour, three parts water, with a bit of yeast, salt, and olive oil) rather than ratios of volume. I'm a huge fan of using kitchen scales precisely because volume measurements are so variable!

And a KitchenAid? I can see it being useful if the cook is making vast quantities of dough or is disabled, but I love to knead dough with my hands. It's fun and I feel like I get a better sense of how the dough should feel and when it's ready.

19thandfolsom | 27 April, 2009 - 20:59

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

The reason that we Americans refuse to use scales when cooking (myself excluded) is the same reason that we don't use the Metric system.

I have come to understand that the USA in general likes to think of itself as more advanced than all other countries, and therefore it refuses to adopt systems that make more sense. As since the USA is using the system it must be the best system and therefore no reason to change it. This is of course not limited to the metric system and not using scales when cooking.

I myself could never live without my kitchen scale, and I actually convert most recipes that I find to metric measurements as well. If I want to be exact it is easier when using grams and ml than using oz.

Eric H | 27 April, 2009 - 22:57

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

Since I was born and raised (mostly) in America (my parents were in the military and I did spend 4 years of my childhood in Spain) I used to cook solely based off of our standard (and woefully inadequate) measurement system until I worked in a professional kitchen and lived in Scotland for two years. I don't understand why our American culture insists on doing measurements different from the entire rest of the world...especially when it's not like it's even a good (or easy to remember) method.

My mom also does a lot of baking with natural sourdough and got me an amazing scale for Christmas which does multiple weights and works like a dream. Since getting the scale I haven't cooked any other way and I definitely find it far superior (ESPECIALLY in baking). It's the only way I've been able to get my authentic Scottish Scone recipe to taste like actual scones instead of American "biscuits".

So as you can see by the many other comments on your page, not all of use still use the cup system, although it's commonly the only way that people learn to cook and measure here.

Katrina | 28 April, 2009 - 14:50

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

I attended primary school in the early 90's and remember learning both the metric and standard systems. At that time there was a big push attempting to assimilate the younger generation into "global" measuring. Unfortunately, the effort has seemingly been ditched. While studying to be an engineer I found that measuring and constructing working parts using the standard method is imprecise and potentially dangerous. So, of course engineers use metric. I would love to see all of America convert to the metric system but doing so would probably cause some sort of a patriotic uproar.

wizkid | 2 May, 2009 - 05:43

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

There's no inherent reason that engineering can't use British measurements -- it's certainly not "dangerous" to do so.

marnen | 26 August, 2011 - 06:01

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

I don't actually use measuring equipment all that much, except when I'm making rice.

I lived with a chef for seven years. He thought recipes were for wimps, and I never saw him measure anything. I suppose since living with him is where I learned to cook, I developed a very seat of the pants approach to it and don't measure carefully as I must to sew.

Noel Lynne Figart | 2 May, 2009 - 18:44

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

This is an interesting topic, and there have been so many reactions that I hope I did not skip one accidently and end up repeating what has already been said.

I am half-American and half-Dutch, raised in the US but currently living here in the Netherlands.

I think that it is true that -part- of the reason why Americans don't use the metric system is inertia. Here's what I remember learning in school;
Back when the metric system was first invented -Thank you Gabriel Mouton!- America did take a great interest in it, and we converted our system of currency to it. However, because our forefathers did not wish to harm our trade with other countries, it was decided to wait til a later time to convert our other measuring systems. Unfortunately(?), when the rest of the countries changed the bus left without us. Currently, just like how it happened in England, there is movement to change to the metric system. However, due to pressure from the public and lack of funding it's about as slow as molasses, maybe slower?

In technical fields, such as enginering, IT, and scientific research, the metric system is loved and used, but in daily lives it's found a pain. We don't grow up with it, and because it is not innate it can feel like more trouble than it is worth. That's the general opinion, I believe.

My personal opinion after living here in Europe for a few years is that both systems are handy depending on circumstances, and though it has taken a few years, I am starting to develop an feel for the metric system. I am an artist, and when I want precision while making something I feel very thankful to have the lovely millimeter, but when I am trying to describe something that I have seen to someone, which, of course, is in rough estimates, the inch just seems so incredibly handy -Alot of things are that size-.

