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Switching to metric for the inept


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I don't think it's even possible to switch entirely. If you live in the US, the US customary system (which is not synonymous with Imperial or English) isn't something you can just ignore. It's how ovens are marked, it's how various measuring devices measure, it's how nearly all non-professional recipes are written, etc. So the best one can hope for is to be conversant with both systems.

For myself, however, I've been converting all my (very few) frequently used recipes into SI (that's the official name of the metric system, from the French Système International d'Unités or International System of Units). For pastry-and-baking recipes, where it's typical to combine all the ingredients in a bowl on a scale, I'm using grams for everything -- even liquid -- as tino27 does and as many professional sources do.

my liquid measures do both metric and standard. So does my scale. So does one of my thermometers. Sure, my dry measuring cups are only standard, but a recipe written in metric will simple state grams for something that would be measured with a "cup". And I can handle that with a scale.

Really, I think I can get by just fine if presented with a metric recipe with the equipment I have.. The only time I would have to do extra math would be for oven temps.

Jeff Meeker, aka "jsmeeker"

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I don't think it's even possible to switch entirely. If you live in the US, the US customary system (which is not synonymous with Imperial or English) isn't something you can just ignore. It's how ovens are marked, it's how various measuring devices measure, it's how nearly all non-professional recipes are written, etc. So the best one can hope for is to be conversant with both systems.

For myself, however, I've been converting all my (very few) frequently used recipes into SI (that's the official name of the metric system, from the French Système International d'Unités or International System of Units). For pastry-and-baking recipes, where it's typical to combine all the ingredients in a bowl on a scale, I'm using grams for everything -- even liquid -- as tino27 does and as many professional sources do.

my liquid measures do both metric and standard. So does my scale. So does one of my thermometers. Sure, my dry measuring cups are only standard, but a recipe written in metric will simple state grams for something that would be measured with a "cup". And I can handle that with a scale.

Really, I think I can get by just fine if presented with a metric recipe with the equipment I have.. The only time I would have to do extra math would be for oven temps.

Some metric recipes do not refer to grams for flour, sugar etc but use a metric cup and need to be portioned into 1/4, 1/3, 1/2 etc. It may be worth acquiring a metric measuring set (as I have a set of "US" cups).

Also, 1ml is equal to 1cc (cubic centimetre), found in Japanese and other recipes, and in liquid measures also equals 1 gram. Therefore the 300ml of water required in my breadmaker is weighed as 300g prior to adding the 500g flour.

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my liquid measures do both metric and standard.  So does my scale.  So does one of my thermometers.  Sure, my dry measuring cups are only standard, but a recipe written in metric will simple state grams for something that would be measured with a "cup".  And I can handle that with a scale.

Really, I think I can get by just fine if presented with a metric recipe with the equipment I have..  The only time I would have to do extra math would be for oven temps.

Indeed.

Having lived through several such conversions in my lifetime, I am very firmly of the opinion that the way to "think" in a different unit is quite simply, to use it.

If one converts everything back into "natural" (ie previously used) units -- then that is the way the thinking stays - in the "old" units.

If your oven doesn't have a Centigrade scale, then post a conversion table as close to the oven knob as possible. Not on the fridge.

Make it like your oven had a Centigrade scale.

The approach that is likely to work is to think

"I want 200C, so if I dial in, let me see, 390/395F that'll give me the 200C I'm aiming for".

The wrong approach is to think

"200C, therefore the recipe wants 392F really"

The latter mindset does nothing to change your thinking.

Use the units.

Don't convert.

If the recipe uses grams, set the scale to grams, and measure in grams.

You'll start thinking in grams.

But convert everything to ounces, measure in ounces, and your thinking will stay in ounces.

I've met older French folks, who given a money amount in €uros, didn't merely mentally convert it into Francs ("New Francs"), they actually converted it into the Old Francs ("balles"), which were abolished by de Gaulle about 1960.

Converting into old units clings onto the old measure.

Just use the new units, and they will become natural.

Its not difficult to use both.

All you need are instruments marked with both units.

In the UK, petrol is now sold exclusively in Litres. (Roughly $8 for a US gallon, since you ask.)

106p/l is high. But 102 would be worth filling up with.

The idea of converting £1 and 6p and £1 and 2p into shillings (20 to the pound) and pence (12 to the shilling) doesn't occur. Neither does the conversion from litres to gallons.

Its just 102 vs 106.

But when thinking mpg (distances are 99% in miles) a conversion is needed. But its not hard to simultaneously think 102p/l and 40 mpg (proper big gallons too).

My 'been there, done that" wisdom, is *not* to convert. Wherever possible.

Just *use* the unit specified.

And gradually, your thinking will adapt.

Effortlessly.

The whole can of worms about specifying volume or weight measurements is a completely different matter. IMHO its not wise to confuse the issues by introducing a different, and more contentious question.

