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Measuring is a precise practice. Cups, pounds, teaspoons, ounces. It's all designed to be exact. Any variation in one direction or the other could potentially ruin the final outcome. But measurements like pinch, dash, and smidgen don't exude precision. They suggest haphazard shaking or dumping, a bit of a guessing game — which is exactly what bakers are taught never to play.

Measuring Cups and Spoons
Photo by Meredith
| Credit: Meredith

It turns out that these obscure measurements have concrete sizes, and even though the amounts are so small they might make little difference to the final outcome of the dish, it's a good idea to know what exactly a recipe writer means when they're asking for a pinch of cayenne pepper or a dash of liquid smoke. These foods often have an overwhelming flavor, so a little goes a long way. A little too much little could spell bad news for your final recipe.

What a Pinch Really Means

Tad – 1/4 teaspoon

Dash –1/8 teaspoon; for liquid measurements only

Pinch – 1/16 teaspoon, or in theory what will fit between your thumb and forefinger

Smidgen –1/32 teaspoon

Drop –1/64 teaspoon; for liquid measurements

Lest you think you might not remember these measurements, you can actually buy measuring spoons that will fill in the blanks when you run across a recipe for macaroni and cheese, that calls for a pinch of nutmeg. These stainless steel measuring spoons ($4, amazon.com) have spoons for each of these measurements.

Think the extra set of spoons isn't necessary? You can get a helping hand on getting these smaller measurements with a set that has a 1/8 teaspoon ($10, amazon.com) or 1/16 teaspoon ($13, amazon.com).

Measuring Spoons at a Glance: