If you came across a recipe that calls for dry or liquid measuring cups, you’ve probably wondered what is the difference? Many baking beginners wonder the same thing. You probably came to the conclusion that it’s not a big deal if you use the same measuring cup both for everything.
The difference between dry and liquid measurements lies in weight and volume. That is why we measure dry ingredients (such as flour) differently from liquid ingredients (water, oil, milk).
In this article, we will explain in detail the difference between measuring dry and liquid ingredients and why you should use the cups designed for that purpose.
How Do We Measure Ingredients?
We measure dry ingredients in ounces, the same as liquid ones. But an ounce of liquid is not the same as an ounce of flour, for example. A recipe may indicate that you need an ounce of water or an ounce of flour. But you can’t simply use one measuring cup to measure both.
Because we use ounces to measure weight and fluid ounces to measure volume. The name does sound awfully similar which may confuse you, but these are different units of measurement.
What Is the Difference Between Ounces and Fluid Ounces?
Ounces are used to measure weight. You can often find recipes that use ounces for measuring ingredients and there is a reason for that. Ounces are more accurate than cups, as simple as that.
We usually measure dry ingredients in ounces including flour, sugar, rice, etc. It’s not even uncommon to see things like yogurt measured in ounces.
Fluid ounces measure volume. We use this measuring unit to measure liquid ingredients such as water, milk, oil, etc. When a recipe uses fluid ounces, it is essential that you use them as well to measure the ingredients correctly. Otherwise, you may not be happy with the final result.
Here’s an example to help you see the difference between ounces and fluid ounces.
|1 cup of water||About 8 fluid ounces|
|1 cup of flour||About 4.5 ounces|
|3 teaspoons||1 tablespoon||0.5 fluid ounce|
|2 tablespoons||1/8 cup||1 fluid ounce|
|4 tablespoons||1/4 cup||2 fluid ounces|
|5 1/3 tablespoons||1/3 cup||2.7 fluid ounces|
|8 tablespoons||1/2 cup||4 fluid ounces|
|12 tablespoons||3/4 cup||6 fluid ounces|
|16 tablespoons||1 cup||8 fluid ounces|
|2 cups||1 pint||16 fluid ounces|
|2 pints||1 quart||32 fluid ounces|
|4 quarts||1 gallon||128 fluid ounces|
As you can see, the difference is huge. Using just one cup for both dry and liquid ingredients just won’t do. Using appropriate measuring cups is crucial if you want to ensure the success of your recipe.
For example, if you’re baking cookies, even a tablespoon of flour beyond the amount indicated in the recipe can result in a disaster.
Well, they will still be edible but far from perfection that you strived to achieve.
How Do We Measure Dry Ingredients?
We measure dry ingredients by using dry measuring cups. Dry measuring cups are specially designed to measure dry ingredients such as sugar, flour, rice, etc. They are often made of stainless steel but can also be made of plastic.
Dry measuring cups often come in sets and can be found anywhere. They also come in different sizes (¼, ⅓, ½, and 1 cup).
It is important to measure your ingredients in the right way because baking requires accuracy, as we already stated. If you are not careful when measuring flour, for example, there is a risk you will either use too much or not enough of it.
To measure a cup of flour, you need to:
1. Scoop the flour with your dry measuring cup until it spills over the cup
2. Use a knife to level it off
It is a simple technique but many bakers make mistakes when measuring dry ingredients. This is because you can pack more flour into the same measuring cup if the flour is firmly packed. That means a cup of flour doesn’t necessarily have to weigh about 4.5 ounces. It can be as little as 3 ounces or as much as 5. The difference is in the density of the ingredients.
How you dip the cup into the flour jar is of utmost importance.
Dry measuring cups should be a staple kitchen tool in every baker’s household. However, working with these requires some experience. For example, a recipe calling for “2 cups of lightly packed sugar” can be utterly confusing to a newbie in the kitchen.
Tip: Because some variances may occur when measuring dry ingredients, you can use a kitchen scale to measure the filled cup.
How Do We Measure Liquid Ingredients?
We use a liquid measuring cup to measure liquid ingredients such as milk, water, etc. These are typically made of glass or plastic and feature a measurement line which helps you measure your ingredients easily.
Usually, every household owns a liquid measuring cup and it is often mistakenly used by amateur bakers to measure dry ingredients too.
Unlike with dry measuring cups, you don’t need to spill ingredients in order to get the right amount. The marks on the cup will tell you when you reach the desired level.
To measure a cup of liquid you need to:
1. Take the liquid measuring cup and start pouring liquid into it
2. Stop when you reach the desired mark on the cup
Tip: For better precision, place the measuring cup on a flat surface (the kitchen counter) and then fill it with liquid.
Can You Use a Kitchen Scale to Measure Ingredients Instead?
The question you’re probably wondering right now is why not skip the measuring cups altogether and use a kitchen scale instead?
The answer is yes, you can. If you find dry and liquid measuring cups to be overly complicated for you to use, you could skip this step and use the kitchen scale to measure all the ingredients, both dry and liquid.
In fact, there are several reasons why switching to the good old kitchen scale might be a better choice:
The most important advantage of a kitchen scale is accuracy. Even when you use a measuring cup to measure something, there is still no guarantee that you will get exactly the amount the recipe indicated.
That is why we often need to use both a measuring cup and a kitchen scale to get the amount we want whereas a kitchen scale is always nearly 100% accurate.
For example, measuring 3 ounces of grated cheese or grated chocolate is difficult to do with a cup. But with a kitchen scale, you can literally measure anything and still be certain you got the accurate number.
For many bakers, this is all the reason they need to ditch the measuring cups for good.
Some bakers, especially beginners, find measuring cups to be confusing and overwhelming. You need different cups for different ingredients and different amounts, and all these need to be washed after every use. This extends your preparation time.
Using a kitchen scale is much more simple and doesn’t require any additional washing. This saves you precious time and speeds up the entire process.
It’s What Professional Bakers Use
If you watch food channels frequently, you’ve probably noticed that every single chef has a digital scale in the kitchen. If the professionals are using it instead of measuring cups, then there must be a good reason for that.
To Measure Ingredients with a Scale you need to:
- Place a bowl on the kitchen scale
- Add the ingredient little by little while closely observing the number on the scale
- Stop when you reach the desired mark
Why Proper Measuring Is Crucial for Baking?
If you’re serious about honing your baking skills, precision is necessary. Proper measurement is what creates the difference between good and great cookies, cakes, bread, etc. While it might not seem like a big deal if you add a tablespoon of oil or flour more/less than indicated, it’s these tiny mistakes that affect the quality of your baked goods.
For example, if you’re baking cookies and the recipe calls for one cup of flour, you should absolutely stick to that one cup of flour. There is a reason why the author indicated that amount, they’ve probably tried and tested the recipe dozens of times until they found the right proportions.
Precise proportions are the key to successful baking. However, we do realize that many bakers (including us!) prefer baking by feel-adding just a pinch of that, just a handful of this, etc. And this is fine if you’ve made that cake numerous times and you know exactly what you’re doing.
However, when trying out new recipes and more importantly, when you’re just learning to bake, you should stick to the recipe.