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Chapter 6 Using the metric system of measure.


At the completion of this chapter, the student should be able to:

1. Recite the basic measure of the metric system.

2. Compute length using meters.

3. Compute mass or weight using kilograms or grams.

4. Compute volume using liters.

5. Compute temperature using degrees Celsius.

6. Recognize the increase in the use of metrics in the U.S. food service industry.

7. Change measurements from the customary system to the metric system.

8. Find the cost of food and beverage products using the metric system.


metric system





liters or cubic meters

degrees Celsius








cubic centimeter


What is the metric system?

The metric system of measure is a decimal system based on the number 10. It is difficult to understand why this system of measure has never been adopted for exclusive use m the United States. This system is more accurate than the system that is used in the United States, which relies on quarts, pounds, ounces, and so forth. It is especially useful in baking, because baking is a science where exact measurements are needed to produce consistent quality baked products.

France introduced the metric system to the world during the French Revolution. France's lawmakers, during that period of history, asked their scientists to develop a system of measurement based on science rather than custom. They developed a system of measurement that was based upon a length called the meter.

The meter has been used in a limited capacity over the last 30 years, but never to its fullest extent. Perhaps it can be blamed on the fact that most people resist change. There have been attempts over the years to bring about the change. In 1971, the Department of Commerce recommended that the United States adopt the system in a report made to Congress. The report stated that the question was not whether the United States should go metric, but how the switch should take place. It proposed that the switch be made over a 10-year period, as done in Great Britain and Canada. A key element in the Great Britain and Canadian conversion was education. It became the only system taught in the primary schools. The general public was taught the metric system and language by means of magazines, posters, television, newspapers, radio, and so forth. A demonstration center was even set up so that the public could practice purchasing food using the metric system. In the United States, little action was taken on this report until December 23, 1975. At that time, President Ford signed into law the Metric Conversion Act, establishing a national policy in support of the metric system and supposedly ending the dilemma that had continued for so long.

With the signing of the new law it was understood that, through a national policy of coordinating the increasing use of metrics in the United States, the conversion to the metric system would be done on a voluntary basis. The government also created a metric board, appointed by the president with the advice and consent of the Senate. The board was made up of individuals from the various economic sectors that would be influenced most by the metric changeover. Included were people representing labor, science, consumers, manufacturing, construction, and so forth. The function of this board was to create and carry out a program that would allow the development of a sensible plan for a voluntary changeover. This all took place in the 1970s. Today, little is heard of this law or program, although slowly some progress is being made. In 1988, President Bush ordered every federal agency to go metric. However, again the president was not specific as to when the change should occur. No timetable was set--the president left it to each individual federal agency. Some of these agencies have set a date for the change, while others have not. The Federal Highway Administration, for example, moved forward and ordered states to use the metric system in designing all roads that were built after September 30, 1996. If states did not comply, a penalty was assessed.


Some industries, notably science, pharmaceutical, engineering, and automotive, have found it necessary to go metric in order to participate in world trade. The medical field has also joined in the use of metric language. Doctors learn early in their training to specify drug dosage in metric units.

Today, over 90 percent of the world's population uses the metric system. It is also used by over nine-tenths of the world's nations.

In the United States, metric measurements are gradually being introduced and used in many industries, among them the food and beverage industry. For example, when a person buys a beverage (soda, coffee, etc.), the measurement often appears on the package in both metrics and the customary measurements that have always been used. For instance, the authors purchased a "to go" cup of coffee, and on the paper cup was printed "12 ounces," along with the metric measurement of "355 ml" (which stands for milliliters). When we received a package of potato chips with our sandwich, the package listed the weight as 1 oz. or 28 g (which stands for grams). Because the metric system is exact, it is better to use this system in baking since ingredients are usually weighed rather than measured. The textbook Professional Baking, 4th edition by Wayne Gisslen has all the recipes in customary (or, as he states, the 'U.S.') measurements, along with metric measurements.

Therefore, as the United States changes to the metric system, the people who will be affected most are those whose jobs are concerned with weights and measures. This is certainly the case for food service workers. Instead of pints, quarts, and gallons, they will have to adjust to liters. Instead of pounds and ounces, they will use kilograms and grams; and instead of degrees Fahrenheit, temperature will be in degrees Celsius (previously known as Centigrade). The purpose of this chapter, therefore, is to make these terms and others dealing with the metric system more familiar to the food service student.


Find five food or beverage products that you have at home that have their contents listed in metric measurements. Why are companies listing their contents in metrics?

