Wet vs Dry Measuring Cups: Is there a Difference?


Dry and wet ingredients have specific properties of their own that require measuring them differently.

We may not know the difference between wet and dry measurements, and mostly they don’t matter, or so we think. But there is a world of difference between wet measurements and dry measurements. In a lot of situations, this may even be crucial.  In the world of baking, for instance, everything on the recipe has to be followed to the letter, that is, if you want to replicate the outcome of the recipe as the author prescribes it. 

Wet versus dry measuring cups: is there a difference?  Yes, absolutely. For dry substances, the unit of measurement is given in weights, such as milligrams or ounces (oz.). For wet or liquid substances, it is fluid ounces (fl. oz.) for the volume. So, there is a measuring cup to provide you with the weight of a dry substance, and a measuring cup which gives you the volume of a liquid substance in fluid ounces.  You can’t use one for the other if you want to get the correct and accurate numbers.

If you are just like me then, who have traded accuracy for convenience and instantaneous info, it is time to change and aim for more accuracy.  Why do your cooking half-heartedly and not follow the recipe to the letter?  And it is important not only in cooking.

Think of other situations in which we need to make measurements to accomplish something, like a project or an experiment. Or maybe determining how much your luggage and the stuff in it weigh for your upcoming plane trip. Dwell on the thought for a while and you would realize knowing how to measure things can be important. To be overly dramatic about it, consider having to measure medicine prescription to make you well. 

You are at home, not in a hospital or a clinic, and there is no one to assist you or do it for you. And you are preparing the prescribed medication using several ingredients that have to be measured and mixed in exact proportions and quantities. Your doctor was very clear about it. Your health, life, and future depended on it. Now, don’t you think that the knowledge and ability to make an accurate measurement is really critical, in similar situations? You know the answer to that.

Check out your liquid measuring cup and notice that it is indicated that one cup is equal to eight ounces. To be more specific, it means one cup of liquid is equal to eight fluid ounces. When weighing dry ingredients, it may be a little more challenging or even confusing.

That’s because different kinds of dry ingredients have different weights, even if they are measured in the same measuring cup, which only measures volume.  For example, an eight-ounce (or more accurately, an eight-fluid ounce ) cup of sugar will actually register a different number in ounces on a measuring scale. That’s because the measuring cup gives the volume or the amount of that cup of sugar, in fluid ounces. The measurement of the same cup of sugar from the scale gives a different number because its the weight of the sugar, not the amount, that is measured in ounces. For another ingredient, say salt in the same measuring cup, when weighed on a scale, would result in a weight of a different number.

In other words, you can measure a specific ‘amount‘ or volume of both dry or liquid substances in a measuring cup, and you measure the required ‘weight‘ of both dry or liquid substances using a weighing scale.

Do Dry and Liquid Measuring Cups Equal?

Technically, if you separately measure a liquid and a dry ingredient in the same dry or liquid measuring cup, it would give you the same amount, specifically the volume. But the weight of each ingredient will most likely be different.  It can be verified by getting their individual weights with a scale.

There are physical differences that are visually obvious between a measuring cup for liquid and the one for dry ingredients.

Liquid measuring cups are made of glass so you can see through it to determine the level of the liquid to be measured. The mensuration begins at the bottom and ends a short distance from the top to account for what is termed the allowance for the “sloshing” movement of liquid. The liquid measuring cup must be placed on a stable, level table to make the liquid ingredient still to get an accurate number.

Dry measuring cups do have some markings about how much volume it holds, sometimes in increments. For example, a 1 cup measuring cup will have marking for 1/2 and 1/4 cups. Then you fill the cup to the brim with the ingredient and level it off to have the correct volume. It is not its weight, which should be measured with the scale.

One of the critical things to faithfully follow a recipe is to make accurate measurements, especially in baking and gourmet cooking. Both wet and dry ingredients are usually included in most recipes and knowing how to precisely and correctly do the weighing is no doubt essential. Here are a few steps to follow and keep in mind.

Measuring Wet or Liquid Ingredients with a Measuring Cup

Image from Pixabay by conger design

Measuring liquids with the consistency of water, juice, milk, and oils will yield more accurate results if done with a measuring cup. The cup is either a transparent glass or a plastic material with mensuration markings on the sides.  It gives both metric and English units measurements.

Position the cup on a flat, stable counter or table. Trying to hold it steadily with both hands may yield an inaccurate reading since it may be hard to level it, especially with shaky hands.

Pour the liquid into the cup very slowly until it reaches the targeted line or number.  

