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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.

                  1. I also love my digital scale. I agree that cookbooks ought to have both weights and volumetric measures, but there are so few of us who like to use weights. I totally understand why publishers wouldn't go headlong into weight measurements. If you ever read Rose Levy Beranbaum's blog, you can see how much time she takes to make sure her measures are accurate both ways in her "bibles." It would make sense that most cooks and most publishers would feel more comfortable with "a cup of this" and "tablespoon of that." And not want to take the effort to convert and re-measure recipes by weight. There's a lot of tradition wrapped up in those "cuppa" recipes.

                    I like my digital scale to help me measure quantities of meat (Marcella always gives you measures like 6 ounces of ground beef), as well as baking recipes. And I'm not sure I spent anywhere near $30. Got mine at the local Target - it's a Taylor (same brand as my instant-read pocket thermometer). And boy does it look classy with its little glass platform!! whoo hoo!

                    1. There is a fair percent of the population in the U.S. who is math phobic. Then throw in this countries amazing unrelenting resistance to metric...On top of that, during a casual thumb through of the cook books at a local B&N, etc. about the only ones which will use weights will be the ones serious enough to intimidate most casual cooks.

                      If I were a publisher preparing to release a non-professional cookbook in the U.S. I would be afraid that the weights would be the kiss of death for it's sales potential. Unfortunately, those of us on CH are a very small segment of that market.

                      Just look at how much retail shelf space is devoted to TV cooks who have dumbed down the genre - the message from that is very sad.

                      1. I wish every recipe had a weight equivalent. How much is a small onion, or even better, half a large onion? Even 1/3 cup chopped onion would be better than this!

                        6 Replies
                        1. re: smtucker

                          Yes, i totally agree! I haven't been cooking that long and i hate when they write recipes in such subjective terms. It would love it if they would tell me how many ounces or grams of onion i needed as opposed to just saying small, medium, large, etc.

                          1. re: smtucker

                            Oh, that drives me crazy! How much is a bunch? That teeny bunch of basil I buy at the supermarket is about 25 percent of the bunch I bought at the farmers' market. And so many fruits and vegetables have been "supersized" these days and are much larger than they used to be. At least give me a volume equivalent, i.e. four onions, about three cups chopped. Then there are eggs. Eggs come in sizes, eggs have always come in sizes. And yet, how many recipes specify what size egg to use? Depending on the recipe, it could make a significant difference if you use extra large eggs instead of large eggs. Sometimes they put that info in some of the introductory or appended material ("when eggs are called for, it means large eggs"). But usually not, and how many people (chowhounds aside) read their cookbooks that thoroughly?

                            1. re: Ruth Lafler

                              One of the HH books has notations like:
                              8 large (US extra large) eggs

                              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                Yes, fruits especially have ballooned in size and, alas, diminished in flavor. That's one reason I started weighing *everything* after I was diagnosed with diabetes. A typical diet book will list an apple as one fruit portion, but most supermarket apples are generally at least two fruit portions. To get one that's even close, you have to buy the ones that are often described as "lunchbox size" -- about 3-4 ounces (100g) apiece. And I got to the point that I would weigh, say, a muffin to confirm the weight per serving given on the package. Often it would be way off. It would say something like "Serving size: 1 muffin (72g), but one muffin was really 100g, so the carb count had to be multiplied by 1.5.

                                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                  I agree that a lot of fruits and vegetables have gotten larger and lost a lot of flavor, but I think eggs have gotten smaller. I was wondering if it was just me or if it's because I only buy organic eggs, then I ran across a recipe on the web the other day that called for 3 large eggs, then in parentheses it said, (U.S. extra large). Guess it's not just me.