Same thing for food. Recipe amounts are often made to fit conveniently within the measuring system they were created in, so with a European recipe it's easier to use the scale, but with a North-American it's easier to use the cups and spoons. Otherwise you get really odd measurements, as I am sure you have all experienced. As has already been said, with recipes that require just the right balance it is easier to use a scale, but alot of baking recipes that don't require precision, such as cookie recipes -Alot of Dutch people do not bake their own cookies.- it is easier to just scoop up the ingredient than to pour and weigh. This is especially true with the smaller ingredients. If you only need a few grams of a spice it is easier to just use a spoon than a scale, I find. However, it is a problem if your neighbor's teaspoon is large in size while yours is small. That's why we have a set size for the teaspoons, tablespoons, etc. The handiness of using a spoon for small amounts and knowing that your and your neighbor's spoons are the exact same size seems to be crossing over to Europe too. In the few years I have been here in the Netherlands, I have started to see measuringspoon sets being sold in more and more stores.

Zelda | 2 May, 2009 - 23:58

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

I haven't read through all of the comments to see if this was mentioned but I think the reason Americans don't weigh their ingredients is because of a different way of thinking. The thinking is in ratios. And in ratios, if you go over a little or add an extra spice, it's okay because the ratios are all the same.

The only reason this idea to your conundrum is I just listened to the latest podcast of Splendid Table. The host interviewed Michael Ruhlman and talked about his book: Ratios: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking. Listening to that interview it made absolute sense why Americans don't use scales to make sure everything is perfect. It's just a different set of ideas on cooking.

An example to Michael Ruhlman's thinking: "a bread dough (five parts flour, three parts water); a biscuit dough (three parts flour, one part fat, two parts liquid)"

Does that make sense?

Avyette | 4 May, 2009 - 20:40

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

It makes perfect sense to me! I am an American cook, and I have lived in both England and Germany (just to establish cred, here). I do not believe that the Metric system is a Communist plot. I own both a kitchen scale and a Kitchen Aid Mixer. The scale is dusted off for European recipes and the mixer is dusted off because it's white and the dust shows up quite clearly. (I generally prefer a hand mixer, a wooden spoon, or, if I'm making bread or scones, my own clean hands).

I've gotten a little depressed reading some of these posts, because while so many people have come up with reasons why Americans don't use weight instead of measures, and some of them have gone so far as to say we are stubborn and ignorant because we don't, no one has come up with a good reason why we should. For practical reasons, which have been detailed before, the cooks who attempted to standardize our recipes chose to use volume, rather than weight as a standard measure, so that's how we generally do it now.

btw, the famous Mrs. Beeton used both.

Anyway, unlike, say, converting to the metric system, there doesn't seem to be any pressing reason why we should change our ways. I don't see how a scale is going to a better job of telling you, say, how much flour to use on a day of 90% humidity vs. one of 15% humidity than is a cup measure.

On the whole, I find that a functioning oven thermometer and decent pans make much more of a difference to the final outcome than the method used to measure out the basic ingredients. You use whatever method suits you best to get the basic ratios, and then use your instinct and experience to make the adjustments.

Joanne | 12 May, 2009 - 04:13

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

I think a lot of the younger generation may not even know that some recipes are written using weights. I'm 24 and until I started reading food blogs online I had never heard of the idea of weighing ingredients to cook. It took a while before I found a blog that took the time to explain why it could make a difference. I rarely bake though and hardly ever follow the amounts listed in recipes anyway so I haven't gotten a kitchen scale. No kitchen aid mixer either.

beth | 5 May, 2009 - 06:04

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

I've lived in Japan a year now, and since I've learned to convert American recipes, I've LOVED working with weighing! Wouldn't do it any other way now, though it's a real pain to have to look up the gram conversions any time I want to make a recipe...Not that many American baking recipes (chocolate chip cookies) turn out anyway, baking them in my microwave/convection/steaming/roasting oven. I've had to learn to scale way back on the butter so things don't melt down flat. Bread baking is so touchy from day to day anyway, I rarely end up following the exact flour measurements in recipes, and just add or hold back, judging by how the kneading feels as I go. Works like a charm! :)

The "carmel" thing...It's about as annoying as "chimney" and "chi-me-ney"...or "washing" and "warshing," on and on ad nauseum. Sometimes it's just a regional thing. I found a lot of subtle but pretty noticeable differences in the way words are pronounced as a mid-westerner who lived in Southern California for many years. I grew up with the "CARmel" pronunciation, myself.

