How to Measure by Parts

How to measure in parts

You might read a recipe and wonder "how much is one part?" Instead of being a unit of measurement, a "part" is a proportion compared to the rest of the ingredients.

Measuring by parts makes it easy to halve a recipe, or to double it. Let's take a look at how to measure by parts.

How much is one part, or how to measure by parts

When you are making lotions, salves or other herbal preparations, you might notice that many "recipes" are more like directions. 

For instance, let's say we want to make a fictional product that calls for two parts of oil and one part of water.

The measurement size is "parts" instead of teaspoons or ounces or cups. How do you know how much to use? How much will this recipe make? How much is one part?

So just what is a "part"?

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How much is a part?

It isn't as hard as it seems, really. In fact, measuring in parts is a very versatile way of making a recipe. 

Actually, every recipe uses "parts" to measure. If you're baking a cake and the instructions call for "1 cup of sugar" and "2 cups of flour," the unit of measure is a cup. 

If you wanted to halve the recipe you'd divide each of those by two, so you'd use 1/2 cup of sugar and 1 cup of flour.

If you wanted to double the recipe you'd multiply by two, and use 2 cups of sugar and 4 cups of flour.

Your cake recipe will probably call for tablespoons and teaspoons too. These are actually a similar and comparable unit of measure as a cup. 

If you were halving the recipe, you'd simply use half as many tablespoons or teaspoons. If you were doubling the recipe, you'd use twice as many.

(I love this set of measuring spoons. They're narrow so they'll fit in most spice jars, and each spoon is well marked with the size in sharply-contrasting color, instead of just engraved in the metal or molded into the plastic.)

How many teaspoons are in a cup?

There are 16 tablespoons in a cup, and 48 teaspoons in a cup. One tablespoon is equal to 3 teaspoons.

But practically speaking, a recipe won't call for 1/16 cup of vanilla, right?

Your recipe is still using cups as the standard unit of measure, but it has a name for this smaller measurement instead of "1/16 cup of vanilla." It uses the word "teaspoon" instead.

So the "part," the unit of measurement for these ingredients, is a teaspoon instead of a fraction of a cup, but the actual amount being measured is the same. 

It's like using money. We use "parts of a dollar" every day, but we don't call them "1/100th of a dollar." Instead, we use the word "cents." Or, more specifically, pennies, nickels, etc. Teaspoons are similar to dimes.

An example of using "parts" to measure

Let's look at a simple example. We'll use that fictional product above that called for two parts of oil and one part of water.

If we substitute the word "part" with tablespoon, we'll need two tablespoons of oil and one tablespoon of water, for a total of three tablespoons.

If we wanted to make a larger amount of this same recipe, we could use half-cups as the measure, or even cups. For a smaller total amount, we might use teaspoons instead of tablespoons. 

As long as you use the same unit of measurement for each ingredient, whether it is tablespoons, teaspoons, cups, ounces or pounds, and then multiply this unit by the number of "parts" in the recipe, you'll be fine!

If one part equals one tablespoon, then two parts equals two tablespoons. 

Or if you're using ounces, one part is one ounce while two parts equals two ounces.

Simply use the same unit of measurement for all of the ingredients in your recipe.

As long as the ratio is the same, your recipe will work out just fine, whether it's a cake, a drink, an herbal product, etc.

More very basic uses of measuring by parts

The Chief and I measure dog food by parts. We use a plastic container, but we could also use a measuring cup or a canning jar. The dogs get one container-full of dry dog food per meal.

My grandmother measured flour with a coffee mug when she made biscuits. A coffee mug-full of flour was "one part" in her recipe. She used the same coffee cup to measure all of the ingredients, whether she needed one, two or a half.

Cooking rice

I learned to cook rice using "parts." 

Rice uses a 1:2 ratio. Whatever container I used to measure the dry rice, I then used two container-fulls to measure the water. 

  • One cup of rice and two cups of water. 
  • One coffee mug of rice and two coffee mugs of water. 
  • One-half a cup of rice and one cup of water.

So how do you know what basic measurement you should use? 

This is the situation when I think measuring by parts is ingenious!

When you're deciding which unit of measurement to use in a recipe, there are several things to consider, such as:


  • Is this something that you're making for the first time, so that you only want to make a small amount? 
  • Is it something that might spoil in a short period of time, so that you don't want to make a lot at once?  
  • Perhaps it needs to fit in a certain container, so you need to make a specific amount. 
  • You might only have a limited amount of one of the ingredients.
  • Or maybe it's a favorite recipe and you want to make a large amount.

Let's say you want to use a 4-ounce amber glass bottle to hold a liquid product you're making. You know you want to make no more than four ounces, because that's all the bottle will hold.

If there are three ingredients, and one requires "two parts" while the other two are "one part" each, you can see that the total amount you'd make would be "four parts" because 2 + 1 + 1 = 4.

Since you want to make no more than four ounces, it would be easy to figure out that you could use one ounce as the basic unit of measurement.

The basic recipe of 2 parts + 1 part + 1 part = 4 parts would then be 2 ounces + 1 ounce + 1 ounce = 4 ounces, which will fit perfectly in your 4-ounce amber bottle.

If you wanted to fill an eight-ounce bottle, you could double the recipe and use 2 ounces as your unit of measurement. You'd use 4 ounces + 2 ounces + 2 ounces.

I save these candy tins and fill them with homemade herbal salves. Keep reading to find out how much one tin will hold.

How to figure out how much a container holds

If you don't know how much a container will hold, you can fill it with water and then measure that amount of water. 

I like using these recycled candy tins (in the photo above) for herbal salves. I can fill the tin with water, then spoon out the water with a teaspoon or tablespoon to figure out the volume. 

Or I can pour the water from the tin into a glass measuring cup and measure the total. This little beaker set in the photo below works very well for measuring ounces, teaspoons, and tablespoons.

Deciding on the unit of measure according to your ingredients

Tablespoons - Perhaps you only have one tablespoon of a certain herb that you want to use in an herbal blend. How much of the other ingredients should you use?

Check your recipe for this particular ingredient. 

If your recipe calls for one part of this particular herb, use tablespoons (because that's how much you have of this ingredient, one tablespoon) as your basic unit of measurement. 

In other words, you'll use one tablespoon of this herb - exactly how much you have on hand.

If your recipe calls for two parts of this herb, you'll have to do a little math. You might use a half-tablespoon as your basic unit of measurement (one part). 

Not all sets of measuring spoons have a half-tablespoon measure though. Instead, you'd need to know that half a tablespoon is the same as 1 1/2 teaspoons. (3 teaspoons equal 1 tablespoon).

Ounces - If you have one ounce of this ingredient instead of one tablespoon, use ounces as your unit of measurement.

Drops - You can even use drops as your basic measurement, for instance if you are making an essential oil blend.

Doubling a favorite recipe

If you are making a favorite recipe and want to make a large batch, just double or triple the ingredients.

To double a recipe, multiply all the ingredients by two. If one measurement is tricky, simply measure it twice. 

In other words, if the original calls for 2 teaspoons of cocoa, just measure out 4 teaspoons. There's no reason, really, to figure out that you need 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon. 

Just use the same measurement as the original recipe and add twice as much. Doubling and tripling recipes is easy, it's dividing them in half that's tricky!

Ready, set, now go be creative!

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