                              2. Here's a teaser for those of you who want weight equivalents :-D

                                Weight Equivalents:
                                Green or Spring Onion, Scallion
                                Large 25g
                                Medium, (4 1/8" long) 15g
                                Small (3" long) 5g
                                Large, 1 bunch (avg 3-4 per bunch) 90g
                                Medium, 1 bunch (avg 6 per bunch) 90g
                                Small, 1 bunch (avg 18 per bunch) 90g

                                Spinach 1 bunch 340g

                                Onion, White or Yellow
                                Large 150g
                                Medium 110g
                                Small 70g
                                Slice, Large (1/4" thick from medium onion) 38g
                                Slice, Medium (1/8" thick from medium onion) 14g
                                Slice, thin (from medium onion) 9g

                                Tomato, Red Ripe, Raw
                                Large, whole (3"dia) 182g
                                Medium, whole (2-3/5" dia) 123g
                                Small, Whole (2-2/5" dia) 91g
                                Slice, Thick (1/2" thick from medium tomato) 27g
                                Wedge (1/4 medium tomato) 31g
                                Slice, Medium (1/4" thick from medium tomato) 20g
                                Slice, Thin (from medium tomato) 15g

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: hannaone

                                  On behalf of digital scale junkies everywhere, WE WANT MORE!!! Sorry about the shouting. Probably shouldn't have had that extra pot of coffee (30g of grounds for 600ml of water) after lunch.

                                  But seriously--sounds like you've got your hands on a good, comprehensive, readily-available weight equivalents table. Please do tell...

                                  1. re: alanbarnes

                                    Actually it's a project I'm working on for my website. I'm extracting information from the USDA nutritional database, and several state weights and measure standardization guides.
                                    The information in my post above is from the USDA SR20 downloadable program available on their website. It's a little clunky to use since you have to look up each food item individually, but it shows the average weights for a lot of common items by common (according to the USDA) measures, and you can adjust quantities to get fractional and multiple weights.

                                    1. re: alanbarnes

                                      Got some of this info now functional on my site if you are still interested in it. Just follow the link from my profile.

                                  2. I agree with Ruth, most average cooks (I doublt any chowhounds) don't check things too closely. I am all for more recipes by weight rather than volume. Its so much more accurate. Bottom line. But most people don't think that way. If they can't just dump it in a cup and measure, its too much work/ too confusing. I know I'm overgeneralizing cooks here but I can't tell you how many times I've read people elsewhere messing up recipes by using table salt rather than kosher or something similar so having to take note of which ingredients are by weight would lead to some botched recipes.

                                    10 Replies
                                    1. re: jmorri26

                                      I would like to think that most cooks aren't so uncreative that they can't improvise a little. To me, recipes are guides, not meant to be followed precisely. So if something says 1 medium onion, I pick an onion that isn't the biggest one or the smallest one. And I also think of what the onion is like - there are a lot of different onions, and even where they are grown can affect their flavour, but that is seldom addressed in recipes either.

                                      With herbs and spices - if it says 1 tsp of each, for example, and I would prefer to have some flavour more dominant, I alter for taste. This also means that no dish is ever exactly the same, but that is part of the fun of cooking.

                                      The only time I think you need a scale is when baking - the reactions between flour, sugar, yeast, soda, etc are more precise, and might be better when weighed. But I don't bake, so don't know much about that.

                                      So stop worrying about weights and measures, and have fun experimenting.

                                      1. re: Dan G

                                        I don't cook from recipes at all most of the time, but when I do, it's because I want the dish to come out as the recipe intends.

                                        Small differences can add up: if a recipe calls for "three apples" the difference between a small apple (5 ounces) and some of the behemoth apples you see in stores these days (9 or 10 ounces) can accumulate to double the amount intended (15 ounces vs. 30 ounces, for this example), more than enough to throw a dish out of balance.

                                        I have a favorite salsa recipe that calls for a bunch of cilantro. Now, as it happens I don't think there's such a thing as too much cilantro, but for many people the huge farmers' market bunch of cilantro I use would be waaaaay to much. They wouldn't like the result, and they'd think the recipe was no good or that they didn't like homemade salsa, when they would have liked it if they'd used a different amount of cilantro. Even if they did know how to fix the problem, they might not have the extra tomatoes on hand to dilute the excess cilantro. Same with basil in pesto. The amount of basil in a bunch can vary by a factor of four or more, and bunches of basil I see in the stores now are much bigger than the bunches that were typical when pesto first became popular in the U.S. 25-30 years ago and when a lot of recipes were written. If you use too much (or too little) basil in your pesto it's going to throw the proportions of your pesto off. Sure, I've made it often enough to know how to adjust it, but a lot of people couldn't, and again, you might not have excess of the other ingredients on hand to do so. For that reason, my tried and true pesto recipe calls for basil leaves packed into cups, not in "bunches." It's fine to "have fun experimenting" if you have the time and food to waste if your dish doesn't come out well, but not many of us have that luxury.

