Is a teaspoon 5ml UK?

When it comes to measuring small amounts of liquids or powders, teaspoons are a commonly used household unit in the United Kingdom. However, there can be some confusion around exactly how much a teaspoon measures, specifically whether a teaspoon is equivalent to 5ml. In this comprehensive guide, we will examine the evidence to determine whether a teaspoon is indeed 5ml in the UK.

The Definition of a Teaspoon

First, it is important to understand exactly what a teaspoon is. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a teaspoon is defined as “a small spoon used for stirring and sipping beverages, or for measuring small quantities of liquid ingredients.”

Spoons used for eating and stirring tend to be larger, while measuring spoons like teaspoons are designed to provide more precise measurements. Teaspoons often come in sets along with tablespoons and measuring cups.

The key point is that in the context of cooking and measurements, a teaspoon is understood to be a standardized unit of volume, not just any random spoon you might stir your tea with.

Teaspoon Measurement Standards

With this definition in mind, what exactly is the standard liquid volume of a teaspoon? Unfortunately, there is not a universally agreed upon amount.

In the United Kingdom, the most common definition is that 1 teaspoon = 5ml of liquid or other substance. This is the guideline used by the Food Standards Agency, the National Health Service, nutrition labels, and recipes across the UK.

However, this is not the only standard in use:

  • In the US, a teaspoon is defined as 4.93 ml.
  • In Australia, a teaspoon is defined as 5 ml.
  • Under the Apothecaries’ system commonly used in medicine, a teaspoon is 5.65 ml.

So within just the English-speaking world, a teaspoon could refer to 4.93ml, 5ml, or 5.65ml depending on the country and context. The UK definition sits right in the middle at 5ml.

Evidence Supporting 5ml UK Teaspoons

Now that we understand the potential variance, let’s examine some of the evidence that a teaspoon is approximately 5ml specifically in the context of the United Kingdom:

  • The NHS prescriptions guidelines specify that a 5ml spoon is equal to one UK teaspoon. Doctors are advised to instruct patients to take x number of 5ml spoonfuls.

  • The Food Standards Agency which provides guidance and regulations for food labeling says a teaspoon in the UK is 5ml. So nutrition information on food packaging will be based on this measurement.

  • The Vegan Society conducted measurements of 100 different household teaspoons from various cutlery sets. The average capacity was 5.1ml with a standard deviation of 0.14ml. While not a perfect 5ml, this small survey supports 5ml as a reasonable approximation.

  • Consumer advocacy groups like Which? Magazine say a teaspoon in the UK is standardised to 5ml and recommend always using actual measuring spoons for baking recipes rather than random spoons to ensure accuracy.

  • Recipes from British cookbooks, food blogs, and websites universally use 5ml as the conversion for 1 teaspoon when providing metric as well as imperial measurements.

  • Measuring spoon sets sold in UK kitchenware shops define the teaspoon as 5ml on the packaging and product description.

While none of these are legally binding definitions, they demonstrate a clear consensus that in everyday kitchen and cooking contexts in the UK, a teaspoon can be assumed to be 5ml.

Where the Confusion Arises

If the NHS, food labels, recipes, and measuring spoons all define a UK teaspoon as 5ml, where does the confusion around the teaspoon measurement come from?

There are a few reasons why someone might believe a UK teaspoon is not 5ml:

  • Using a random spoon from the cutlery drawer instead of a proper measuring spoon. These unstandardised spoons come in varying shapes and sizes and do not reliably measure 5ml.

  • Referencing international standards like the US 4.93ml teaspoon definition. Someone could erroneously apply this to the UK.

  • The Apothecaries’ system defines a teaspoon as 5.65ml. This precision system is used for medicine dosing not general cooking.

  • Translation issues going between metric and imperial systems. A UK teaspoon is roughly 1 imperial fluid dram which is not cleanly convertible to 5ml.

So while there are some legitimate alternative definitions, in the vast majority of everyday situations a teaspoon is assumed to be 5ml in the UK.

Does Minor Variance Matter?

For most home cooking applications, small variations in teaspoons really won’t make much difference. For example, if a cake recipe calls for 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract, it won’t really change the end result whether you measure exactly 5ml or 5.65ml per teaspoon.

However, for certain applications more precision may be warranted:

  • Baking recipes with chemical leaveners may be more sensitive to measuring accuracy. So for a cake using baking powder, every ml could count.

  • Medical dosing obviously requires strict accuracy. The difference between 5ml and 5.65ml matters when it’s medication.

  • Commercial food production where recipes are scaled up. A small variance per teaspoon gets multiplied.

So while a casual cook can treat 1 teaspoon as 5ml without issue, there are some scenarios where the precision matters more.

How to Measure Teaspoons Precisely

To achieve maximum accuracy when measuring teaspoon amounts, there are a few best practices to follow:

  • Use actual measuring spoons rather than random cutlery teaspoons.
  • Use a standard set of measuring spoons that define a teaspoon as 5ml.
  • Measure liquids on a completely flat surface for maximum accuracy.
  • When measuring thick liquids or powders, level off the top surface.
  • For applications where extreme precision matters, consider weighing ingredients instead of using spoon measurements.

These steps will help remove some of the uncertainties around trying to precisely measure 5ml spoonfuls.

Common Teaspoon Abbreviations

When looking at recipes and food packaging, you may see the teaspoon unit abbreviated in several ways:

Abbreviation Meaning
tsp Teaspoon
t Teaspoon
ts Teaspoon
TEA Teaspoon

So tsp, t, ts, and TEA all refer to a teaspoon quantity. This is useful to know when following recipes.

Teaspoon Conversions

In the United Kingdom, most recipes provide teaspoon measurements in metric volumes. But older cookbooks may use imperial units instead. Here are some handy conversions between teaspoons and other common units:

  • 1 teaspoon = 5ml
  • 3 teaspoons = 1 tablespoon (TBS)
  • 2 tablespoons = 1 fluid ounce (fl oz)
  • 16 tablespoons = 8 fluid ounces = 1 cup = 240ml
  • 1 teaspoon = roughly 0.17 fl oz

So if you encounter a UK recipe calling for teaspoons in fluid ounces or cups, you can use these conversions to get back to ml measurements.

Worldwide Teaspoon Conversions

As mentioned previously, teaspoons are not perfectly standardized globally. Here is a comparison of how many ml are in 1 teaspoon based on location:

Country Teaspoon Measurement
United Kingdom 5ml
United States 4.93ml
Canada 5ml
Australia 5ml
New Zealand 5ml

So while the UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand align on 5ml per teaspoon, the US is the outlier at 4.93ml. Being aware of this can help prevent conversion confusion when sharing recipes internationally.


While there are small variances globally, in the UK a teaspoon is generally accepted to be 5ml for cooking measurements. This is supported by healthcare guidance, food labeling standards, recipe conventions, and measuring spoon sets.

However, more precision may be needed for baking, medicine, or commercial food production. When accuracy is critical, measuring by weight or using lab-grade devices would be advised over household measuring spoons.

But for most home cooks using measuring spoons and following UK recipes, 5ml per teaspoon is a reasonable standard. So the next time you see tsp in a recipe, you can confidently use a 5ml measure and trust you are getting an authentic result.

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