A scale showcasing broccoli and grain to illustrate that regardless of their sizes, if they equal the same weight, they are the same weight.
Culinary Blog

Why Is It Important to Weigh Ingredients When Baking?

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Have you ever heard of a popular riddle that goes something like: “What is heavier? A kilogram of feathers or a kilogram of steel?” Understanding this riddle can help you understand why baking is done better by weighing ingredients.

So, back to the riddle. Instinctually, people understand that feathers are almost as light as air. Opposingly, steel is as heavy as a solid rock. Therefore, most people would answer steel to this riddle, as it’s heavier than a feather.

However, the trick of this riddle is that it was poised in such a way that the question itself sets the audience up for misdirection. Asking the audience, “what is heavier?” inevitably sets the brain up to give a comparative analysis and therefore needing to select only one answer in the end.

Of course, if you already know the answer, or you understood it immediately, it would come to no surprise to you that the answer to this riddle is: Neither! A kilogram of feathers is the same as a kilogram of steel.

WEIGHT IS WEIGHT, REGARDLESS OF THE OBJECT’S SIZE

It’s okay, chances are, you’re not the only one who’s confused by this.

The riddle gave you the groundwork already: One kilogram of feathers; one kilogram of steel. It’s not asking whether a piece of feather is heavier than a piece of steel. It already gave you the weight, and it’s asking you what weight is heavier. Well, one kilogram of something is the same as one kilogram of something else.

WHY THIS KIND OF PHYSICS IS USEFUL IN CULINARY ARTS

The reason why I started off with this riddle is because the riddle illustrates why it’s important to weigh ingredients when baking.

What this riddle illustrates is the difference between MASS AND VOLUME.

THE IMPORTANCE OF MASS AND VOLUME

MASS and VOLUME are two properties that physicians use just as much as chefs do. Why? Because it’s important to know how mass and volume of your ingredients will affect the outcome of your dish.

To put simply, MASS is measured by WEIGHT (i.e., grams, kilograms, pounds, etc.). It doesn’t matter whether it fits into a bowl, or into a cup—it doesn’t care about its physical dimensions around it. All we care about is how much it WEIGHS.

VOLUME on the other hand is all about the PHYSICAL DIMENSIONS around it. For example, if ONE large banana is approx. 100g, then when a recipe calls for approx. 100g of banana, you would know you’re using 1 large banana! No need to mash it into a cup. However, if a recipe asks for a cup and a half of banana, well, after mashing the bananas down, you could end up fitting about 1.5 – 2 bananas in a cup! Or worse, did the recipe call to mash 1 1/2 cup worth of mashed banana? Or did it mean 1 1/2 cup of chopped bananas? What if you chop differently to someone else!

This difference is because VOLUME relies on fitting things INSIDE the measurement (i.e., measuring cups and measuring spoons).

MASS relies on the WEIGHT of something, regardless of how big or small it is! If the recipe calls for 100g mashed banana, then you mash that 100g of banana and add it into your mixing bowl. No ambiguity required!

EXAMPLE OF WEIGHING VERSUS MEASURING

When it comes to baking, you’re probably aware by now that some of the main ingredients in baking is using staple pantry items such as flour and sugar.

Let’s use brown sugar as an example.

If a recipe calls for 200g of brown sugar, then what you would do is get out your measuring scale, put your mixing bowl on top, tare your scale, and then add 200g of brown sugar.

However, if a recipe calls for 2 cups of brown sugar, some people may end up with different WEIGHTS of sugar in the end, depending on how much they pack in the brown sugar.

Some might scoop brown sugar into the cup without packing it in, so more gaps are present in the cup of sugar. While others might pack the sugar in like a brick.

Some people might not level out the cup in the end. So, they leave a heaping of brown sugar at the top and don’t use a butter knife to remove this heaping to level out the brown sugar.

Different people may have different weights of sugar, depending on how they pack it. That’s why it’s important to weigh ingredients when baking.