Saitoko | 10 May, 2009 - 08:02

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

And now, after that rant, a word about "Fluffing up" flour.

My mother told me that you should always take care to sift your flour before measuring it, especially if you're using an older recipe. The reason she gave was that in the old days you always had to sift your flour before using it to make sure there was nothing in there like weevils or leftover bits of wheat, and that this was such a given that recipes were always written to take this into account.

Joanne | 12 May, 2009 - 04:19

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

Sifting flour for the purpose of removing weevils or impurities makes a lot of sense. It also makes sense when you need to introduce a lot of air into the flour, for cake batters for example. However, it makes no sense when it's 'fluffed up' by sort of mixing around with a fork, for a _pizza dough_, as it is in the video I referenced. The presenter says 'it's very important' to do this but doesn't say WHY. This just seems like something that was always done a certain way, and is passed on as-is, and this kind of inaccuracy drives me slightly nuts :)

And addressing some other comments: I know that many dishes don't require precise measurements or methods, and experienced cooks can do it by eyeing things, adding more, leaving out, etc. I do most of my cooking without measuring. But if someone is just starting out, or is trying to follow a new recipe, then accuracy is the best road to success. When someone has complained about recipes I've posted here on Just Hungry or Just Bento that it didn't 'turn out well' for them, 99% of the time it's because they varied the ingredients or fudged on the measurements (and I do give measurements in US cups AND grams/ml 99% of the time). I have a feeling that cup measurements may even contribute to this sort of sloppiness.

Maybe I'm just old fashioned, but I really believe that one needs to grasp the fundamentals BEFORE trying to branch out. Well, that's what I try to do anyway especially with something unfamiliar: follow the recipe as close to the letter as I can to start, then try varying it.

Just my opinion, as always! Anyway, this has really been a fascinating discussion, with thoughtful opinions on both sides!

maki | 15 May, 2009 - 06:40

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

Most if not all the recipes I've tried from here have turned out wonderful. I am a stickler for measurements and I usually try to follow the recipes as closely as possible before I vary it, and I have been cooking for over 10 years. For example, for the kare (since I am absolutely obsessed) I have found that I like using tomato puree rather than canned tomatoes, and by adding nasu I don't have to use a roux to thicken the curry. I also decrease the amount of garam masala and add coriander and tumeric powder as the brand I use doesn't have the spice mix I like. Too bad I'm stuck with two big bottles of the garam masala and curry before I can try a new brand. But that's got nothing to do with the original recipe, more the availability of raw ingredients.

anon. | 16 May, 2009 - 13:56

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

I own a Kitchen Aid mixer. There are three types of mixers available in my area: Kitchen Aid, mixers far cheaper than Kitchen Aid, and mixers fare more expensive than Kitchen Aid. The more expensive, I've never touched. The ones that are far cheaper from Kitchen Aid only last a couple months before they break. After years of smelling ozone in the kitchen, I got sick of dealing with the cheap appliances and bought a Kitchen Aid, which was truly worth the price I paid for it (and it was less than $400).

If there was something good in quality that was a little cheaper than Kitchen Aid, I'd try it, but experience has shown that no such thing exists in the stores around here. Kneading bread dough by hand may be fun, but for whipping egg whites or making recipes that require more than an hour of mixing...I've blistered my hands and pulled muscles (tough dough!) enough times to appreciate the Kitchen Aid.

anon. | 15 May, 2009 - 04:07

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

I'm absolutely with Maki on ths one. Cups are useful for some things, but for baking, they strike me as being absurd. I do use cups for cooking rice, though. The Japanese 180 ml ones if I'm using the rice cooker, or whatever else I have to hand if I'm doing it 'properly'.

sushidushi | 17 May, 2009 - 03:22

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

Yes, I am the all-American girl, I bake professionally, but...

