Whether you’re baking a pie, making a pot of soup or preparing a marinade for a steak, at some point, you’ll probably need measuring cups and measuring spoons to accurately follow your recipe. However, if you don’t have a dedicated set of measuring utensils, do you have to abandon your dish altogether? Or, can you use one of the many ways to approximate measurements to complete your recipe?
Skipping the Measuring Spoons: Benefits
A number of benefits exist in knowing how to quickly and accurately estimate a teaspoon:
- If you’re camping, renting a poorly equipped vacation accommodation, or cooking at a friend’s house, knowing how to estimate a teaspoon will come in handy.
- Being able to accurately approximate teaspoons and other measurements saves time – no more digging through drawers.
- Finally, approximating saves on kitchen clutter and dishes. If you don’t use a teaspoon, you don’t have to wash a teaspoon.
While estimating a teaspoon is a fast, easy process that’s quite effective for general cooking, you incur significantly more risk if you’re baking. Unlike cooking, baking requires very specific ratios of fats, liquids, flours and sugars.
Estimating a Teaspoon: Cooking vs. Baking
While a smidgen too much sage won’t ruin your stew, not enough baking powder or a tiny bit too much salt can quickly spell disaster in your bread recipe.
The point? Don’t estimate a teaspoon while baking unless you’re very confident in your skills or if you don’t have any other choice.
What Is a Teaspoon?
One teaspoon of sugar equals about 4 grams, while a heaping teaspoon is about 7.5 grams, or 0.17 ounces. So, if you have a kitchen scale on-hand that’s pretty accurate, you can measure your dry ingredients on it.
One teaspoon of water is about 5 ml or, again, 0.17 ounces, but most people don't have the equipment lying around to measure such a small amount of liquid. If you’re trying to estimate a teaspoon of liquid, such as vanilla, consider just adding a capful.
The Easiest Solution: Fill Half a Kitchen Spoon
If you don’t have a teaspoon, the single easiest way to approximate one is to use a regular spoon – the kind you’d eat cereal with – and fill it about halfway. While these spoons aren’t uniform in size, you should be familiar with what a standard kitchen spoon looks like, so if it’s bigger or smaller than that, adjust the measurement accordingly.
Another easy method if you have a tablespoon on hand, but not a teaspoon: Since 3 teaspoons equals 1 tablespoon, fill a tablespoon 1/3 of the way to get a close measurement.
The Pinch Method
Did you know that one three-fingered pinch is roughly equal to 1/8 teaspoon? It’s true. Just use your thumb, index finger and middle finger to pinch a bit of ground spice and throw it in the bowl. Repeat eight times, and you’ve put approximately 1 teaspoon into your mixture.
The Palm Method
While it’s not the most accurate way of measuring a teaspoon, using your palm to approximate your measurement works for most non-baking dishes with no issues, especially if you’re just adding flavor to a dish. It’s perfectly safe to “eyeball it.”
- 1/4 teaspoon is a mound the size of a dime.
- 1/2 teaspoon is a mound the size of a nickel.
- 1 teaspoon is a mound a little larger than a quarter.
Another quick eyeballing method? A teaspoon is about the length of the tip of your index finger or 1 inch.
Teaching Yourself to Measure Without Measuring Spoons
Estimating teaspoons and other measurements is something that you can practice and get better doing. When you have a few moments, get out some flour or sugar (or whatever granular ingredient you have on hand) as well as a set of measuring spoons.
One by one, pour a measuring spoonful of the flour into your palm to get the look and feel for how much it is; then move on to the next spoon. Soon, you’ll have a much better idea of what differing amounts of flour look like in your hand.
Sarah Aswell is a freelance writer living in Montana.