Check that the surface of the liquid, the slightly curved line, touches the targeted measurement line.

Measuring a Small Quantity of Liquid

When adding liquids in small quantities, use a measuring spoon. It comes in a set of different sizes, from large to small. As you pour it on the spoon, do it over a small bowl to catch any spill or overflow. Pour the content in the mixing bowl.

There are times that you need much smaller amounts than what you can measure on a set of measuring spoons.  Use a graduated syringe instead to get a precise measurement. It is mostly available at the drugstore.

Fill the syringe with the liquid by pulling up the plunger to suck up the liquid slowly into the syringe tube. Then depress the syringe plunger to release the liquid into the recipe.

Measuring Dry Ingredients

Image from Pixaby by Monfocus

There are two ways to measure dry ingredients: by volume or by weight. Follow what is indicated in the recipe.

MEASURING BY VOLUME

Using Measuring Spoons:

Measuring spoons come as a set of spoons, all joined together by a ring through its holes at the end of the handles.  It makes sure you have the complete set of gradually increasing sizes from the smallest at the top down to the biggest. The set usually consists of the following spoon sizes:

  • 1/8 teaspoon
  • 1/4 teaspoon
  • 1/2 teaspoon
  • One full teaspoon
  • One full tablespoon

This set of measuring spoons will cover all your need for measuring small amounts of dry ingredients such as salt, sugar, baking powder, or baking soda, to cite a few.  Having two sets of measuring spoons obviates the need to interrupt your cooking to wash them if the same measurements will have to be repeated in the recipe. Or you can wipe it with a clean dish towel or a smaller towel.

Using Measuring Cups:

For larger quantities of dry ingredients, use a set measuring cups, the one that comes as a set of varying sizes. They are available in plastic if you prefer lightweight ones, or in metal, such as stainless steel.  The set consists of 1/4 cup, 1/3 cup,1/2 cup, 3/4 cup, and one full cup. Choose measuring cups with handles that do not easily break and are comfortable in the hands.

Since measuring cups are for measuring larger amounts of ingredients than the measuring spoons, there are two ways to fill them up with the ingredients to be measured: the Dip and Sweep Method and the Spoon and Sweep Method. Follow the recipe instructions if any of the two methods is recommended.

Using the Dip and Sweep Method: Dip the measuring cup into the dry ingredient making sure it is filled up and overflowing. With a leveling stick or the blunt edge of a knife, place it steadily on the brim of the cup, and sweep off the excess quantity.

Using the Spoon and Sweep Method: Take a spoon to fill up the measuring cup with the dry ingredient until it is a little over its brim, and sweep off the excess.  Be careful though not to pack in the ingredient or tamp it down too hard with the spoon as it can result in adding more of it than what the recipe needs.

MEASURING BY WEIGHT

Measuring dry ingredients by determining its weight is conveniently carried out with the use of a digital scale. It is even recommended or the preferred way in baking because accuracy is required so that ingredients react, rise, or set as required.  It is much more accurate than measuring dry ingredients by volume.

Select the measurement system to activate on the scale, according to the one stated in the recipe.  Set an empty bowl on the scale and activate the “tare” button on it to set the reading to zero. Pour the dry ingredient into the bowl until the required amount registers on the scale readout. If there are other ingredients to be added, just activate the tare button again to set it to zero, and then add the next ingredient.

If the recipe does not say if the ingredients can be combined while weighing them on the scale, put them in separate bowls and then weigh them individually.

We are not done yet.  You would never imagine just how many things around us we have to measure, besides ingredients and foodstuff. Such as the weight of a package to be sent out via courier service, to the weight of a concrete floor slab to be supported by its reinforced concrete columns, all the way up to the weight of a spaceship sent out on a mission in outer space.  There’s a bit of humor somewhere in there, for comic relief.

We are veering away for a while from foodstuff and ingredients measured for cooking and the kitchen.  But that only proves how vital and universal measuring things in this world can be.

Going back to cooking and the kitchen, you must also know, or at least be aware, about other things that need to be measured.  Tricky ones, in particular.  Let’s put on our thinking caps and enjoy reading.

Measuring Brown Sugar:  Measuring brown sugar can be tricky being that you may not know how to do it to obtain an accurate measurement. Brown sugar tends to be moist and quite sticky that you need to pack it down on the measuring cup to release the air bubbles in it.

With a dry measuring cup, scoop a heaping amount and level off the excess with your finger or the back of the spoon, a wooden or plastic flat stick. While doing it, press down.

Of course, you can check if the weight is right by using a digital scale that can give accurate readings of smaller quantities.

To visually check if it is the right amount is easier and quicker.  On a flat plate or board, carefully position the scoop upside down and gently tap to release the brown sugar.  If it crumbles down, like not keeping the shape of the measuring cup, it means it was not packed down enough. It falls short of the recipe’s requirement for brown sugar.

Measuring Flour:  Flour tends to harden inside the container that it needs to be stirred for a while to loosen it up. Air is mixed in as the flour is stirred bringing back its powdery consistency. Scoop a heaping amount with the dry measuring cup and level off the excess with a scraper or a small spatula, or anything flat and straight.

Use a spoon, knife, or whisk to loosen up the flour and then move and mix it around.

Measuring Powdered Sugar:  When left in its container long enough, powdered sugar granules tend to stick together, resulting in lumps or clumpy constituency. Before measuring powdered sugar and adding it to other ingredients, make sure to sift them before you measure.

Measuring Liquid Sweeteners: Adding honey and molasses are sometimes the preferred sweeteners to a recipe. The challenge in making an accurate measurement of these two thick, gooey liquids is that they leave a sticky film or coating on the measuring cup or spoon, resulting in some inaccuracies.  The workaround to prevent this is to spray the measuring cup with a coat of cooking oil before measuring.

Here is another time-saver tip on doing recipes with oil and either honey or molasses as a sweetener. You first measure the oil and then mix it into the bowl. Afterward, measure and add the sweetener. The film of cooking oil left on the cup will make it much easier to release the molasses or honey into the mixing bowl.

Measuring Malleable Solids in a Solid Cup: Some food ingredients can be difficult to categorize if it is a solid or a liquid ingredient.  Or whether to use measuring cups for liquids or solids.  Examples are yogurt and shortenings. Yogurt has a consistency that makes you wonder whether to use a liquid measuring device or one for solid. The dip and sweep method will not be applicable either.  

It is recommended to do it with a solid measuring cup lined with a plastic wrap for easy removal or transfer of the ingredient later. Put the malleable ingredient, like yogurt, into the cup, pack it down, and level off the excess with a flat straight utensil, or the flat broad handle of a knife.

Butter Sticks: Butter is a solid ingredient when refrigerated and has a number of culinary uses in that form.  It can also be melted as a liquid ingredient in recipes. Butter sticks have cutting guides on its packaging or wrapper that cutting the needed amount is easy when still solid.  Melt it as per recipe guideline. Butter sticks are available in 1/2-cup and 1/4-pound sizes.

Push-Up Measuring Cup: For ingredients like honey, mayonnaise, peanut butter, and molasses, this measuring cup will not only measure the right amount but is the best and convenient way to measure sticky and gooey stuff. The push-up measuring cup has a built-in plunger that can be set to measure the amount required. Fill the ingredient up to that level, and then push out the ingredient into the container.

Other Measuring Tools You Might Want to Have in the Kitchen

Remember that baking requires precision in measuring ingredients for many reasons, and that food preparation and cooking depend significantly on varying degrees of accuracy in measurements. Let’s do a rundown of other similar measuring tools usually found in the kitchen.

Measuring Spoon Set: A set of measuring spoons usually contains five pieces of the following sizes: a tablespoon, a teaspoon, a ½ size teaspoon, a ¼ size teaspoon, and a 1/8 size teaspoon. Typically made of stainless steel material, it is recommended to have two sets. One for dry ingredients and the second for wet or liquid ingredients. Recipes mostly contain both dry and liquid ingredients.

Manual and Digital Scales: A digital scale is one of the kitchen gadgets that most households have because of its versatility. It is not important to choose one over the other types of scales as there are situations when one is more convenient to use than the other.  Having at least one of each kind will get all your food preparation, cooking, and baking needs covered.

Most digital scales give measurements in grams, kilograms, ounces, and pounds. That makes them extra useful around the kitchen since recipes do require different systems, and it eliminates having to do the conversions. Choose the model which has the tare functionality that allows resetting the scale to zero to discount the weight of the container, or to weigh different ingredients as you add them in. The automatic shut-off feature is also a convenient and safety feature to have.

Instant-Read Thermometer:  Available in both analog and digital versions, it is a kitchen tool to measure the temperature of a food item while it is being cooked. It is to monitor if it has reached the recommended temperature, and also to know if a food is stored at the right temperature. It can deliver the results in as fast as ten to thirty seconds. Instant-read thermometers can register a range of temperatures from as low as negative 40 degrees Fahrenheit to as high as 550 degrees Fahrenheit.