*gasp!*

I don't often use my scale. =<

A good answer for many of us, is that, well, that's how we learned. My grandmother was fiercely proud of her cooking - many happy tummies would agree! - and I don't believe that I ever saw her measure a thing. She used her hands to measure salt, baking powder, etc. "Stop right there sweetie, see? That's just right." Liquids were simply poured until she gave the nod of approval. She was an old southern woman. Ladies like this didn't have much when they were young - their mothers had less. To bake a loaf of bread was truly an act of love and skill, not of skill in measurement, but in the skill of simply making it the same day in, day out, knowing what it looked like the bowl, in the feel of the dough, etc.

Now that I make my living as a Pastry Cook, I do you use my scale often at work - but not nearly as much as my companions in the field. My last Pastry Chef confided in me the same reasons that I have given here, and in fact he's been laughed because of it. But eat his desserts, and you'd never know! We joke often that nobody seems to understand the beauty of measuring with your eyes and your hands.

Now translate the pioneer womans skill with "a handful of flour, a dash of salt", these aren't things to measure in weight, but in volume. Of course, accuracy today shows us that better products are achieved through properly weighing our ingredients. Yesterday's American mother didn't need to weigh, she knew what it looked like, what it FELT like. As our country grew, and mother's found themselves buisier (maybe even with a job! *GASP!*), young girls lost interest or simply didn't have time to watch their mother cook (How boring!!). Much of the visual skills in cookery were being lost on a new generation! I feel this is where the act of measuring by volume came in.

I own many very old cookbooks, (For example, "The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book" by Fannie Merritt-Farmer, and countless ooooollld country cookery books - I in fact can tell you the best way to keep squirrel and opossum meat fresh!)and you see in so many of them some measurements of volume mixed in with the visual cues. One recipe might give you exact measurements, only to tell you to add a small handful of flour at a time until it "looks right". Other books mix completely. One recipe will be exact, while the next calls for "one pig's head with water to cover, one handful of pepper and salt, a few bay leaves, a fist of herbs and a full basin of water to cover"

So, this is my theory. I'll hush up now! ^_^

redopinion | 24 May, 2009 - 18:36

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

Seems this topic is very very much discussed! I personally have no problems with switching back and forth between pounds, grams, ounces or cups.... Yes thanks to multi function digital scales. I know for example that 1 cup of flour is approximately 125 grams, while 1 cup of sugar is about 250 grams. Also 1 ounce is approximately 25 grams. 4 cups of liquid make 1 liter, therefore 1 cup must be 250 milliliters.

What I don't understand is pints... but that's a whole other issue and I always avoid using recipes that require pint measures.

The thing that peeves me off in many recipes is when people assume that anyone looking to replicate that recipe lives where they live, and thus are able to get their grubby little hands on a can, block or packet of some such ingredient, especially one with a brand label. What if cans of some soup in say China are smaller than cans in Canada? or a block of butter for example in New Zealand is twice the size (500 grams) of a block of butter in Switzerland (250 grams), and what the hell is a stick of butter anyway? (recently learned it's approximately 125 grams btw)

Unfortunately I don't see a standardisation (my spell checker wants me to use Z and make "standardization" but I say No No NO) of any of these measures in the foreseeable future.

Annabel | 24 May, 2009 - 18:58

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

A pint is 2 cups. What's your problem with them?

marnen | 26 August, 2011 - 06:06

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

From my baking experience I think the whole cup thing is just to start out with, at least if you have other ingredients in the recipe that don't use cups..but rather like the size of the ingredient itself, for example eggs in baking. I find that some eggs...are somewhat smaller than others in the box so even after the starting measurements with cups of flour and all, we (my family and I)continue to add little by little more water/flour/etc until we get the desired consistency (and that's another thing, everyone has their preferred consistency, so I think the cups are just the start and then we add as much as we desire). Basically what I'm saying the cup measurements are not the definite measurements, just a starting point. It's always the case when I'm making cookies, I always add some more flour especially to make them a little easier to handle when the dough is especially sticky(though this is only if I'm making cookie cutter cookies).

anon. | 1 June, 2009 - 20:23

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

Peter H. Coffin wrote:

30 years ago, the English didn't weigh things for recipes either, and I've got the cookbooks that prove it.

Really...? I have plenty of English cookery books that show measurements in weights. In fact, I don't think I've seen one that doesn't do so. I'll have to investigate...

