I get a huge number of questions about cooking equipment in my classes and for a good reason. What pan you use to make a sauce, and what knife you use to slice your onions makes a difference. Students had asked about everything before: knives, boards, skillets, dutch ovens, food processors, meat thermometer, and zesters. One thing no one had ever asked me about was measuring spoons. To tell you the truth, I've never wondered about them either. How exactly can they be good or bad? All they have to do is measure, and surely they are standard. At least that's what I thought until a few weeks ago.
I needed another set of measuring spoons for the Rustic Italian Baking class to avoid having students waiting for equipment during the practice part of the class. I asked Jason to pick up a set at Target for me. This is the teaspoon from the set he got.
This is the teaspoon from the set I normally use.
When I tried to use the new 1 tsp measure on salt (Diamond Crystal Kosher) using the standard scoop-and-level-off-with-a-straight-edge method, the amount seemed too small to me, so out of curiosity, I pulled out a scale and weighed 1 tsp of Diamond Crystal Kosher salt that I got with my old spoon (round in shape) and the new spoon (flat in shape).
Round shape spoon: 1 tsp DCK salt weighed 2.81 g
Flat shape spoon: 1 tsp DCK salt weighed 1.57g
In other words, one spoon was giving me almost twice as much salt as the other. Shocked by this difference, I was guessing it was due to the coarse nature of my salt. So I decided to try some other substances using 1 tsp measure from 3 sets. Here are my findings.
Table Salt (measured by scooping and leveling with a straight edge)
Teaspoon #1: 5.93g
Teaspoon #2: 6.28g
Teaspoon #3: 3.34g
Official weight: 6g
Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt (measured by scooping and leveling with a straight edge)
Teaspoon #1: 2.81g
Teaspoon #2: 2.88g
Teaspoon #3: 1.57g
Official weight: 2.8g
Water (measured by scooping to fill the spoon to the brim)
Teaspoon #1: 5.68g
Teaspoon #2: 5.07g
Teaspoon #3: 4.39g
Official weight: 5g
For measuring liquid ingredients, the flat spoon was at least in the ballpark. But with the dry ingredients, it wasn't even close to the official weight for either the small grained or large grained salt.
So what's the big deal? Will a little more or less minced parsley hurt your dish? Of course, not. And if you are measuring parsley with measuring spoons, you need to relax and just start throwing it in. But what if your cake asks for 1 tsp of baking powder or your bread asks for 1 tsp salt and what you are putting in is half of what the recipe intended without even suspecting it? That's huge, my friends! Unless you are the kind of baker who is happy just because the house smells good, you'll be very disappointed with the results.
What can you do about it?
Get measuring spoons that are deep and round in shape, avoid anything flat or interesting looking. The next piece of advice is only applicable to serious bakers and/or geeky engineering types. Buy a scale that can measure small amounts. Mine is a cheapy little tea scale. So it only costs about $15 (that's not even double what any decent set of measuring spoons costs).
Very few recipes will give you the weight of salt, yeast, and other small ingredients, but you can look this info up in any good bread baking book (The Bread Bible by Rose Beranbaum is my favorite -- she even gives weight for small ingredients in each recipe). For a few years, I thought that all her recipes were under-salted. I knew she was using fine sea salt, and I was using Diamond Crystal Kosher salt. I accounted for it by doubling the amount of salt (that's what Cook's Illustrated tells you to do to go between table and DCK), but it turns out to be an even bigger difference than that. 1 tsp of DCK is 2.8 grams. 1 tsp of table salt is 6 grams, and 1 tsp of Rose's salt is 6.6 grams. So, for every teaspoon that the recipe called for, I was a gram short even after doubling the volume amount. Is that a noticeable difference? Oh yes! It's about 30% less salt and 30% less flavor than intended. I adjusted this amount eventually, but must have made at least 10 recipes where the first attempt came out awfully bland.
I made myself a little table of ingredients commonly measured in teaspoons using Rose's book.
1 tsp instant yeast = 3.2 grams
1 tsp baking powder = 4.9 grams
1 tsp baking soda = 5 grams
1 tsp cream of tartar = 3.1 grams
Her salt measurement in the back of the book puzzles me. She doesn't specify the type of salt and says that 1 tsp salt = 5.7 grams. That's not the conversion she uses in her recipes though. So here is my salt conversion:
1 tsp Diamond Crystal Kosher salt = 2.8 grams
1 tsp Table salt = 6 grams
1 tsp Rose's salt = 6.6 grams (I include this for myself because I use her book so much :)
Note that Morton's Kosher salt is a whole other animal and is not comparable in weight to DCK.
Salt is a painful topic. Considering that we are a country scared to death of salt, I am amazed that we need so many different types. Life would be so much easier if we could just decide on what the word "salt" means in a recipe. The food writers just threw up their hands in the last 10-20 years and now call for "Salt to taste" or "generous pinch of salt." In baking recipes, that doesn't work and they still call for a particular volume amount without always specifying the salt type, or saying something wishy-washy like "finely ground sea salt." But 5 grams of one salt are just as salty as 5 grams of another salt, and that's good to know.