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What does it mean when a recipe measures in “parts”?

March 17, 2022

During your culinary adventures, you’ll likely come across a recipe that requires you to measure in parts. This can be confusing, especially if you’re used to set amounts, like tablespoons and cups. 

While it might sound a little daunting at first, this isn’t as difficult as it might seem. Below you’ll discover how you can easily interpret recipe ratios. 

What does it mean when an ingredient is measured in parts?

In most recipes, you’ll come across measurements like teaspoons, tablespoons, and cups. But if it calls for the ingredients to be divided into parts, it is simply referring to the ratio of one ingredient to another. So, when your recipe says one part flour and one part water, that means that you will be using the same quantity of each ingredient, be that one tablespoon or one gallon.

Example: measuring in parts for cocktails

Many times, you’ll have to calculate parts when blending cocktails. For instance, if you plan to make a Rusty Nail, you’ll need to mix two parts Scotch with one part Drambuie. In other words, you’ll need twice as much Scotch as Drambuie. This ensures that the Drambuie doesn’t overpower the Scotch but there’s still a noticeable taste of it in the drink. 

In practice, this might look like measuring out two ounces of scotch and one ounce of Drambuie, or you might use less precision and simply use shot glasses to measure.

How to measure in ratios, like 1:1 or 1:8

To measure in proportions, all you need to do is use the same type of measurement for each ingredient, depending on the total output that you want. If you need to make lemonade and you have a 1:8 lemon juice to water ratio, you might choose to want to use one cup of lemon juice for every eight cups of water if you're serving an entire group, or you might use one ounce to eight ounces for a single glass.

If your recipe has a 1:1 ratio, use the same amount for both ingredients. You’ll frequently see this when whisking roux which calls for 1:1 flour to butter (for every one tablespoon of flour you need one tablespoon of butter). 

How do you know how much of the ingredient to use when measuring in parts or ratios?

It can be a bit tricky to figure out how much of the ingredients to use when you are measuring in parts or ratios. The first thing to look for is if your recipe makes recommendations or provides guidelines. If not, common sense is a great indicator! Do you want one glass of lemonade or one gallon? Are you making spaghetti for yourself, or for a family gathering of 15 people?

Sometimes a recipe will specify both a ratio and specific measurements. Often, cakes will have a 1:1:1 ratio — but they will also usually elaborate that they require 1 cup of flour, 1 cup of sugar, and 1 egg. On the other hand, a recipe for steamed rice might simply say a 1:2 ratio of rice to water. In that instance, you will have to decide how much rice you need and you may do 1 cup of rice and 2 cups of water, or 3 cups of rice and 6 cups of water.

Using ratios and parts makes it exceedingly easy to scale your recipe and either make half as much, or twice as much. The proportion stays the same, and you simply calculate it using bigger measurements.

Cooking in "parts" or ratios can seem scary or intimidating at first, especially if you don't have a lot of experience using ratios in math. The good news is, the more you work with culinary ratios the more comfortable you’ll be doing this. 

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