In recent years, food service students in the United States have been exchanged with students from foreign countries in similar programs. When an exchange like this takes place, certainly recipes and formulas are exchanged, making knowledge of the metric system an asset. The student should be able to convert recipes and formulas both ways, that is, from customary to metric and vice versa.

The metric system is a decimal system based on the number 10. For example, when the meter is divided by 10, it produces 10 decimeters; a decimeter divided by 10 produces 10 centimeters; and a centimeter divided by 10 produces 10 millimeters. To put it another way, one meter equals 1000 millimeters, or 100 centimeters, or 10 decimeters. (Note: the comma is not used in metric notation; instead, a space is left. Example: 1000 millimeters.) This system of measure seems more practical when compared to our customary units of measure-the yard, which is divided into 3 feet (or 36 inches); and the foot, which is divided into 12 inches.

The metric system also provides standard rules for amounts of its units through prefixes. For example, a milligram is one-thousandth of a gram (weight), a milliliter is one-thousandth of a liter (volume), and a millimeter is one-thousandth of a meter (length). When the unit is increased and the prefix kilo is added, a kilogram is 1000 grams and a kilometeris 1000 meters. The customary system lacks this kind of uniformity.

Breaking Down the Metric System
TIPS ... To Insure Perfect Solutions

Meters (m) measure lengths; liters (I) measure volume; grams
(g) measure weight; and temperature is measured in Celsius


The best way to learn the metric system is to forget all about the customary measurements and simply think metric. To think metric is to think in terms of 10 and to understand the following basics: the meter represents length; grams, or, inmost cases, kilograms, represent mass; liters or cubic meters represent volume; and degrees Celsius deals with temperature. To compare these new units of measure with familiar ones, a meter is about 39 inches, which is slightly longer than the yard. The gram is such a small unit of mass, approximately 0.035 of an ounce, that to make a comparison it is necessary to take 1,000 grams or 1 kilogram, which is equal to 2.2 pounds. The liter is equal to about 1.0567 quarts, which means it is about 5 percent larger than a quart. There are other units of measure in the metric system, but the ones mentioned are those that will be of most concern to the people involved in food service.


It was stated that to think metric is to think in terms of 10. To show how this is done, take the base unit of length (the meter), and multiply or divide it by 10. Each time the meter is multiplied or divided by 10, special names are attached on the front of the word to indicate the value. These names are called prefixes. Lengths smaller than a meter are divided by 10, and the result is called a decimeter. Dividing a decimeter by 10 gives a centimeter. When the centimeter is divided by 10, it is called a millimeter.

1 decimeter = 0.1 meter

1 centimeter = 0.01 meter

1 millimeter = 0.001 meter
TIPS ... To Insure Perfect Solutions

The length of a meter is about one giant step.

So for the units smaller than a meter, the prefixes are deci (a tenth of a meter), centi (a hundredth of a meter), and milli (a thousandth of a meter).

For lengths larger than a meter, multiply by 10. For 10 meters, the prefix deka is used. For 100 meters, the prefix is hecto. The prefix for 1,000 is kilo. So, 10 meters are called a dekameter, 100 meters a hectometer, and 1000 meters a kilometer. Kilo is a very popular prefix because most distances on roadways are given in kilometers.

1 kilometer = 1000 meters

1 hectometer = 100 meters

1 dekameter = 10 meters


When measuring volume and capacity, it is first necessary to understand what a cubic meter is before learning what a liter represents. A cubic meter is a cube with the sides each one meter long. In other words, a cubic meter equals the length of one meter, the width of one meter, and the height of one meter. If a metal container is 1/10 of a meter (one decimeter) on each side, it is referred to as one liter. It would contain one liter of liquid and the liquid would weigh one kilogram. When measuring liquid by the American customary system, it is said that "A pint is the pound the world around." In the metric system, it can be changed to "A liter is a kilogram the world around," meaning that every liter of liquid weighs one kilogram, or 2.2 pounds. For units smaller than a liter, a container that has sides one centimeter long is called a cubic centimeter. It would hold one milliliter of water, and one milliliter weighs one gram. From this, of course, it can be seen that, in the metric system, there is a very direct relationship among length, volume, and mass.


The base unit for mass is the gram, but (as stated before) the gram is such a small unit of weight that it did not prove practical for application, so the kilogram (1000 grams) is used as the base unit. It is the only base unit that contains a prefix. When the metric system is adopted, all weights will be given in grams or kilograms. Since the kilogram is a fairly large unit, it may be too large to be a convenient unit for packing most foodstuffs, so the half-kilo (500 grams) may become a more familiar unit. Prefixes such as deci, centi, milli, hecto, and deka may be used with the gram, but they are not practical in everyday life, so the gram and kilogram are the common terms used.

