Converting international recipes to American measures

Jen Klein

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Perhaps more during the holidays than at other times of the year, people use the internet to look for special recipes for special events. Often the recipes come from other cultures -- and often they require some level of translation. But don't let that scare you away from trying a totally new and different dish. Yes, it may take a little extra work, but it could really be worth it! Here's how to convert international recipes to American measures.

Kitchen scale

Converting international recipes

How you need to translate an international recipe varies. It may require converting measurements, substituting ingredients or it may be a literal translation of instructions. Using various resources - primarily on the internet but also in your community - you can easily translate, convert, subsitute and adjust almost anything in a foreign recipe to suit your needs.

Converting recipe measurements

Weight and volume measurements Probably the easiest part of converting a recipe is converting measurements. While most recipes in the US use cup measures for wet and dry ingredients, most international recipes use weight to measure dry ingredients rather than volume -- and both weight and volume are on the metric system. This actually results in more accurate measurements of ingredients. If you have a kitchen scale that can measure in grams and a wet measuring cup with milliliter markings, you don't actually need to convert a thing. Weigh your dry ingredients and measure your wet ingredients using the gram and liter markings. If you don't have such instruments, there are many websites, such as, that can help you convert measurements. Some are kitchen or cooking specific and some are simple metric/imperial conversion sites. If some of the ingredients in the recipe are measured with less accurate standards (for example "pinch" or even "some") then you can take that to mean that precision on that ingredient isn't as key. Just guess; it'll be okay. Temperature For temperatures, converting from Celsius to Fahrenheit is as simple as finding a website, like Converting "gas mark" directions to Fahrenheit is also just a web search away.

Converting international ingredients

Converting ingredients in a recipe can be a little trickier, but definitely doable. Some ingredients are culturally or geographically specific while some are items we know well but with a different name. Figuring out what they are and how to get them or find suitable substitutes might require ingenuity on your part, some sleuthing and a visit to a specialty market. Make your own In many British recipes, I've seen an ingredient called "caster sugar." Caster sugar is sugar of a consistency between our granulated sugar and confectioners' sugar (which, by the way, is called "icing sugar" in many foreign recipes); you can make your own caster sugar by whirring granulated sugar in a blender, and it is also available commercially as superfine sugar. Figuring out what an unknown ingredient is may be as simple as a Wikipedia search. Visit an ethnic market Most mega marts have international food sections where you can find products and ingredients common to that country or culture, and most metropolitan areas have at least a few ethnic markets at which you can find even more obscure products. These ethnic markets are terrific resources for more than just ingredients; more often than not, the proprietors are happy to share their culture and knowledge. They'll guide you to what you need. And if there's no international food aisle or ethnic market near you, you can find companies online that can deliver international foods to your door. It may take extra planning, but you may also discover a new favorite ingredient for more than just a single recipe. Take a risk Sometimes, in spite of your best effort, you can't locate an item. This is when I've tried my hardest to come up with a close subsitution, which has worked wonderfully at times and other times not so much. It's a risk, yes, but a relatively small one.

Converting recipe directions

Probably the trickiest part of converting a recipe is converting the directions from another language. Again, the Internet to the resuce! Hooray for and all the other translations sites, for that matter. While the translations might not be perfect, you'll likely get the gist, and your cooking knowledge and skill can fill in the gaps. If that proves unsuccessful for you, go back to that ethnic market. The same staff that helped you find the right ingredient most likely will help you understand a specific direction. It's in their interest to help you if they want to build their business! International recipes might be daunting at first, but when when you break them down into their parts and approach each part individually, they are very doable. Not to mention delicious!

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