How (and Why) to Scale Ingredients

I have had many home cooks ask me why my recipes use weight instead of volume.  While weight is by far the most trusted measure for consistent results when cooking, it can be intimidating if you’ve never scaled ingredients before.  Hopefully this “how-to” will help my readers overcome their fear of the scale – the results are well worth it! 

What you need:

First, you’ll need to purchase a digital scale.  These are available at many retailers and vary widely in cost, but the most important features to look for are the maximum load and increments.  For general kitchen use I recommend buying a scale that has an 11 pound/5 kilogram capacity with 0.1oz/1g increments.  This $25 Taylor kitchen scale (available at Target) does the trick.

How it works:

Digital scales work the same way as the spring scales you find in your grocer’s produce section.  A spring inside the scale changes it’s length according to the weight of the object placed on top of it.  This is extremely important for two reasons.  First of all, your scale needs a minimum weight to start working.  It is unlikely you can weigh anything less than 2g on your scale, so you have to be very cautious when measuring small amounts of leavening (more on that to follow).  Secondly, you must not press or scrub your scale while cleaning, or store anything on top of it.  You may not realize how much pressure you are putting on the scale, but you can destroy it’s springs.  I store mine upright like a book between objects.

Using the scale (in 5 easy steps):

  1.  Place your scale on a flat surface without anything touching it.  
  2.  Turn the scale on and ensure it has battery power – you don’t want it to run out of batteries halfway through your recipe. 
  3.  Place your container on the scale and press the TARE or ON/OFF button.  
  4.  Give your scale a moment to zero itself, or tare, accounting for the weight of your container.  
  5.  Measure your ingredients into the container per your recipe.

Note: To measure something less than 2g, note the weight of your container and don’t tare before adding your ingredient.

In the video above, I measured 205g of sugar and then tared again.  You can save scaling and clean-up time by measuring all of your ingredients into a single container, taring between each addition, or you can scale each ingredient separately.  You may want to start with the latter to avoid mistakes and miscalculations, then work your way up to the single-bowl method. 

Why weigh? 

Volume is very fickle, particularly with powdery ingredients like flour.  Did you scrape against your measuring cup?  Is the flour sifted, or particularly moist?  Is there a pocket of air in there somewhere?  Is the scoop wet, causing some of your flour to stick to the bottom of the measuring cup?  These may seem like small things, but they can easily throw off your recipe.  Unlike volume, as long as you are on planet Earth, weight is always consistent. 

Why metric?  

Many Americans have a basic aversion to grams.  One ounce seems manageable, while 28.3495 grams is bothersome.  But once you get comfortable with the numbers, it really is the only way to go.  Using a smaller unit of measurement allows us to measure more exactly, which is particularly important with certain strong flavors.  Just a tad too much licorice, rose, spice, or citrus could quickly ruin anyone’s meal. 

Finally, grams are the most common unit of measurement in recipes around the world.  So the time has come to get over your fear of the scale and expand your cooking prowess at an international level!  Bon appetit, and bonne chance!

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