When using the metric system, it has proven difficult to remember the names of all the units and terms, so abbreviations are used. (See Figure 6-1.)
TIPS ... To Insure Perfect Solutions

One gram is about the weight of a paper clip. One kilogram
is about the weight of a large book or dictionary.


In the metric system, temperature is measured in degrees Celsius ([degrees]C). On the Celsius scale, the boiling point of water is 100[degrees] and the freezing point is 0[degrees]. On the Fahrenheit (F) scale, the boiling point is 212[degrees] and the freezing point is 32[degrees]. (See Figure b-2.) Actually, the official metric temperature scale is the Kelvin scale, which has its zero point at absolute zero. Absolute zero is the coldest possible temperature in the universe. The Kelvin scale is used often by scientists and very seldom, if ever, in everyday life.
To convert Fahrenheit temperature to degrees Celsius: Subtract
32 from the given Fahrenheit temperature and multiply the result
by 5/9.

Your restaurant calls for cooking hamburgers to 155[degrees]F. What is the temperature in degrees Celsius?

To convert Celsius degrees to Fahrenheit: Multiply the Celsius temperature by s and add 32 to the result.
Step 1: Subtract 32 from the given Fahrenheit   155 - 32 = 123
Step 2: Multiply the result by 5/9              123 x 5/9 = 615/9
Step 3: Divide by 9                             615/9 = 68.33
Step 4: The answer is                           68.33[degrees]C

To convert Celsius degrees to Fahrenheit: Multiply the Celsius
temperature by 9/5 and add 32 to the result.


Your new job is in a country that gives the temperature in Celsius degrees. What is the Fahrenheit temperature when it is reported to be 25[degrees]C?
Step 1: Multiply the Celsius temperature by 9/5   25 x 9/5 = 45
Step 2: Add 32 to the results                     45 + 32 = 77
The answer: 25[degrees]C is 77[degrees]F          77[degrees]F


Convert the following Fahrenheit temperatures to Celsius. Round off all answers to two places to the right of the decimal point.

1. 23 --

2. 41 --

3. 45 --

4. 140 --

5. 32 --

6. 200 --

7. 450 --

8. 350 --

9. 325 --

10. -10 --

Convert the following Celsius temperatures to Fahrenheit. Round off all answers to two places to the right of the decimal point.

11. 10 --

12. 3 --

13. 27 --

14. 56 --

15. 16 --

16. 75 --

17. 43 --

18. 12 --

19. 18 --

20. 4 --

Converting Recipes from Customary Measurements to the Metric System

A tremendous amount of recipes have been written since this country was founded. Almost all of these recipes are written in customary measurements. Some of these recipes are family favorites that the culinarian would like to duplicate in the food service occupation in which he or she works. To assist in helping the U.S. cooks learn about both the customary and metric systems, companies like Ohaus are developing and selling scales that weigh by the pound, decimal ounce, fractional ounce, gram, and kilogram.

Figure 6-3 is a chart that provides the multiplier to the culinarian in order to convert customary measurements to metric units.

Using the information from Figure b-3, we will illustrate how to convert a fricassee of veal recipe, as shown in Figure 6-4.

The first ingredient (18 pounds of veal) is multiplied by the kilogram multiplier of 0.4535 925, found in the Mass or Weight section in Figure 6-3. The result is 8.164665 kilograms. The last item, flour, is converted to ounces and multiplied by the grams multiplier. When Figure 6-3 is consulted, notice that we are multiplying like amounts; for instance, we multiply pounds by the multiplier for kilograms, we do not multiply pounds by the multiplier for grams. It is necessary to change items into correct categories-otherwise, the answer will be wrong. Follow this same procedure to convert a recipe from the metric system to the customary system, as shown in Figure 6-6.

Figure 6-5 is a table for converting metric measurements to customary measure.

Figure 6-6 illustrates how to convert an eclair dough recipe from metric to customary measurements. This also demonstrates why metric measurements are more exact. When converting the butter, the metric measurement is exact at 450 g, but to weigh out 15.87 oz. will be difficult, so the baker adds a pound of butter.

Figure 6-7 provides equivalents of weights and measures between the customary and metric measurements that may be used as a quick reference, and may prove helpful to the food service professional.