"If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch ... you must first invent the universe." - Carl Sagan

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My 'been there, done that" wisdom, is *not* to convert. Wherever possible.

Just *use* the unit specified.

And gradually, your thinking will adapt.

Effortlessly.

You nailed it. I have been "forced" to convert twice, each time upon moving from the US to Europe for a year. At first I was converting units for money, gas and distance, but I got a feel for things like what gas cost so quickly that I stopped converting without realizing I had done so. After a while I didn't even remember what the dollar/euro/SF exchange rates were - it didn't matter.

But as for cooking, I never made the transition. After reading your post I clearly see it was because I had brought my American cookbooks. I finally got so sick of converting (and throwing out strange baked goods) that I quit cooking anything complicated.

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I don't know how many of you carry your mobile (cel) phone around on your person but the last 3 I have had have all had a converter built into the application menu which I use whenever I need to convert. it does temperature and weight which is what I mostly need to ever swap.

"Alternatively, marry a good man or woman, have plenty of children, and train them to do it while you drink a glass of wine and grow a moustache." -Moby Pomerance

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  • 2 years later...

Hi all, I have seen plenty of food sites, in America, and none of them do the conversion correctly. Sadly they do exact conversion if they do offer it. But who is going to measure out odd ball units like 237 mL or 453 g? So I had to make an instructable of the proper way to do it...

http://www.instructables.com/id/Metrication-of-Recipes-Simplified/

In essence this is what should happen...

All cups and spoons are now Metric cups, 250 mL, and Metric spoons, 15 mL

replace one pound with 500 g

replace one ounce (dry and fluid) with 31.25 g or mL

--- I got that number by dividing 500 g by 16 (lbs/16) and dividing one liter by 32 (qt/32), both equal 31.25

use volume to weight calculators on the web, be remember the cups or now Metric cups, 250 mL

of course convert in. to cm and °F to °C

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Thanks, but I'll stick to weighing out 453 grams on my digital scale :rolleyes:

So we finish the eighteenth and he's gonna stiff me. And I say, "Hey, Lama, hey, how about a little something, you know, for the effort, you know." And he says, "Oh, uh, there won't be any money. But when you die, on your deathbed, you will receive total consciousness."

So I got that goin' for me, which is nice.

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Right: while with volume measurements it might make sense to get to even numbers, it's not really necessary if you're weighing things, unless you are concerned about memorizing the recipe. Any recipe I've converted myself, I don't even use volume, everything is weight (as a number of people above have suggested).

Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

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In essence this is what should happen...

All cups and spoons are now Metric cups, 250 mL, and Metric spoons, 15 mL

replace one pound with 500 g

replace one ounce (dry and fluid) with 31.25 g or mL

No, no, no, no! You've now got Canada's problem: We're still using volume measurements!!!!!

I am of the opinion that if you're going to convert to metric, use the benefits that the metric system has to offer. If you use volume mesurements, most of the benefits the metric system have are lost.

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If you give me an idea of what you want on that list to stick to the refrigerator, I'll happily make one up for you; I made the switch a while ago.

Once you have your metric scale and volume measure(s), get an overview of the big picture: Memorize a few equivalent volumes (e.g. a litre is a hair over a quart; a teaspoon is almost exactly 5 mL), the relationship between kilos and pounds (2 2/5 [2.2] lb–or 35.25 oz–to 1 kilo), and what 1 mL looks like (a very scant quarter teaspoon).

Tricks to memorize measurements generally demand the same amount of time and effort as simply memorizing US to metric conversions; I can't really recommend that.

Hold on to your measuring spoons: Even if they aren't metric, they’re still more accurate than 'a pinch', or using an actual tea or soup spoon, as is often done throughout the EU.

For dry ingredients, I find it easiest to remember the weights of a quarter and a third cup of a given ingredient, and multiply those basic quantities as needed, than to remember the whole cup weight, and try to do the math on that.

I don’t flog myself over this, because converted ounce-to-gram measurements tend to involve odd, hard-to-remember figures (e.g. a quarter cup plain flour is about 1.25 ounces, which converts to 35.4 g, and few cooking scales are precise to fractions of a gram, so there is a fair amount of rounding off to do).

What seems to help the most, though, is working out the conversions for a recipe before taking it into the kitchen.

My two favourite cookbooks are US ones, so before I get to work with any recipe, I sit down with it and do all the math.

The good thing about doing this is that it helps you memorize frequently-occurring items. The unfortunate thing is that you end up with those odd quantities I mention above.

CI magazine gives weights as well as volume measurements (their cookbooks fall fail to do this, however), which is particularly helpful when it comes to ingredients that are not used that often.

