When it comes to cooking and baking, measuring ingredients precisely is extremely important for achieving the desired results. Two measurements that often get used interchangeably are tablespoons and ounces. But are 2 tablespoons really equivalent to 2 ounces? Let’s take a closer look.
Definitions of Tablespoons and Ounces
First, we need to understand exactly what tablespoons and ounces represent as units of measurement:
- A tablespoon (tbsp) is a unit of volume typically used to measure small amounts of liquid or dry ingredients. 1 tablespoon equals 3 teaspoons or 1⁄2 fluid ounce.
- An ounce (oz) is a unit of weight. 1 ounce equals 28.35 grams.
So while both units are used frequently in cooking, tablespoons measure the volume or amount of space an ingredient takes up, while ounces measure the weight or mass of an ingredient.
The Relationship Between Tablespoons and Ounces
Whether 2 tablespoons equals 2 ounces depends on the ingredient being measured:
- For water and other thin liquids, 2 tablespoons is very close to 1 fluid ounce by volume. So 2 tablespoons would be close to 2 fluid ounces.
- For thicker or dense ingredients like nut butter, 2 tablespoons would weigh more than 2 ounces, because 2 tablespoons takes up less space than 2 ounces of a dense substance.
- For dry granulated ingredients like flour or sugar, 2 tablespoons weighs less than 2 ounces, because the air pockets between the granules mean 2 tablespoons occupies more space than 2 ounces.
So while 2 tablespoons of water is essentially equal to 2 ounces by volume, that conversion does not apply accurately to most other cooking ingredients. The density and texture of what you are measuring makes a big difference.
Typical Weights of 2 Tablespoons of Common Ingredients
To demonstrate how the weight of 2 tablespoons varies greatly depending on the ingredient, here is a table with approximate weights in ounces for 2 tablespoons of some common cooking ingredients:
|Weight of 2 Tbsp
As you can see, the weight of 2 tablespoons varies widely across different ingredients due to differences in density. So 2 tablespoons does not equate to 2 ounces across the board.
When to Use Tablespoons vs. Ounces
Whether it is better to use tablespoons or ounces depends on what you are measuring and the precision needed:
- For liquids like milk, water, oil, etc. you can use tablespoons and fluid ounces interchangeably.
- For thicker ingredients like nut butter, honey, or condiments, ounces will give you a more precise measure than tablespoons.
- For dry ingredients, ounces are also more precise than tablespoons which can vary in density.
- For convenience and ease, tablespoons can be used instead of ounces for many recipes, especially baked goods, without affecting the outcome.
- For recipes where precise measurements matter most, like candy making, ounces are better than tablespoons.
Many cooks use tablespoons for convenience in everyday cooking and baking. But when precision matters, ounces give a more accurate measurement than tablespoons for most ingredients.
Converting Between Tablespoons and Ounces
When substituting tablespoons and ounces in a recipe, here are some key conversion rates to remember:
- 3 teaspoons = 1 tablespoon
- 2 tablespoons = 1 fluid ounce (for water and thin liquids only)
- 1 cup = 16 tablespoons
- 1 cup = 8 fluid ounces
- 1 fluid ounce = 28.35 grams by weight
- 16 ounces = 1 pound
To convert ounces to tablespoons, or vice versa, for ingredients other than water:
- Look up the density of the ingredient you are using online to find grams per milliliter.
- Use that density factor to calculate the weight of 1 fluid ounce of that ingredient.
- Then convert between tablespoons and ounces using the calculated weight of 1 ounce.
This requires a few extra steps but will give you the most accurate conversion between tablespoons and ounces.
Here are examples converting 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil and peanut butter to ounces, based on their standard densities:
- Vegetable oil: 1 fluid ounce = 28.35 grams. Vegetable oil density is 0.92 g/mL. 28.35 grams x 0.92 = 26.1 grams per 1 fluid ounce of vegetable oil. So 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil weighs about 1.8 ounces.
- Peanut butter: 1 fluid ounce = 28.35 grams Peanut butter density is 1.13 g/mL. 28.35 grams x 1.13 = 32.1 grams per 1 fluid ounce of peanut butter. So 2 tablespoons of peanut butter weighs about 1.1 ounces.
Weight vs. Volume in Cooking
The differences between weight and volume measurements bring up the question of which is better for accuracy in recipes. Here are some of the key considerations:
- Volume measures like cups and tablespoons are convenient and easy: Volume measures require no scale and allow quickmeasuring of ingredients. But they are less precise, especially for dry, granulated ingredients.
- Weight measures like grams and ounces are very precise: Using a kitchen scale provides the most accurate way to measure any ingredient. But it takes more time and requires weighing out each ingredient.
- Volume is preferred for large batch and portion control: When cooking large batches, volume measures make it easy to scale recipe portions up or down. Weight measures would require reweighing every separate ingredient.
- Weight is preferred for chemistry-dependent processes: The chemistry of processes like breadmaking, candymaking, and cheesemaking relies on precise moisture content and ingredient ratios, making weight more important.
- Personal preferences and habits play a role: Many home cooks are in the habit of using volume measures like cups and spoons and prefer the speed and convenience. But professional bakers and chefs often weigh ingredients for precision.
For everyday cooking, volume measures work fine for most recipes and are definitely more convenient. But for baking and other recipes where chemistry is critical, weighing ingredients will provide better accuracy and consistency.
Tips for Measuring Tablespoons vs. Ounces
Whether you decide to use volume or weight measures in your recipes, following certain best practices will improve accuracy:
- Use standard, calibrated dry measuring cups and liquid measures for volume measurement.
- Use an electronic kitchen scale for weight measurement. Make sure to calibrate and tare it properly.
- Level off dry ingredients like flour with a knife for measuring cups.
- Drizzle oils and viscous liquids into a liquid measuring cup for best results.
- Follow any packing or sifting instructions in recipes for dry ingredients.
- Aim for precision, but small variations from 2 Tbsp = 1 oz will not drastically alter baking outcomes in most recipes.
While 2 tablespoons nearly equals 1 ounce for water and other thin liquids, that is not the case for most other baking and cooking ingredients. Due to wide variability in density, 2 tablespoons results in quite different weights across ingredients like oil, peanut butter, flour, etc. For precision, ounces are a better measure than tablespoons in many cases. But for convenience and ease, tablespoons work sufficiently well for most home recipes.
When trying to substitute tablespoons and ounces, look up the density of the specific ingredient to calculate accurate conversion ratios. And be sure to follow proper measuring techniques for optimal results and minimum variation between weight and volume measures.