I much prefer weights to cups, too. I now live in Canada, and they use cups for everything, too. It can't be easier to use volume for things like butter and other solid ingredients, can it?

I do like the American (not Canadian) use of imperial measurements, though. They have much more charm and are much better for dividing quantities and so on. Why they insist that a pint is only 16 fl oz, I don't know, but the inconsistency is one of the things I love about it.

sushidushi | 16 August, 2009 - 01:28

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

I haven't read all entries, so somebody else might have suggested the same thing I want to bring forward as an explanation for the weird custom of using cups for measurement. The first settlers coming from Europe simply did not have enough space for scales on the Mayflower and subsequent boats but they did bring cups with them and found they could be used for measuring as well. After that they kept up this (archaic) habit in commemoration of these early days.
This attempt at an explanation comes from Austria, where people are eqally bewildered about the archaic measurements of Britain as we are completely METRIC!! We even use one special metric unit for 100 grams. 100g =1 Deka(gramm)for us (not for the Germans!)which for the Italians would be 1 etto.
So there are a lot of weird things in Europe as well!

Roswitha Moser | 8 November, 2009 - 02:20

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

It's the beginning of 2012 now and the weighing scales are a lot cheaper than 3 yrs. ago you can get one now for around $15. I'm a Canadian living in Holland.I bake and cook a lot of North American recipes. I use measuring spoons, weighing such a small amount works accurately only if you have a scale that only goes up to 500 grams. I also use measuring cups because that's what the recipe calls for. But I hate it when you have to measure peanut butter, or chocolate etc. such a mess and waste of time! Was happy when Canada went metric years ago till I realized that they use ml.,thus the measuring cup! I don't know why USAers knock the metric system so much, it's a lot easier, it's all decimals, it's just getting used to something new. But in Canada they still use a lot of the USA measurements inches, feet etc. probably because of the USA trade.

Nadine*** | 6 January, 2012 - 17:36

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

For measuring sticky stuff like peanut butter, it's easier to spray a cup measure with cooking spray first. This works especially well for items like molasses and honey. Usually, there will be a weight amount given (in ounces) after looser ingredients such as chocolate chips in recipes; that's usually what I use when measuring those kinds of ingredients.

As an American, I agree that metric is much easier to use. Way back when, we just HAD to be different. *sighs*

Adria | 19 January, 2012 - 08:02

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

While the engineer in me loves the idea of weighing ingredients, the vast majority of the cookbooks I own do not provide weights in the recipes.

Sue K. | 18 January, 2012 - 15:38

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

I understand cups in theory as your measuring out the recipe all the same if one is more they will all scale together.. but what about eggs and other non cup measurements.. always wonder how u'd go about increasing or decreasing them accurately.. but I guess thats the British in me liking my scales.. sadly I stop reading a recipe after I find the word cup most of the time.

Emily R | 19 January, 2012 - 01:21

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

I agree, I am British and I have some of my Nans old cook books, well they are only about 20 years old, and they have cup measurements in them. I prefer working with scales though. I hate seeing cup measurements and most of the delicious looking recipes I find are from the USA, but I think the fact that you grew up using these methods means you understand how to fill cups, I never know whether to fill it loosely or pack it right in! This is why I prefer using scales. I can see how dunking a cup in the bag of flour etc must be so much easier though.

nic | 11 February, 2012 - 01:33

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

As an Australian who owns a thermomix - a food processor which weighs your ingredients for you when you add them to the bowl - the propensity of American recipes and cookbooks to use cups - and if you are lucky - non metric measurements is very irritating. So any American cookbooks or recipes I have are scribbled all over with cup and weight conversions.

There is nothing easy about cups as far as I'm concerned. Cups are simply not an accurate measure for all the reasons people have outlined above - including too much washing up. And as for the measuring things by feel or eye - this does not work unless you are a very experienced cook, have cooked the recipe tons of times before and have failed on quite a few occasions before getting it right. Sorry, but I don't have time to do this!

The earlier commenter who said that using spoon measurements is useful is right however - but this works best for 1 teaspoon or less measures.

