One of the indispensable tools of cooking is the measuring cup. It enables a cook to add precise amounts of ingredients to ensure a successful outcome. Measuring cups come come in two varieties: those used for liquids and those used for dry ingredients. Within these categories are a variety of utensils.
Wet and dry ingredients have different volume measurements, so they require different measuring cups for accuracy. Using a liquid measure for dry ingredients and vice versa may alter the outcome of a dish, especially in something like a cake or cookies, where ingredients mix in a precise chemical reaction to produce a predictable result.
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Liquid measuring cups are most commonly available in one, two and four-cup measures. They are almost always made of a clear material, such as glass or clear plastic, so the cook can see the level of the liquid rise as he pours. Most also have pouring spouts, distinguishing them from dry measures.
Most cooks should own one each of one and two-cup liquid measuring cups, and having them in a microwaveable material is always a plus. A new liquid measuring cup on the market has an oval ring inside, slanted against the side of the cup. This enables a cook to see the liquid level from the top of the cup, without having to lean down and look at the liquid at eye level on a countertop to get an accurate measure.
Dry measuring cups usually come in sets, with individual measures for 1/4, 1/3, 1/2 and 1 cup. They may be made of clear or opaque plastic, glass, metal or even wood. Most have handles and are flat on the top and bottom to ensure accuracy in measuring. The lip of these cups is even, also, so a cook can level off ingredients at the top of the measure.
Another innovation in measuring cups is one that can be used for liquid or dry measures and is marked for each use on opposite sides. These often have a plunger so the cook doesn't have to scrape out sticky ingredients from the side of the measure — the plunger does that job. Obviously, ingredients like water, milk and broth are measured in liquid cups, but so are syrup, honey and in general, anything that can be poured out of one container into another. Common sense says that flour and sugar are measured with dry cups, but so are mayonnaise, sour cream, cheese, cream cheese, nuts and vegetables.