This link is quite useful: http://www.onlineconversion.com/weight_volume_cooking.htm

Michaela, aka "Mjx"
Manager, eG Forums
mscioscia@egstaff.org

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Edward, I'm not sure I'd go that far: volume measurements are a perfectly reasonable thing to have for liquids, and if the volumes are in nice neat increments it can be much faster than fiddling with pouring into a scale and waiting for it to catch up to you.

Although, if you're going to embrace weight (which I'll note is not the exact same thing as switching to metric, because all systems have weight measures), the most efficient way to work is often to have the bowl on the scale and to tare after you add each ingredient. In that case volume measures, even for liquids, don't really work.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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This is an interesting question. I was in my late teens/early 20s when the metric system was introduced into Australia so it was more like moving from one system to another rather than being a metric user from birth.

I find that for those things that I have highest exposure to such as weight and volume (through cooking) I tend to think only in metric, although I can covert relatively easily using the ratios we first used when the system was introduced. Because I drive, again I can easily and naturally grasp larger distances and speed in metric. I use smaller length measurements much less often so I must admit to still thinking in feet and inches and converting to metric in my head.

My recommendation coming to this as an adult is, like bague25, just use it and you will come to adjust. If your use is infrequent, you won't switch or will translate measurement which adds, to my mind, an unnecessary level of difficulty.

As a general rule when cooking: weigh. There are just too many variables that mitigate against consistency of measurement when using volume measures. I take your point about liquids Chris but when you get have 1 litre of water = 1 kilogram, it's just too easy to pass up. Moreover, base 10 is much more logical to work with than base 16 or base 12.

Nick Reynolds, aka "nickrey"

"The Internet is full of false information." Plato
My eG Foodblog

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he... you should live in the UK, where many recipes call for the most inaccurate temperature known to man, the "Gas Mark"!

I am Greek and grown up with metric. My trick regarding oven temperature is this: the main temperatures that you use in cooking/baking are these:

150C

180C

200C

220C

250C

just learn the equivalent in F and adjust by 18F for every 10C degrees. That is what works for me. Now, the gas mark thing... don't get me started...

Edited by RedRum (log)
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Quick algorithm/mental math for ºC to ºF conversions:

  • add 40 to your 'C' number
  • multiply by two
  • subtract 1/10 of this number from this number
  • subtract 40.

ex. 60ºC

60+40=100, 100*2=200, 200-20=180, 180-40=140ºF

ex. 150ºC

150+40=190, 190*2=380, 380-38=342, 342-40=302ºF

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I tend to just what ever system the recipe's written in, I have a handy set of digital scales that does all the converting for me, and a cup measure for the few volume recipes I might use, and my thermometres switch between C and F, I just make sure I keep to the same scale throughout. But then, depending on the situation, I tend to think of things in a mixture of metric (measurements in mm's cm's and metres, petrol in litres) and imperial (distances in miles, height in feet, milk and beer in pints) and oven temperature in gas mark (that is the one thing I tend to need to convert).

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I bake in metric, makes it much easier...

and for temps , I found a printable (8 1/2x11").conversion chart that I tape to theback of a cupboard door so it easy to look at...

Dont know if its still there, but it was from ovenind,com...

Bud

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Interestingly, I've noted several UK cooks and chefs on TV (oh, like on FoodNetwork) round off oven temps when they give them in both metric and American. A constant oven temp rounded reference is 180c--350f, and 190c--375.

So even the UK folks round!

Starkman

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  • 1 month later...

In essence this is what should happen...

All cups and spoons are now Metric cups, 250 mL, and Metric spoons, 15 mL

replace one pound with 500 g

replace one ounce (dry and fluid) with 31.25 g or mL

No, no, no, no! You've now got Canada's problem: We're still using volume measurements!!!!!

I am of the opinion that if you're going to convert to metric, use the benefits that the metric system has to offer. If you use volume mesurements, most of the benefits the metric system have are lost.

I am not sure why your are objecting, America the the 'volume' problem too, so what is your point? Appearantly you did not read the instructable, the link, that states how to go from volume to weights. What I stated above is some quick easy numbers to remember, and to convert non-Metric recipes, you like, to the Metric Version not 'Metric Equivalants' (Exact Numbers) . Do not use exact conversions, you only get some ugly Metric nonsence that is not good for anyone. Simple use Metric.

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I've been using metric for almost 30 years now....

No, what I'm beefing about is "metric cups" and Metric tespoons".

One of the most hilarious things is to go to CDN supermarket and buy a block of butter--which weighs exactly 454 grams (sound familiar?) and then to have little red marks on the wrapper telling you where to cut the block into 250 gr units......

Measuring by volume has many pitfalls, especially in the commerical kitchen/bakery-- which is where I have been for the last 30 years.

If you're gonna use a scale for scaling out sugar, use the same scale to measure out flour, butter, nuts, honey, mollasses, and liquds like milk or booze. Far more precise, no dirty cups to wash out.

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