1. Convert recipes (a) through (e) from the American customary system
to the metric system. Use the conversion table shown in Figure b-3.

(a) White cream icing ingredients

1 lb. 4 oz. shortening        -- g
1/4 oz. salt                  -- g
5 oz. dry milk                -- g
14 oz. water                  -- ml
5 lb. powdered sugar          -- kg
vanilla to taste              -- to taste

(b) Yellow cake ingredients

2 lb. 8 oz. cake flour             -- kg
1 lb. 6 oz. shortening             -- g
3 lb. 2 oz. granulated sugar       -- kg
1 oz. salt                         -- g
1 3/4 oz. baking powder            -- g
4 oz. dry milk                     -- g
1 lb. 4 oz. water                  -- g
1 lb. 14 oz. whole eggs            -- g
12 oz. water                       -- ml
vanilla to taste                   -- to taste

(c) Italian meringue ingredients

1 lb. egg whites                    -- g
1 lb. 8 oz. water                   -- ml
1 lb. 12 oz. sugar                  -- g
12 oz. egg white stabilizer         -- ml
oz. vanilla                         -- ml

(d) Vanilla pie filling ingredients

12 lb. liquid milk                  -- kg
4 lb. granulated sugar              -- kg
1 lb. cornstarch                    -- g
4 oz. salt                          -- g
2 lb. whole eggs                    -- g
6 oz. butter                        -- g
vanilla to taste                    -- to taste

(e) Fruit glaze ingredients

2 lb. water                         -- g
2 lb. 8 oz. granulated sugar        --  kg
8 oz. water                         -- ml
4 oz. modified starch               -- g
4 oz. corn syrup                    -- ml
1 oz. lemon juice                   -- ml
food color as desired

2. Convert recipes (a) through (e) from the metric system to the
American customary system. Use the conversion table shown in Figure
6-5. Answer should be carried out three places to the right of the

(a) Chicken a la king ingredients

4.5 kilograms boiled chicken or
  turkey, diced                        -- lb.
0.45 kilograms green peppers, diced    -- lb.
227 grams pimentos, diced              -- oz.
0.9 kilograms mushrooms, diced         -- lb.
2.8 liters chicken stock               -- qt.
0.74 kilograms flour                   -- lb.
0.9 kilograms shortening               -- lb.
2.8 liters milk                        -- qt.
240 milliliters sherry wine            -- fl. oz.

(b) Tartar sauce ingredients

110 grams dill pickles, chopped fine   -- oz.
60 grams onions, chopped fine          -- oz.
0.14 grams parsley, chopped fine       -- oz.
1 liter mayonnaise                     -- qt.
5 milliliters lemon juice              -- tsp.

(c) Cocktail sauce ingredients

0.95 liters catsup                     -- qt.
0.6 liters chili sauce                 -- oz.
0.24 liters prepared horseradish       -- oz.
120 milliliters lemon juice            -- oz.
34 milliliters Worcestershire sauce    -- oz.
hot sauce to taste                     -- to taste

(d) Spicy peach mold ingredients

0.95 liters peaches, canned,
  sliced, drained                      -- qt.
0.45 liters peach syrup                -- oz.
0.45 liters hot water                  -- oz.
0.95 liters cold water                 -- oz.
0.24 liters vinegar                    -- oz.
0.36 liters sugar                      -- C.
28 grams cinnamon stick                -- oz.
15 milliliters whole cloves            -- tsp.
392 grams orange gelatin               -- oz.

(e) Brussels sprouts and sour cream ingredients

2.7 kilograms brussels sprouts        -- lb.
30 milliliters salt                   -- tsp.
112 grams onions, minced              -- oz.
144 grams butter                      -- oz.
0.90 kilograms sour cream             -- oz.
water to cover, boiling

"The knowledge of mathematics is so
important in baking because it insures the
result is the same with each formula
produced, regardless of its amount or
volume. Scaling and measuring accurately
are absolutely imperative.

The United States is the only major
country that uses a complex system of
measurements (pounds, ounces, etc). The
rest of the world uses the metric system.
Most people think the metric system is
harder than it actually is. Metric kitchens
do not work with impractical numbers,
such as 454 g = 1 lb., 28.35 g = 1 oz., or
191[degrees]C. No surprise, most people are
scared of the metric system. American
industry will probably adopt the metric
system sometime in the future."

