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Jul 16, 2008 09:52 AM

Conspiracy to keep digital kitchen scales out of your kitchen?

Lee Gomes writes in today's Wall Street that cookbook publishers think we are too stupid to purchase cookbooks that include ingredient weights as well as volume measures. At least that's his conspiracy theory: "if you don't have (a digital scale) in your home, it's another victory for the small cabal that suppresses these devices every way it can." Apparently cookbook publishers think that weights in recipes are too daunting and they want to keep things simple.

He writes that highly accurate digital scales can be had for as low as $30 thanks to the Chinese manufacturing boom and cheaper computer chips.

Good article, wish I could provide a link but I don't subscribe to WSJ online and couldn't locate the article on the free part of the site.

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  1. If you could get a PhD in Google, I'd have one! Here is the article:

    It's not wholly surprising that the cookbook publishers have this hesitation. Thinking about Mark Bittman's recent "Recipe Dealbreakers" article, it seems that the cookbook authors have to walk quite the minefield in terms of causing a potential buyer to just throw up his hands and walk away at the sight of something that even LOOKS unnecessarily complex. Although I don't see why they can't at least tuck the weights into an appendix or something - they'd be available but invisible to the guy in BN just flipping through the pages :-


    I think it would be helpful if some of the TV cooking show hosts started to use scales more. There is a weird stigma with scales, probably due to the way they were only used by "dieters" for so long.

    I for one welcome our new weight-based overlords. I told my wife the only way I'll help her make a cookbook out of her great grandmother's recipes is if she helps me adapt them using weights.

    2 Replies
    1. re: jzerocsk

      I'm surprised there hasn't been a digital scale themed cooking show. The celebrity chef could hawk his signature scale and scaled recipes. And why haven't we seen a scale on an infomercial.

      1. re: Romanmk

        Especially since this would really appeal to a core part of their audience if marketed right. You'll know that your baking recipes will work correctly. And if it's done in grams there's no scary adding together of fractions.

    2. Digital scales are fantastic. When jfood experimented in baking over the winter he loved it when he found recipes that used weights. He never trusted those cheap little measuring spoons for some reason. He could never get his arms around the visual and felt much more comfortable with the 180 grams flashing at him.

      2 Replies
      1. re: jfood

        Yes - I use mine all the time, and it's particularly useful when making recipes from non-U.S. cookbooks.

        1. re: jfood

          I use my digital scale all the time. I would use it even more if more recipes would list the measurements that way. On certain recipes, i am kinda ocd about getting the proportions exactly right.

        2. I can see why a lot of people would be intimidated by approaching a recipe that has weight measurements as opposed to volume. Most people just don't have scales in their kitchens -- actually, a lot of people don't have things like graters. And because cookbook publishers generally don't have weight measurements, people feel that it's a waste to purchase a scale as they'll hardly use it.

          Scales are definitely helpful, especially in baking. I have a scale but have to admit that I didn't buy it for cooking but for things related to my work. But I found myself using it in the kitchen a lot. I really wish that cookbooks would just print both measurements. I don't think it takes that much more work to put the gram measurements in parenthesis next to the volume one. I'm sure some will argue that it would ruin the aesthetics of the book, but I would greatly appreciate it.

          1. I have a digital scale that I mainly use for baking. Other than baking, correct me if I'm wrong, most recipes don't have to be that precise and I doubt the home cook would need such a gadget.

            However, I do like the idea of having weights published with volume. I find it easier to weigh ingredients than measure out in fraction of cups.

            11 Replies
            1. re: dave_c

              Yeah, I've been doing serious portion control off and on over the last year and a half, and the first thing I did was buy a digital scale. It's just so much easier, especially if you're multiplying or dividing recipes. And while dry and liquid ingredients are easy to measure with cups and spoons, it's much easier to measure everything in between -- butter and cheese, for example -- on a scale.

              I find it hard to believe that in a country where everything else is electronic somehow people are incapable of coping with a digital scale. I know what the real "conspiracy" is about -- keeping the evil metric system out of people's homes. ;-)

              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                LOL! I would actually like to see recipes with evil metric system grams instead of ounces.

                To me, grams = weight. Ounces = weight or volume.... especially for newbies many will think 1 C = 8 oz (volume) = 8 oz (weight).

                This works for water-based ingredients, but can throw a recipe when measuring dry ingredients.