                                        1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                          I'm not sure that weight is the answer when dealing with fresh herbs. Do you weigh it dry, or after washing? with stems or not?

                                          For something like basil that will be pureed, packed volume may be best. However, usually when I make pesto, I start with a give quantity of basil (such as what is left over after using it in other dishes), and add the other ingredients to taste.

                                          Cilantro on the other hand is usually added at the end, so I can adjust the quantity by eye and taste. I have one book that specifies large bunches and small bunches.

                                          Stronger herbs are often measured in 'sprigs', which may be less variable than bunches.

                                      2. re: jmorri26

                                        The funny thing is that baking using weights is easier than using measuring cups, once you get used to it.

                                        On the other hand, the thing that's easier with good ol' English measures is multiplying or dividing recipes. Quick, what's 1/2 of 385g? I mean, it's easy enough, but not as easy figuring out 1/2 of 2 cups. :-)

                                        1. re: jlafler

                                          But why does the recipe call for 385g as opposed, say, to 400g? Most likely it's because someone converted the measure from cups without much rounding.

                                          The recipe that I've been using for no knead bread (from Beranbaum's site) calls for 3c or 468g flour, 1 1/2c or 354 g of water. With the scale it's just as easy to measure 468 g of flour as 500g. But I should be able to change the flour measure to 500g, and use the same ratio of water. 500 * 354/468 = 378g. If I round the ratio to 75%, I get 375g water.. Or if I aim for a 80% hydration, 500g flour requires 400g water.

                                          1. re: paulj

                                            Oh, I agree -- there's usually no particular need for recipes to go there, it's just a translation issue.

                                            But I do think a binary system of measurement (which is basically what the English system is, with a few maddening exceptions) makes sense in the kitchen.

                                            1. re: jlafler

                                              I thought that was just a difference in sizing standards for the US v Europe.

                                              1. re: paulj

                                                By "English" I mean the quarts/pints/cups/tablespoons/teaspoons system. But yes, an English pint isn't the same as an American pint -- I think it's 20 fluid ounces rather than 16. I have no idea where/when the discrepancy started.

                                                1. re: jlafler

                                                  Apparently I cook in three "thought modes." Most of the time I "eyeball" things. I pour, I pinch, I dump, and it comes out the way it's supposed to. But when I'm learning a new recipe, I follow it the first three or four times, and after that I'm pretty good at remembering the ratios of butter to flour to vanilla or meat to potatoes, whatever. And some of my cookbooks are weights and some of my cookbooks are measures.

                                                  Then a friend asked me to write out a recipe for her I've been making for years. She wanted cups. I learned the dish from a grams recipe. For the life of me, I could not write it out for her without making it from scratch and measuring in cups and spoons as I went. I felt like such a dummy...!

                                                  1. re: jlafler

                                                    Oops, my comment about different sizing standards was in reply to a post about large v x large eggs. I may have hit reply to the wrong post.

                                        2. If he's a WSJ food writer, he may be doing humor. If he;s an editorial writer, he may be serious about conspiracies.:). In any case, I turn out perfectly fine baked goods usuing volume measures. If you have one of the giant kitchens typical of successful Wall Streeters, fine. But I don't have room for anything more clutter. And I don't think a milligram or two will make any difference whatsoever.

                                          8 Replies
                                          1. re: mpalmer6c

                                            I have a small flat electronic one that sits on top of my cookbooks in my tiny kitchen - I bought it mostly because of using non-U.S. cookbooks but now use it quite often.

                                            1. re: MMRuth

                                              Mine is a countertop staple. I find it invaluable for stuff from the freezer... I freeze a lot of things I make, and it gives me their weight for auto-defrost. I buy grass fed beef via the web, and it arrives frozen with a ton of information on the label about the farm where the beef was raised but to find out how much the cut weighs (approximately), you have to go to their website! Just weighing it is a lot simpler. It's also incredibly handy for repackaging bulk bought items. And occasionally -- very occasionally! -- I use it for baking. God invented eyeballs long before s/he invented measuring cups! '-)

                                              1. re: Caroline1

                                                I actually have been looking at a digital scale. I do portions as well, I have a gylcogen storage disease, and if I don't, I'll weigh a thousand pounds, LOL. I was using a little push down diet scale, and the whole "deck of cards' adage, but I want something better.

