I’ve got a real treat for you in this post. I’m going to delve into the electrifying and exciting world of cups and spoons! 

Cup & spoon measures

In particular, I consider the possibility of us using the ‘cup’ measure commonly used in the US, and quite often in Australia, Canada & Japan. Sometimes you’ll see cups and/or spoons used here in recipes or portions of food, but should we ’embrace’ it fully and officially adopt the cup measure? It’s a critically important question in today’s society, here are some advantages of using cup measures.  

Portion sizes

I think cups and spoons can be a very useful way of communicating portion sizes on food. To illustrate, here are some examples of portion sizes on food at the moment:

  • On packets of rice, a portion size is given in grams – e.g. 75g.
  • A portion of breakfast cereal or porridge oats is given in grams, usually 30 or 40.
  • Portions of condiments are displayed as 14 or 15g.
  • A portion of frozen vegetables is usually 80g or sometimes more.

…and so on. Hands up who actually gets out their weighing scales and weighs their ketchup or breakfast cereal? It’s not easy to visualise 14g of mayonnaise or 75g of rice. I think this would work better if we allowed cups and ensured manufacturers use them (or tablespoons). For example ⅓ cup rice, ½ cup of breakfast cereal/oats or 1 tbsp condiments. These communicate the size of a portion better and are instantly understandable and easy to visualise.

Nutritional information

We all know sugar is bad for us right? But do you know how much is too much? The WHO recently updated their recommendations for sugar intake and they included a rather handy way of communicating how much sugar is the limit – 6 teaspoons (or 25g) (It’s actually 5% of your total calorie intake to be more specific, but 6 tsp is an average). You do sometimes hear people campaigning to have nutritional information easier to read and recommend using a graphic of teaspoons of added sugar on food packaging. I think this is a good idea as it’s clear and easier to translate grams of sugar into actual teaspoons of the white granulated stuff we like to heap into our tea.


Cups are very common in American recipes and are quite regularly used in Australia too. In US recipes, the cup (a unit of volume) is often used for dry ingredients – which I’m not a big fan of in a lot of cases, but it does work well for small amounts like ¼ cup sugar or for giving a rough guideline for amounts of chopped veg etc. It would be useful to use cups in recipes in some areas – I’ll go into using traditional units, including cups, in recipes in a future post.

Cup & spoon sizes

If we were to use the ‘cup’, we would first have to decide what size it is. There are currently a few definitions of what a cup is:

  • The US cup is 8 US fl oz, or just under 237ml. The FDA however defines a cup as 240ml for use with food labels.
  • The Australians and New Zealanders use a metric cup of 250ml.
  • The Canadians sometimes use a cup of 8 Imp fl oz, or just over 227ml – but it seems they mostly use 250ml.
  • There is also a Japanese cup of 200ml. This, I think, is a rounded version of the , which is part of the traditional Japanese system of measure. The gō is still used for measuring rice in Japan and works out at about 180ml (which is one-tenth of a shō – still used in sake bottles). So Japan use two cups – the traditional one for rice and sake (mmmmm sake) and the other slightly bigger one for everything else.
  • Traditionally, the cup measure in the UK and Ireland is 10 fl oz, or just over 284ml, but this is no longer used.

So, if we were to use cup measures, which version should we use? There doesn’t seem to be any definition currently in UK or Irish law for a cup measure, but you do sometimes see it used in portion sizes and you can buy measuring cups in the shops. Usually, the measuring cups you buy here are 250ml. I’m not sure if there was a decision to make it this size or if it just started with one manufacturer making them and it just caught on. Either way, the problem is that you are making a measure that is commonly divided into halves, quarters and thirds, which doesn’t work well with 250. Half is fine (125ml) but thirds and quarters are awkward (e.g. ¼ = 62.5ml, ⅔ = 166.67 ml). It seems more logical to me to use 240ml as it;

  • Is very close to the US cup size (and identical to the US FDA version).
  • Works out at exactly 16 tbsp, which is a nice number to divide up.
  • Divides up better into ½ (120ml or 8tbsp), ¼ (60ml or 4tbsp), ¾ (180ml or 12tbsp), ⅓ (80ml) and ⅔ (160ml).

In terms of spoons, we already use metricated teaspoons and tablespoons of 5ml and 15ml respectively. I do prefer the Australian tablespoon size of 4tsp (20ml) as it divides up better. It would also work better with a cup of 240ml as it works out at 12tbsp and each cup division would have an exact number of tablespoons (¼ = 3tbsp, ⅓ = 4tbsp, ½ = 6, ⅔ = 8, ¾ = 9). So I recon you Aussies missed a trick there mates. Over here, there’s no point in changing the tablespoon from 15 to 20 ml as it’s  not worth the hassle.

In summary…

Bet you never knew cups and spoons could be so interesting! I recon we could benefit from using cups in certain areas like those mentioned above. What do you think?

Cups & Spoons
  • Mark Williams

    Hands up who actually gets out their weighing scales and weighs their ketchup or breakfast cereal?

    Yes, they don’t generally go `in’. I’ve been using portions of 75 g for porridge oats, 150 g for rice and 400 g for potatoes/ 200 g other vegetables since long before such `suggestions’ were printed on labels. No idea what range of volumes each of those might be or, parenthetically, how one is supposed to reach a daily total of 8.4 MJ or 9.6 MJ in only three meals with these small portions. Watery condiments will be close to 1 g = 1 cm³, so it sounds like your [tomato?] `ketchup’ must have enough sugar (by mass) to qualify as jam in the UK ;-).

    Looking at your list of desired volumes (LCD of 1/12 Irish usuelles cup which doesn’t really divide that roundly by 16 tablespoons), it would probably be more accurate and precise to just use a single measuring jug graduated in 20 cm³ increments and save the dishwasher a load of work as well!