A recent example of this is when I wanted to convert a cup of brown sugar and a cup of ketchup into grams for a Sweet and Sour Pork recipe. It would be incorrect for me to google how much a cup of something converts to grams. Why? Because converting something to grams means we are now focused on mass (not volume). Remember, when dealing with mass, we are dealing with weight.

Is the mass of ketchup the same as the mass of brown sugar? Definitely not. Their masses are different because they are inherently different objects/things. Therefore, I cannot use references to a cup of flour, or a cup of brown sugar, to help convert my cup of ketchup into grams.

REMEMBER THIS WHEN CONVERTING MEASUREMENTS

The rule is: If you’re converting a cup of something into grams, the only reference you need is the object itself. If I’m trying to convert one cup of ketchup into grams, I need to know how much a cup of ketchup weighs first (or someone else has found it out for you).

Similarly, if I want to convert a cup of brown sugar into grams, I have to know what a cup of brown sugar weighs.

If I want to convert a cup of flour into grams, I have to know what a cup of flour is in grams.

And so on, and so forth.

The best way to know is to either do some research and find the correct ingredient measurement conversion online, or measure it out yourself one time and then write it down so you can refer to it for future uses.

Again, mass and volume are different, and this is why it’s important to weigh ingredients when baking.

Difference between volume (measuring cup) and volume (weight)

SCALES ARE MORE AFFORDABLE THESE DAYS

I remember growing up, it was expensive to own a weighing scale. Moreover, coming from a Filipino family, baking wasn’t a learned skill. This is because many houses in the Philippines don’t have ovens due to infrastructure and how expensive ovens are. (This shocked my husband when I told him! He couldn’t believe it, but indeed, it is the reality of this world.)

So, growing up, weighing scales seemed to be an expensive item that my parents just could not afford to buy simply to use once or twice in a year. Measuring cups were infinitely cheaper to own and readily available at any dollar store.

However, due to changed economies of scale, depending on where you live, you can now purchase a weighing scale for as little as USD$8!

I say this as I indeed only have an USD$8 weighing scale and its accuracy has given my recipes glory!

So for those who don’t have a weighing scale, I would certainly purchase one. By doing so, you can unlock efficiency and precision to your future cooking.

IS THIS GOING TO MAKE OR BREAK A RECIPE?

Perhaps. Some recipes are almost like chemical reactions belonging in a lab. Such as in the case of baking: A ratio of flour with a ratio of fat or liquid mixed with a ratio of baking soda will produce a cake. However, if you get the ratio wrong, your cake won’t rise (among other things).

Now, before I get comments accusing me of being a spiteful measuring-cup hater, let me be clear and say that I use measuring cups for my recipes today! Even measuring spoons! In fact, weighing 4 grams of baking soda is more tedious than just adding in a teaspoon of baking soda, so I like to use measuring spoons for small quantities like adding baking soda to my mixture.

However, for convenience and for science, I tend to go with weighing ingredients whenever I possibly can. If I need 1 cup of walnuts as a topping for my cake, I don’t need to be so precise with it, so I use a measuring cup for this.

But if I’m making meringue or a cake, I will opt in to use grams instead of measuring cups to get the best results.

WEIGHING INGREDIENTS WILL SAVE YOU TIME AND ENERGY

This is another reason why I weigh ingredients. It is for the practicality of it. I don’t have a dishwasher at home so I like to use as fewer dishes as possible when I cook (and I cook a lot). I could only do this by using a measuring scale. When I make a batter, whether it’s for a cake or deep frying, I only need to use a mixing bowl and a whisk (and on occasion, a measuring spoon). I don’t need to wash any cups or other bowls (aside from the tin that I use to bake it in, of course).

When you can be as efficient and optimal with dishes as possible, you’ll find that you can bake quicker. And when you can bake quicker, you are more likely to cook at home more often. When you cook at home more often, you’ll spend less on takeout and other store-bought items.

In the long run, you’ll be healthier. All because it’s not as tedious, messy, time-consuming, or cumbersome to cook and clean in your kitchen. This is another reason why it’s important to weigh ingredients when baking.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

Let me know in the comments below what you prefer to do! Or if you have any questions, feel free to ask them away.

Happy cookin’!

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