                                                Baking would be SO much better.

                                                But I have REALLY found things I was totally ignorant to after portioning, like the size of food I was eating in restaurants. Coming home out of the city in a traffic jam middday, we were straved and ditched our homes of coming home to a burger on the grill and pulled into a Chilli's. I had a chicken sandwich, but the chicken on the bun HAD to be at least 12 ounches, maybe more. My husband had chicken tacos, and his plate came with four chicken tacos, rice and beans. We took a LOT of food home.

                                                Portioning over just a few weeks, makes the weight MELT off of you.

                                                1. re: sommrluv

                                                  It seems to me that most restaurants today serve food in two portion sizes: too much and too little. Unfortunately, "less is more" seems to refer to their pricing strategy.

                                                  There are some amazing scales out there. Mine is a Salter stainless steel that will weigh liquid, dry, ounces or grams. But after I bought it, I saw Salter "nutritional" scale that you enter a code for the food your weighing (I think they have 900 food codes) and it will not only tell you how much it weighs, it will also tell you things like calories, fat content, carbs and other good stuff. Sort of wish I'd found it first, but it doesn't weigh as much so it's a fair trade off. Good luck managing your glycogen storage disease. WHEN are they going to come up with that Star Trek magic wand that cures everything on the spot!

                                                  1. re: Caroline1

                                                    Thank you for the tip on that nutritional scale, I'm going to look for that. :)

                                                    Unfortuantely, the disease can't be managed, just slightly contained; but maybe 20 years in the future they'll be able to replace the enzyme I'm missing. I never realized food & a disease could go hand and hand...it does help, but my body doesn't burn or store glycogen..I've gone from a size 4 to ...not a size 4 LOL. :)

                                                    I love a valid excuse for a kitchen gadget.

                                                    1. re: sommrluv

                                                      Thank you again for the tip on that Salter scale, Caroline!

                                                      I found it on ebay, the 1450, for $59.99 and I had a coupon they emailed me. I'm so cheap, lol. It just came and I can't wait to use it. It's like a little high tech laptop. 1400 food codes and will keep a diary for two users.

                                                      Thank you again, I didn't even know this existed. I'm recommended the scale to my GSD support group.

                                                      1. re: sommrluv

                                                        sommrluv, I am SO sorry I didn't acknowledge your post before now. I'm about this - >|| close to giving up completely on Chow. I only found your post today as I'm going through every thread I've participated in to see what threads have not popped to the top of with a "New" marker. That's how I found yours.

                                                        I'm so glad you found the scale and that it's useful. It is so frustrating to live with a disease that has no useful answers. Hope it all goes well, and they find that mssing enzyme replacement for you!

                                            2. re: mpalmer6c

                                              LOL. My first digital scale was $15 from Ikea and was an 8" diameter circle, 1.5" thick! You don't need a ton a space or a ton of money...

                                              If you don't bake much it's sort of a wash (although I love being able to weigh out portions...man was my judgement off!).

                                              I will say that I think the difference between an inaccurate volume measure is going to be more on the order of whole grams than milligrams. That's still not a huge amount, but enough that it could be the make-or-break factor for more unforgiving recipes.

                                            3. Though the WSJ folks should understand the economics of publishing, they obviously don't. It would add considerable cost to a cookbook to also publish amounts in in milligrams, grams or hundrds of grams or whatever. Since most Americans don't use weights in recipes, there would be little if any benefit.

                                              Besides, since flour varies greatly from bag to bag in moisture content, I don't see how extremely precise measurmeent would do much good. I still have to rely on my experience to judge when a dough is right.

                                              1. I'm more tempted to buy cookbooks that include weight or volume measurements. If there were more of them, I'd be more inclined to buy more cookbooks, and I already have a lot. In fact, it's one of the criteria by which I judge whether or not to make that investment, because having internet access in my home, I do think twice.