In case anybody was wondering what a thermomix is you can see demos on youtube.

moonmobile | 24 January, 2013 - 03:01

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

I'm shocked that a set of scales in America costs so much, maybe that's the root of the problem? For £65 ($100), I'd want my scales to mix and bake the cakes as well. My scales, while not perfect cost about £5 ($8) and my Mum has a set of digital scales that cost £10 ($16).
I absolutely hate when recipes give cups as measurement- how am I supposed to measure a cup of butter? Cut it up into cubes first? Leaves a lot of gaps so isn't a full cup. Melt it first and pour it in? Ruins your cakes. It's completely inaccurate and just stresses me out, especially when I have to google the equivalent weights and end up with more decimal points than I know what to do with- in grams OR ounces.

Susan | 16 February, 2013 - 17:37

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

$100 would be a top end fancy kitchen scale. Most kitchen scales are under $50. A listing of kitchen scales on Amazon.com shows many around the $25 range an some much cheaper. A mechanical scale would be even less, but these days digital is a lot more convenient.

maki | 16 February, 2013 - 19:32

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

I don't have a scale, but that's because none of the recipe's I use include weight measurements, and most of the time I eyeball my measurements. When mixing up a rub for the meat I'm grilling, for instance, I go more by the color of the end product than by measurements. But nothing irritates me more than reading a recipe and seeing "three small onions" or "two medium potatoes". At least a cup measurement is something concrete (with the exception of things like flour that have a tendency to poof up on you).

James | 27 February, 2013 - 23:36

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

I don't have a scale, but that's because none of the recipe's I use include weight measurements, and most of the time I eyeball my measurements. When mixing up a rub for the meat I'm grilling, for instance, I go more by the color of the end product than by measurements. But nothing irritates me more than reading a recipe and seeing "three small onions" or "two medium potatoes". At least a cup measurement is something concrete (with the exception of things like flour that have a tendency to poof up on you).

James | 27 February, 2013 - 23:36

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

In Canada we actually use the metric system for everything except cooking where all the books are still written in lbs, oz, cups, and spoons - not for it's own market but for the elephant living south of the 49th parallel still stuck in the past. That past is not so distant. England (the founder of the US) only when it adopted the metric system in order to conform to EU custom, changed it's cooking measurements to metric and weight. Before that it's system was even more antiquated than that of the US today: gills, wineglass, liqueurglass, dessertspoon, spoon, grains, scruples, dram, quarter, stone, chaldron, sack, etc.

Soupcon | 1 March, 2013 - 02:28

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

In Canada we actually use the metric system for everything except cooking where all the books are still written in lbs, oz, cups, and spoons - not for it's own market but for the elephant living south of the 49th parallel still stuck in the past. That past is not so distant. England (the founder of the US) only when it adopted the metric system in order to conform to EU custom, changed it's cooking measurements to metric and weight. Before that it's system was even more antiquated than that of the US today: gills, wineglass, liqueurglass, dessertspoon, spoon, grains, scruples, dram, quarter, stone, chaldron, sack, etc.

Soupcon | 1 March, 2013 - 02:29

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

I live in germany and i hate recipies with cups. If i would imagine some of my more complex recipies in cups....thats just silly.

And that the usa still uses imperial measurements make less sense than this cup thing. I would understand it if it would be an original american measurement system but its so old you can track it back to the Roman Empire.

But change is hard and americans love to be proud about stuff, even if it makes no sense or there is no reason to be proud of stuff other people invented thousands of years ago.

Wumsi | 2 March, 2013 - 17:26

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

American recipes tend to have a bit of a “fudge” factor such that if your measurements are not perfect it will still work just and give something that tastes good.

In addition there are products sold in such a way that you don’t need to either weigh or scoop anything and recipes are often standardized on product sizes (i.e. 1 bag of chocolate chips per batch of cookies or other). Butter as mentioned earlier comes in a 1 pound pack containing 4 individually wrapped sticks. Each stick is an half a cup and each stick is individually wrapped with tablespoon markers of up to 8 tablespoon per stick. This is why recipes can call for sticks, cups, or tablespoons of butter.

You can use the displacement method on shorting or scoop from the large container or there is a brand of shorting that comes in tubs with tablespoon markings like sticks of butter. There is a brand of Chocolate that comes in 1 ounce squares. Cream cheese comes in 8 ounce packs.