                For example, all-purpose flour is about 5 ounces (weight) per cup. If newbie weighs out 8 ounces for 1 Cup, they will have a little more than 1.5 cups and scratching their head why the recipe didn't work.

                1. re: dave_c

                  As someone pointed out, a lot of English cookbooks (or cookbooks published outside the US for an English-speaking audience) use metric weights -- often in some kind of bizarre combination of English volume measures (which are different from American ones) for some things and weights for others. For example, they'll call for 450 grams of flour and half a pint (a British pint, which is 20 ounces, not 16) of milk.

                  1. re: Ruth Lafler

                    When I was cooking from Hopkinson - a U.K. edition, not the U.S. edition - I loved how he would call for 100 grams of this and 250 grams of that, but in the same recipe call for a small wine glass of port and a large wine glass of red wine. So much for specificity.

                    1. re: MMRuth

                      I have a lot of British recipes that call for gills (5 fluid ounces), not to mention that call for ingreidents like "treacle" or "castor sugar". Doesn't take a lot of research to figure them out.

                      However, I suspect that converting U.S. cookbooks to weights instead of cups and spoonsful would be a gargantuan task across the board. I think the biggest problem would center around the fact that ambient humidity can change the weight of a cup of flour or sugar in a standard cup/spoon recipe, thereby requiring all ingredients and conversions to be done in a controlled humidity environment.. Weigh a cup of flour on a humid day and convert it to that weight for an angel food cake recipe, and you could end up with an angel food brick! Volume and weight aren't all that interchangeable!

                      1. re: Caroline1

                        I don't have any laboratory data to support this, but especially with regard to flour it seems that variation in weight due to humidity would be minimal compared to variation in volume due to method of measuring. A cup of flour scooped from the bag is going to weigh a lot more than the same volume that's been sifted into the measuring cup and topped with a straight edge. And even using identical methods, it would seem that the temperature / humidity / emotional state of the flour might cause some variability.

                        Given that professional bakers and pastry chefs cook by weight rather than volume, I have to assume that weight is a more accurate measure.

                        1. re: Caroline1

                          Caroline, you're effectively advancing the argument *for* using weight measurements in cookbooks. If you give me a pie crust recipe calling for "1-1/2 cups" of flour, how do I know that measuring out 1-1/2 cups will give me the right amount of flour? If your 1-1/2 cups weighed 145 g and mine weighs 185g, my crust is going to be leaden. For the sort of products where it makes a difference, weight is (generally) the accurate measurement of what's there.

                          1. re: tmso

                            Sugarplum. I think you're not understanding what I'm saying. Yes! I AM in favor of converting to weights instead of spoons and cups. My point is that the COOK BOOK PUBLISHERS are not all that interested in doing it.

                            I was also 100% in favor of converting to the metric system. I've lived several places where the world operates on kilometers, meters, centimeters and all that good stuff. The U.S. Congress felt the same way and passed a law. Look where THAT got us...!

                            So yes. My arguments are intended to support the conversion 100%. But I'm not stupid enough, or a wild enough dreamer, to hold my breath until THAT happens...! '-)

                            1. re: Caroline1

                              Okay, I get you now.

                              I actually think the point made above about a TV chef might be the US's only reasonable hope to start making a conversion, and it's still a long shot.

                              1. re: tmso

                                As I recall, Graham Kerr used to throw in metric/weight measurments with some regularity, and he made NO progress. Zilch! Zip! Nada! The U.S. populace is NOT quick at grasping concepts. If you don't believe me grab your "Recent U.S. History" book and look up "oil crisis" and see how many times in the last 40 years they've sworn to only buy fuel economy cars and kick the oil habit. And you think they can be convinced to weigh things...? I love your ability to keep the faith. '-)

                2. re: dave_c

                  One thing I've been using mine for is measuring dry pasta. For two people a third of a pound is about right. So rather than eyeball that amount from the bag I now use the scale. It easily handles different sizes and shapes.

                  I have a number of HH (UK) picture cooking books that list both European weights and US volumes.

                3. I just bought a digital scale a few weeks ago (finally upgrading from the analog Braun scale I've used for over 15 years). I do own several German cookbooks (in German) and have needed a scale for these. And like paulj, I've been using a scale to measure out dry pasta as well--nothing like an accurate measurement to see just how large the pasta portions are at restaurants!

                  The lack of weights in a cookbook is silly--for gawd's sake, just list both volume and weight. It's probably just serious cooks (and dieters) that use scales now.