                                                I use my digital scale every day, several times a day. It's absolutely necessary for baking.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: amyzan

                                                  Alton Brown 99% of the time uses a digital scale-- in fact saw him NOT use one the other night for a campsite recipe[so you wouldnt have to take your scale with you] Remember when no one had a food processor??microwave??color tv!! digital scales will catch on.. kilometers, not so much

                                                2. Any thoughts about how cookbook authors (editors) should do the conversion from volume to weight? Is a simple mathematical conversion at the editing stage fine? How about rounding 226 g to 250g? If converting the dry ingredients to grams, should the liquid ones be converted to ml?

                                                  Or should they go back to the test kitchen, and test the weight measurements, possibly even adjusting them to convenient quantities?

                                                  With an analog scale, rounded weights are nice. With digital ones rounding isn't so important. Still, there is something artificial about a recipe that calls for 365 g of flour as opposed to 350 or 400.

                                                  When using weights, how consistent are you in using the zero reset function? Have you ever made the mistake of adding an ingredient without doing the zero reset?

                                                  When making a batter, do you set the mixing bowl on the scale, and add each ingredient directly to the bowl using the zero reset? Or do you weigh each ingredient separately and then add it to the mix?

                                                  A short way down this page
                                                  there's a metric conversion table. For US 8 oz, the Canadian equivalent is 225g, the Australian 250g. The 225 is closer, the 250 is a more convenient rounded value. But both convert US1cup to 250ml (which with water is equal to 250g).

                                                  25 Replies
                                                  1. re: paulj

                                                    First, speaking as someone in the publishing business, I don't think it would be significantly more expensive to publish cookbooks that contain both volume and weight measurements -- as has been noted in this thread, many cookbooks published outside the U.S. do this. Furthermore, I've seen U.S. editions of cookbooks published outside the U.S. whether the original measurements have been converted to U.S. measurements, so that's obviously not a major consideration either. As for paulj's question, recipes I've seen that use weights and metric measurements use round numbers. If I were going to convert a recipe to metric I'd probably adjust it slightly to make the numbers come out nicely (and retest the recipes) and not do a straight conversion.

                                                    I think you'll find that when you start using a scale it very quickly becomes routine -- I use the zero function and just keep adding ingredients, which saves a lot of time and measuring tools. This gets easier, too, because using the scale regularly I've gotten really good at eyeballing what an ounce,100 grams, etc. should look like, so I have a rough idea of how much I should be adding. I often hit it dead on (cutting a one-ounce piece of cheese or seven grams of butter or 96 grams of ice cream).

                                                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                      Did anyone else say they thought the conversion would be very expensive for publishers, or was it just me? Don't know exactly why, but I was thinking of converting every cookbook they still have in print all by a specific date, and I think that would be expensive. Not to mention time consuming because every recipe would have to be recalibrated and tested.

                                                      Never thought about doing it as each new cookbook is published. From a publisher's perspective, that would certainly be the way to go. Rejection letter: "Dear _____, Thank you for considering us, but at this time we are only accepting cook books for consideration that use weight instead of volume in their recipes. If you should convert your work to meet this requirement, we would be happy to consider your work at that time." But what publisher would do that knowing his competitors aren't doing it too! I think it's called, "killing the cash cow."

                                                      For those who prefer weight to volume, I think the best we can hope for is that some day some U.S. publishers will eventually include some cookbooks in their catalogs that include both. But why do I think that won't be until about two weeks after all the signs go up all across the country that say, "Speed Limit 105 KMH." '-)

                                                      1. re: Caroline1

                                                        How about just including weights where they matter, for example in the bread recipes? I don't see much point in specifying weight when a Bechamel recipe calls for 2T of flour, of 1 cup/250 ml of milk.

                                                        Actually, Bittman's How to Cook Everything does something along this line. The bread recipes do specify weights for flour, eg.
                                                        1 1/2 cups (about 7 ounces) bread or all purpose flour.
                                                        other ingredients such as water and salt are still by volume

                                                        He also specifies weight for meat and fish, and for uncooked beans, and many of the vegetables (when used as main ingredient).

                                                        1. re: Caroline1

                                                          I don't think anyone is actually advocating weight INSTEAD OF volume, but weight IN ADDITION TO volume. And regardless, as many people said, there's a growing number of US cookbooks that do exactly that. My invaluable King Arthur Flour cookbooks use both weight and volume.