Oven Thermometer: The ability to check the accuracy of your oven’s cooking temperature can be crucial in faithfully following recipes.  The oven can sometimes give erratic temperature readings, especially over time. It can be too hot or not hot enough for the recipe’s requirements. By knowing the actual temperature of the oven, adjustments, and compensations for the discrepancy can be made.

Timer: To round up the kitchen and cooking tools to reckon time and temperature, a timer dedicated to kitchen use can help you manage cooking time and make adjustments or compensations once you did not react in time. There are occasions when you cannot totally eliminate distractions, and a reliable timer will help you keep tab of the time and alert you as a reminder.  If you can find a timer that also counts the time that has elapsed since it went off may also be extra helpful.

Ball’ Wide-Mouth Jars: Probably a rarity and hard to find today, it has raised markings along one side in cups and millimeter. You might have guessed it right.  It can be used to store food or ingredients and at the same time, know how much there is stored in that jar. It’s a perfect storage and display jar for home-made meals or garnishes, like salad dressing, sandwich filling, appetizers, or for keeping egg whites, purees, and many more.

The Importance of Precision in Measuring Ingredients and Stuff

In Baking: Although baking and cooking are basically about food and ingredients to be measured, combined, mixed, and cooked, baking specifically requires utmost precision.  It is likened to doing a chemistry experiment to produce the precise chemical reactions to achieve the expected result consistently every time. 

That is why we have cookbooks to follow recipes closely to achieve the same result every time.  It must be repeatable, replicated, and reproducible as the exact same result stated in the recipe. To make that possible, precision in the weight or volume of each of the ingredients is required. Care and precision are also essential in the length of cooking time, preparation and processing of the ingredients, and the right temperature for cooking, among other things.

In the Food Industry: The importance of precision, which involves basically the measuring out of ingredients using measuring implements and gadgets, is best exemplified in the food business.  It has to be repeatable, consistent each day, as loyal customers patronize these food establishments precisely because of that.

The kitchen scale plays a significant and essential role in all of these.  From a business standpoint, the consistency of the ingredients needed to meet demands and to prepare for growth and expansion are also valuable inputs. Bakeshops, gourmet restaurants, and food shops specializing in healthy foods are some examples.

In Personal Health: For diverse health and personal reasons, eating the correct portion and sizes of the food we eat daily is mostly done through rough estimation. It would be inconvenient and time-consuming to go through the trouble of getting the right proportions consistently each day.

But for people with health issues and weight challenges, it might just be the needed step to put them in the road to recovering optimum health and wellness.

It may be tedious and a hassle.  There may even be times you would falter and fall on the wayside.  But the initial stage and the first few days or weeks need more self-motivation and control. Once past that stage, your body will have adjusted to it. Then, you are able to put in the extra time, work and commitment to comfortably and decisively pursue your daily optimum and healthy diet and food choices.

With the wide choice of scales to measure the variety of foods we eat, weighing and determining the required amount for you will be much easier to maintain daily. And once your body and your taste buds have responded well to the healthier diet, things will get much easier. You may not even need to accurately scale and portion your foods and just rely on your own judgment. You can visually estimate just how much each kind of food you eat to get satisfied.

It is easy to convince ourselves that we are consuming the correct portion of the different kinds of food we eat every day. That is perfectly fine for some people who are lucky to have a metabolism that stabilizes their weight to an optimum level. Mostly we do it by eye or dependent on our mood and appetite. We tend to eat more than the usual amount when we are starving. In other words, we do not always consume the ideal portion for each kind of food we eat, whether they are carbs, proteins, fats, and so on.

People who succeed in losing weight are those who sensibly pursue it by adopting a healthier lifestyle and food choices that they are able to maintain for life. It becomes part of their daily routine and life, and they believe in it and embrace it.

Food scales can help you in accurately proportioning your meals daily than just “guesstimating” it, or eyeballing it. It can oftentimes result in a margin of error around or off by a hundred calories.

One Final Thought . . .

As we go through life, there are opportunities to learn along the way. And we must be vigilant and ready to recognize them. Learning the ropes in correctly and accurately getting the weights for both dry and wet stuff is undoubtedly an advantage and a skill that is worth learning.

One does not have to be compulsively strict about being accurate all the time.  Knowing when accuracy is essential in measuring stuff, and in other areas in life as well, and when it does not matter, is a choice we have that will put us in good stead all the time.

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