Richard Wagner

Chef Richard Wagner is the executive pastry chef at the Oahu Country Club in Honolulu, Hawaii. This exclusive, premier diamond country club is the oldest private club west of the Rockies; it was founded on June 8, 1906. Chef Wagner has had a vast amount of experience as a pastry chef on cruise ships and in first-class hotels and pastry shops, both domestic and international. Chef Wagner is also a chef/instructor/lecturer at the Kapiolani Community College at the Diamond Head Campus in Honolulu. Chef Wagner was awarded a master's degree in patisserie and confiserie from the Culinary Institute of Vienna in 1972.
Figure 6-1 Metric units and their symbols

Quantity                Unit                    Symbol

Length                  meter                   m
                        decimeter               dm
                        centimeter              cm
                        millimeter              mm
                        kilometer               km
                        hectometer              hm
                        decameter               dam

Volume                  cubic centimeter        [cm.sup.3]
                        cubic meter             [m.sup.3]

Capacity                milliliter              ml
                        liter                   l

Mass                    gram                    g
                        kilogram                kg

Temperature             degrees Celsius         [degrees]C

Figure 6-3 Conversion from customary to metric units

           When you       Multiply
           know           by          To find       Symbol

Length     Inches         2.54        Centimeters   cm
           Feet           0.3048      Centimeters   cm
           Yards          0.9144      Meters        m
           Miles          1.609347    Kilometers    km

Capacity   Teaspoons      5           Milliliters   ml
           Tablespoons    15          Milliliters   ml
           Fluid Ounces   29.574      Milliliters   ml
           Ounces         0.031       Liters        1
           Cups           0.241       Liters        1
           Pints          0.04732     Liters        1
           Quarts         0.951       Liters        1
           Gallons        37853       Liters        1

Mass or    Ounces         28.35       Grams         g
Weight     Pounds         0.4535925   Kilograms     kg

Figure 6-4 Converting a recipe from customary measurements to
metric measurements

How to convert the recipe

Ingredients                          by              Metric

18 pounds of veal shoulder cut
  into 1-inch cubes
To solve the problem: multiply 18
  times (x)                          0.4535925   =   8.164665 kilograms
3 gallons of water                      3.7853   =   11.3559 liters
2 pounds of shortening               0.4535925   =   0.907185 kilograms
1 pound 8 ounces of flour
  (change this to ounces)
1 pound = 16 ounces + 8 = 24
To solve the problem: multiply 24
  times (x)                              28.35   =   680.4 grams
Salt and pepper to taste

Figure 6-5 Conversion from metric measurements to
customary measurements

           When you      Multiply
           know          by         To find        Symbol

Length     Millimeters   0.04       Inches         in.
           Centimeters   0.39       Inches         in.
           Meters        3.28       Feet           ft.
           Meters        1.09       Yards          yd.
           Kilometers    0.62       Miles          mi.

Capacity   Milliliters   0.2        Teaspoons      tsp.
           Milliliters   0.07       Tablespoons    tbsp.
           Milliliters   0.03       Fluid ounces   fl. oz.
           Liters        30         Ounces         oz.
           Liters        4.23       Cups           C.
           Liters        2.11       Pints          pt.
           Liters        1.06       Quarts         qt.
           Liters        0.026412   Gallons        gal.

Mass or    Grams         0.03527    Ounces         oz.
Weight     Kilograms     2.2046     Pounds         lb.

Figure 6-6 Recipe conversion from metric to
customary measurements

Ingredients in metric            by             Customary

500 ml water
To solve the problem: multiply
  500 times (x)                  0.03       =   15 fl. oz.
5 ml salt                        0.2        =   1 tsp.
22 ml sugar                      0.07       =   1.54 or 1 1/2 tbsp.
450 g butter or margarine        0.03527    =   15.87 oz. or
                                                1 1b. (16 oz.)
450 g bread flour                0.03527    =   15.87 oz. or
                                                1 lb. (16 oz.)
16 eggs                                         16 eggs

Figure 6-7 Weights and measures equivalents

Metric                Customary

1 gram            =   0.03527 ounce
1 kilogram        =   2.2 pounds
28.35 grams       =   1 ounce
4535925 grams     =   1 pound
5 milliliters     =   1 teaspoon
15 milliliters    =   1 tablespoon
241 milliliters   =   1 cup
0.4732 liters     =   1 pint
0.951 liters      =   1 quart
1 liter           =   1.06 quarts
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Title Annotation:PART III Math Essentials in Food Preparation
Publication:Math Principles for Food Service Occupations
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2007
Previous Article:Chapter 5 Weights and measures.
Next Article:Chapter 7 Portion control.

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