                                                          1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

                                                            Thanks for the information! I wasn't aware of that. My bookshelves reached max capacity a few years back, and not having the heart to throw (or give) a book away, I've been avoiding bookstores and temptations! '-)

                                                            1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

                                                              i love it when baking books have weights and measures too. i find it makes baking recipes much more effective/foolproof. weights make sense when you're dealing with ground flours and sugars, etc.

                                                              unlike many other posters, though, i *don't* prefer the format of my european cookbooks, which list weights for cooking recipes, because i find the gram measurements to be overly exact and fussy, when cooking really shouldn't be. "1 medium onion" is fine for me, fine for the cooking recipe. if the recipe yields 2 oz more or less of broth, sauce, etc. there is very little difference in flavor & final recipe results.

                                                              if the book calls for "110 grams chopped onion," though, wtf is that? if my onion, after chopping, weighs merely 95 grams, do i cut 1 *slice* off of another onion, chop and add it? if my onion weighs 120 grams, do i obsessively pluck away 10 oz and discard this? seems stupid, wasteful, overly obsessive/compulsive, time consuming. fruits and vegetables don't come in neat factory-made portion sizes, nor do meats, hand cut artisan cheeses, garden herbs. cooking methods originally called for much more latitude wrt ingredients, more good judgment/experiential wisdom on the part of the cook. nowadays of course the average cook can't judge 4 oz of ground meat in his/her palm rather than on a scale, pretty pathetic imho.

                                                              weight measures work against the cook's better instincts, making recipes less flexible and less applicable to the real world of specialty produce, seasonality, odd-sized garden vegetables. . . a good cook would have flexible thinking: "oh recipe calls for a medium onion and a scallion, but i just have a bitty onion, so i'll sub 3 scallions and the small onion for the 1 med onion 1 scallion in the recipe. or maybe this shallot for a portion of the onion." with the formulaic weights, the cook may distrust his/her own instincts and make a wasteful trip to the store for the missing "80 grams chopped onion." dumb. dumb. dumb. likewise, in the pro kitchen, for many recipes the chopped veggies just go into a cambro or soup pot and are eyeballed wrt the quantity of other ingredients. since small-farm carrot x has a flavor profile totally different than small-farm carrot z, weights are practically useless-- you *must* go on flavor and texture in the final recipe, not by an arbitrary exact weight. large-scale by-weight recipes might work for institutional food, based on the consistent characteristics of factory produce, but in the real world, this type of measuring will work against the abilities of a skilled cook with access to a wide variety of differently sourced ingredients, and will almost certainly result in recipe failures if common sense doesn't enter the picture.

                                                              down with exact weight measurements in cooking recipes!

                                                              1. re: soupkitten

                                                                I agree with you. Even when I was weighing everything, I would chop up as much onion (or whatever) I wanted, and see how much I had, not the other way around. But there are still a few ingredients that I weigh rather than measure, such as rice and pasta.

                                                                1. re: soupkitten

                                                                  How is that any different than if it called for a cup of chopped onion and you chopped up your onions and had slightly more or slightly less than a cup? Basically, in that situation I'd use the "in the ballpark" rule -- if it's within ten percent or so, I'm not going to worry about it. But at least I know that my onion is about the right size, and not wildly disproportionate.

                                                                  1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                    Some recipes say things like "1 medium onion, chopped (about 1 cup)." That's a good kind of direction -- it gives you an idea of what "1 medium onion" means, but also lets you know that the amount is flexible.

                                                                  2. re: soupkitten

                                                                    "...but in the real world, this type of measuring will work against the abilities of a skilled cook with access to a wide variety of differently sourced ingredients, and will almost certainly result in recipe failures if common sense doesn't enter the picture."

                                                                    With all due respect, a skilled cook won't have any problem using his or her common sense to judge how much play he or she has with quantities, regardless of how the ingredient list is given. Exact amounts might actually benefit the beginner, in that this person could benefit from learning how much a medium onion, for example, weighs. In the future, that person could judge by looks when working off a recipe without the weights and measures.

                                                                    Giving weights and measures doesn't necessarily result in waste. It's just gives the cook more information with which to work. It's always the cook's choice whether to save the excess or add it in and make a slightly different version of the recipe. I don't see how extra information would neccessarily make someone distrust their own instincts? I mean, I'd think that person would do so, whether it was described as one medium onion or 80 grams of onion. More info is all good. It doesn't make people into automatons.