Unless you want more consistency or you are cooking for a large group (say a Professional Chef or a Caterer) cups work reasonably well. I kind of like my cakes and cookies not tasting identical to the last batch gives it a home made feel. Also with cups you just rise or wipe out and go to the next ingredient and throw in dishwasher when done. If you have a sticky or problem ingredent that typically goes in last(like honey) and there is a new gaget for messuring cups of thick stuff(the horrors!). Have not gotten it becuase I don't messure a lot of stuff like peanut butter.

Cups are great if you want to double or triple somethng(easy math if you even bother doing the math) but are just a pain in the neck to translate if you don’t have cups to cook with. I don’t have a scale might get one because I am thinking about sausage making which is about the only kind of American recipe that usually goes by weight. With eggs the USDA grades them by weight so there is a fair amount of consistency in eggs (i.e. if recipes calls for large eggs there is a definition for it i.e. at least this big in diameter and this much weight per dozen). There are also size grades for vegetables (yeah there is a lot of variation here but if I need to pick up a large onion there is a bin of vegetables labeled as large so it does cut down a bit on that.). Not perfect but not as much a shoot in the dark as you would think.

I have used scales in lab work but not in the home kitchen, so my views maybe a bit off but I found making anything with scales slower unless making a larger quantity.

Jason | 31 July, 2013 - 07:13

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

English cookery books have generally used weights for ages now, from well before those awful metric weights, certainly for solid things. I think Soupcon must be looking at some ancient books, or something written as a joke to confuse the Europeans (and the vast majority of us English!).

Often, imperial weights are much easier to divide, with 16 ounces in a pound and 8 fluid ounces in a cup. But it depends what you're used to, largely. And, of course, lots of people seem to enjoy ridiculing the Americans.

sushi dushi | 2 March, 2013 - 23:55

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

Hi everyone! I'm a young italian teenager and I enjoy a lot surfing the net to discover and try new recipes everyday fom every country... don't ask me why but I watch almost everytime english and americans videos (it's even a good exercise to learn the language :P) I noticed they're always using the "cup" sistem and I tought it was just because it was more comfortable or quick, however I waste time everytime to convert all the mesurements!. Just now I'm realizing that some people don't even have a kitchen scale! What?? for me its like hearing that pigs can fly! (such a beautiful example! :) )Yeah, it's true that I've been raisen up surrounded by kitchen scales (I think every family in Italy has one)... wow this sounds new to me :D in conclusion... I appreciate both methods, but I think that if you want to make something difficult that requires precision.... guys... definitey use the scales!!! bye from Italy :D

anon. | 9 April, 2013 - 00:21

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

For my part, I never knew about using a scale in baking/coooking until the last year of my life (29 yrs old). After using it while baking a couple of recipes that turned out amazingly well, I use the scale all of the time to measure ingredients. With the tare function, it's so much easier than dirtying a bunch of different sized cups, spoons, etc. I desperately wish more American cookbooks were written with weight measurements. Regarding the metric system, I love it! Conversions in between units are 1000% easier. I taught 4th grade for a couple of years before my baby was born, and kids struggled with conversions in the English system, but once we hit metric, they took off running. It's so much more intuitive given our base ten numeric system. Weight and metric? Fully embraced by this American. :)

anon. | 20 May, 2013 - 21:03

Re: American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's ...

I found this page while looking up something for my Culinary Arts class. I know my response is late but I just had to say that the cup system is the proper way to measure things out in the United States. To cite my course, it's to ensure that the end product is the same each time. We discussed the importance of workers in the culinary field to use recipes, i.e (American) measurements for that reason. An example of this idea is how the founder of Mcdonalds (I think, lovely student I am!) wanted his food to taste the same in any given region of this nation.

I've tried recipes from various Canadian blogs and they seem to use the same system as us..yet Americans somehow have a monopoly on being "adamantly" different. We're only a different country with a different history and culture, on a completely different continent, you know. We've been using our system for God knows how long, it's not like everything we do is senseless..I thought we were the bigoted ones. Here's a question for people in the UK, why do you use stones instead of lbs? That system is an absolute headache for those who are bad at math.

anon | 4 October, 2014 - 11:47

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