Sunday, September 14, 2014

Teaspoons Or Milliliters?

In my last post, I talked about Canada switching from imperial to metric and the confusion/frustrations that still continue 40 years later. Today, I want to share some thoughts on metric versus imperial in the kitchen.

I was helping my mom and grandma in the kitchen before I even went to school. They only knew the imperial system. When metric was introduced in the 1970's, my mom and I bought metric measures and tried a few recipes but just never got the hang of it. There was some metric instruction in the food section of my home economics classes at school (at that time it was a 1/2 day/6 day cycle for half the year) but the main focus was still imperial.

We eventually gave away our metric measures and never bothered with metric recipes.


When it comes to cooking/baking you can't do a straight conversion without a lot more measuring or adjusting to a recipe. It isn't as simple as following most charts that are available online. Not all charts are created equally. Some give exact conversion to the decimal and others round it off - sometimes up and sometimes down! How it is rounded off can make a huge difference in some recipes! So you have to ask: 1) Was the recipe created in one system and converted to the other? 2) Has it been tested to see how accurate the conversion was?

Measuring ingredients for an imperial based recipe in metric can be tricky. Once a direct conversion is done, the exact numbers are then rounded up or down to the nearest milliliter. Then you have to figure out how much to add or subtract - ingredient wise - using your metric measures.

Imperial measuring spoons are sold in sets of 1/8, 1/4, 1/2, 1 teaspoon and 1 Tablespoon
Metric measures generally come in 1, 2.5, 5, 10 and 15 milliliter.

Imperial measuring cups come in 1/4, 1/3, 1/2 and 1 cup (if you are lucky, your set will also include 2/3 and 3/4 cup measures)
Metric measures can be found in various forms but generally there is a 60 (in some sets it is a 50), 75, 125 and 250 ml.
From the chart above, you can see some of the potential problems in a direct conversion. The metric equivalent to the imperial cup has almost 1 Tablespoon more of that ingredient! The differences may not seem like much for the measuring spoons or even the smaller measuring cups but depending on the ingredient, that difference can make the difference in the success or failure of a recipe.

For example: Too little or too much of a spice/seasoning can ruin the taste. Too much baking powder can make a recipe fall while too little can prevent it from rising. Too much or little liquid can make a recipe fail as can too much or too little flour. Erring on the side of less isn't always a success either. It's a careful balancing act of ingredients.

Just thinking about the conversions is enough to give you a headache!

For home cooks/bakers such as myself, it can be a challenge at times. The imperial system for measuring ingredients was ingrained in my memory hard drive at a very young age. I have a basic grasp of metric but I still think in imperial. I have liquid measures that list both and a kitchen scale that can weigh things in ounces or grams. I don't own metric measuring cups and measuring spoons.
I find inspiration for my recipes by reading other recipes and the comments that others have on what they've done differently but I rarely give a second glance to a metric recipe. For me, it's rarely worth the time and effort.

Thankfully, most web sites give the ingredients in imperial on the left side, followed by the ingredient. Some will give a metric amount in brackets either after the imperial or to the right of the ingredient. Some sites will even give you an option as to which format you wish to view the recipe in (use those with caution!). I stick to imperial whenever I can and often ignore metric recipes rather than attempting to convert them.

I also get really frustrated with recipes that list metric first.

Case in point: The website for Peak Of The Market (Manitoba grown produce) offers a daily recipe.

A little over a year ago, I posted the following comment online:
"I've been subscribing to peak recipes for several years and as much as I enjoy them, I find it extremely frustrating that the metric is on the left side. I know metric is "supposed" to be standard here in Canada, but frankly I don't know anyone who uses it for recipes or even owns metric measures (other than the dual labeling on liquid measures)! When you read recipes, you naturally read the ingredient on the left even when it isn't applicable to your measuring methods. Metric on the left is not just annoying, it can also lead to errors if you aren't really reading carefully. When I want to save one of your recipes, I have to copy/paste it into a doc, delete the metric line by line, then move the imperial to the left line by line before I save and/or print it. This is time consuming and annoying so I don't save/use as many as I might otherwise. IF the imperial can't be on the left then there really should be an option as to which format you want to print/save recipes in. Other sites have that capability and so should Peak."
Their reply - "Hello Thanks for your comments. We are required to list metric first in Canada in everything we do. Whether that is on our bags of vegetables or on our recipes."
My reply -  "I recognize that products here must be listed in metric first, HOWEVER if you check other Canadian sites that feature recipes such as Kraft Canada, Food Network Canada, Canadian Living, etc. you will find that the vast majority of their recipes are listed with imperial first. If they mention metric, it is in brackets after the imperial or for the size of the package required as per Canadian standards.
Also, IF you are in fact required to produce ALL recipes in metric - then why are these Manitoba sites posting the vast majority of their recipes with imperial (and metric in brackets if it is even added)?
I am not disagreeing with having the metric version in the recipe - just its positioning. It should be in brackets or to the right - NOT the first thing you see."

It seems they didn't have a response to common sense logic as they never replied - and my remarks were subsequently removed by them..

With the exception of Peak, all of the above listed sites are primarily in imperial - as are many Canadian cookbooks such as the wonderful books and website ofJanet and Greta Podleski. So, despite living in a supposedly metric country, there is lots of imperial based Canadian content to chose from as well as countless other recipe books and websites from around the world.

And YES, I'm sticking to my imperial roots! I have no intention of buying any metric measures or converting my recipes. All of my recipes are based on and/or created with the imperial system.


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