                                                                    1. re: amyzan

                                                                      Exactly. That's a good point to make about a lot of things. I've gotten into arguments on several topics on Chowhound based in the same fallacy: that people are better off with less information, or that giving people more information somehow takes away from their experience. Of course, inevitably the people making this argument are people who already have that knowledge base. Usually, they've already internalized it to an extent that they no longer realize that what they claim is "obvious" or "common sense" is actually based in the fact that they're using the knowledge that they think people don't need. Even experimentation requires some place from which to start if it is to be successful -- or successful enough for someone to think it worthwhile to continue experimenting.

                                                                      1. re: amyzan

                                                                        you make a well-articulated point, esp your 3rd paragraph, but i still think the weight formulas are not as helpful for new cooks as basic volumes. the volumes answer common basic questions of new cooks such as "will this be enough food?"

                                                                        imagine fifteen year old tommy making a black bean dip for the first time to take to his friend sherri's b-day party. the exact same recipe can be written-- yield: about 2 cups: yield: 280 grams. which is more useful? tommy can figure out that he and sherri and the six other guests at the party will each get about 1/4 cup of dip, and decide that his recipe will yield enough (or not), but i don't think there is anyone on earth who knows how many *grams* of dip 8 teenagers might consume. . . i'm sure someone from switzerland will chime in here with the exact breakdown, something like: 60 grams dip, 44 grams baguette slice/pita bread, 52.5 grams raw cudite per teenager, regardless of weight, sex or physical activity! LOL!

                                                                        1. re: soupkitten

                                                                          Probably more like 112-115 grams dip. :-)

                                                                          1. re: jlafler

                                                                            i think if you gave the teenagers the big straws, like for bubble tea, instead of the inefficient dip-eat, dip-eat method, that they could easily suck away directly from the bowl--in the neighborhood of 180-183 grams/teenager. tee-hee :)

                                                                          2. re: soupkitten

                                                                            I don't think anyone would argue that metric measurements are more useful for beginning cooks than conventional measurements. But your example is based more on the unfamiliarity of Americans with the metric system rather than on weights vs. volume. I think Tommy would probably be equally comfortable (or not) with whether his friends are going to eat four ounces or half a cup, and it sure is easier to shop for four ounces per person, since food is sold by weight. In other words, if Tommy is having ten friends over, and want's to plan how many baby carrots he needs for his crudite platter, it's a lot easier to figure 10 guests x 3 ounces = 30 ounces of baby carrots or about one 2 lb. bag than it is to try to figure out how many "cups" he needs and then how many cups are in a bag. Don't you find it frustrating to go shopping and not know whether the package of something you bought which is measured by weight has the right amount of volume for the recipe you're using? I often end up buying more than I think I need, just so I'll be sure to have enough. It's wasteful.

                                                                            But even that is beside the point. I don't think anyone is insisting that cookbooks should include *only* weights, and only *metric* weights. I'd be happy with them including both volume and weight versions, and I'm okay with ounces for everything except baking (ounces really aren't scalable enough). What metric measurements are really important for is figuring nutritional information, and most people who are doing that get used to various conversions and equivalents pretty quickly.

                                                                            1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                              i'd be fine with both (volume & weight) sets of info in the same book too, my first post was about how i don't care for european cookbooks that are formatted by gram weight *only.* sorry if that was not clear in my post. though i can see why the same companies which sell both cookbooks and measuring cups etc. (*cough* --amazon-- *cough*) might have a vested interest in keeping the basic volume measures in circulation, hmm. produce is still sold by the pound (and when dealing farmer direct, yes, still by the bushel!), liquid by the pint, quart, gallon in the u.s.-- so ounces make sense and grams not so much.

                                                                              1. re: soupkitten

                                                                                Almost everything non-liquid is sold by weight. What if Tommy and his friends want to make pizza and the pizza dough recipe calls for six cups of flour? How big a bag of flour does he need for six cups? You can't even really eyeball that, because a flour sack is pretty tightly packed, and will expand a lot when you start to measure it (getting back to the original issue). And most liquid and semi-liquid items are sold in containers that are marked in both fluid ounces and grams.

                                                                                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                                  This is another thing I love about having weights.

                                                                                  "Hmmm...do I have enough flour for this recipe?"
                                                                                  *Plop entire bag of flour right on scale*

                                                                                2. re: soupkitten

                                                                                  Yeah, I'm all for both, as well as descriptions like "small, medium" etc. I'm just arguing for more descriptors rather than fewer, sort of an inclusive approach to writing recipes, rather than the current standard exclusive one of cups, tsps, etc. For instance, I'm enjoying Pichet Ong's The Sweet Spot right now, and he includes cups or spoons measurements, as well as grams and/or fluid ounces where appropriate. Everyone's preferences are covered--how smart!

                                                                                  What the heck is the formal name for our pre metric system of measurements in the US, btw? I recently realized that the same names describe different amount sin different countries, too. An Australian friend sent me a recipe at Christmas that called for "dessertspoons," so I asked for clarification. I'm glad I did, because then it came out that Australian tablespoons and cups actually weigh out more than ours. I hate to think how those cakes might have turned out without that information!

                                                                                  1. re: amyzan

                                                                                    I believe it's actually called the English measurement system -- except that for a few things units of measure are different in the U.S. than in the Commonwealth countries (fluid volume measures I know -- any others?). Okay, I looked it up. They're actually called U.S. customary units and Imperial customary units, both based on what seems to have been called "English units" or "common units" -- this article is actually quite interesting: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Systems_...

                                                                                    The results of the search reminded me that there's another major difference between U.S. and Imperial units: the Brits still use "stone" (14 pounds) for various things,most notably the weights of people. If you ask a Brit how much he weighs, he'll say something like "12 stone 8" (176 pounds).

                                                                                    1. re: amyzan

                                                                                      Off Topic: If possible, could you note your experience with recipes in The Sweet Spot on Home Cooking? I had hoped it would be the COTM, but it didn't make it...


                                                                                      1. re: meatn3

                                                                                        Sure, I'll try to start a thread tonight.

                                                                                3. re: soupkitten

                                                                                  I guess I don't get why it has to be an either/or proposition... Can't the recipe "Yield 2 Cups (approx. 280 grams)"?

                                                                                  Additionally, I hope that authors and publishers alike use some common sense in recognizing which measurements are most appropriate - for instance we rarely measure meat by volume and we rarely measure things like dips by weight, so I hope a recipe won't say "Yields 8 C of roast beef" as opposed to the equivalent in pounds/ounces.

                                                                      2. re: paulj

                                                                        That conversion chart is odd, and very misleading (dare I say outright wrong!). 1 oz is 28.35 grams, most often rounded to 28.4 or even just 28. So 8 oz is closer to 225, but the way the silly chart looks, Australians and Canadians use different measures. 1 gram is 1 gram, anywhere in the world. I think the Aussies (and I have some cookbooks I bought there, so have noticed this) just round to much more even number.

                                                                      3. My husband bought me a good, lab-quality digital scale as a birthday present about 10 years ago. He's so romantic.

                                                                        1 Reply
                                                                        1. re: jlafler

                                                                          What a thoughtful gift! One year DH purchased a mortar and pestle and a slow cooker for my birthday. I'll take kitchen items over flowers and chocolate (well, chocolate like Whitman's) any day.

                                                                        2. I was able to find a digital scale at a music festival last year. I even sometimes use it for cooking!

                                                                          2 Replies
                                                                          1. re: MattInNJ

                                                                            hmmmm.... Is it interchangeable with your musical scales? '-)

                                                                            1. re: Caroline1

                                                                              Nooooo, but I didn't notice the color on the side of the box when I bought it... Imagine my surprise when I whipped out a hot pink digital scale!

                                                                          2. I'm not based in America, and I find the absence of weights in American cookery books I buy online really frustrating. I agree with what others have said here: weights are more accurate and easier to work with, especially for baking, where accuracy is key. And if I'm halving a recipe, I'd much rather deal in grams than figure out how much half of 3/4C flour is.

                                                                            One book which gives both volumes and metric measurements is The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz, which has gotten a lot of great feedback on the home cooking board. It shows that both types of measurements can be included in one book, giving the home cook the option of following one or the other.