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I often find myself preparing certain foods that contain viscous ingredients like honey and tahini sauce. For instance, one of my dressings contains both of these, which I currently measure out in a large measuring cup before blending everything together.

The first difficulty arises once I have painstakingly measured out one item, say the tahini, and I then need to measure the honey. I could either estimate the amount of honey and pour it into the same measuring cup, or I could try to scoop out the tahini from the measuring cup, likely leaving a considerable amount of the stuff behind, wash the cup, and reuse it for the next item. Both options are less than optimal.

The next problem I encounter is with ingredients of which I need to add so little, that the lowest marking on my measuring cup isn't low enough to tell me how much of it I have added. Granted, it wouldn't be too big of a problem to estimate the amount of, say, olive oil I need to add to something. However, if I'm dealing with a spicy or otherwise particularly potent ingredient, then this would also be an important consideration.

Therefore, my question is whether there is a better technique or piece of equipment I could use to make working with viscous ingredients a little easier. My first thought was to search for 'cooking syringes' online, which I couldn't find. (Meat syringes came the closest, but this obviously isn't their intended purpose)

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    Per Sneftel’s link, you were very close with your search, what you may have wanted is “plunger measuring cup” instead of “cooking syringe” Commented Jan 27 at 21:42
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    I use some small spatulas that I got on Amazon. I have one that is a couple of inches long and about a half inch wide. That one works well for tablespoon/teaspoon sizes. Others a little bigger work well for measuring cups. Commented Jan 27 at 22:07
  • Agreed on duplicate. The answers to the other question answer this one.
    – FuzzyChef
    Commented Jan 28 at 19:41

5 Answers 5

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Yes, there is a piece of equipment, it's called a "push out measuring cup". These are designed for gooey substances, like yogurt, peanut butter, honey, or caramel. There's also a mini one for smaller quantities.

1 cup push-out measuring cup

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A scale is the better (best) tool for the job. That way, you just need to place the bowl, pot, or pan directly on the sale. Zero it, and add your viscous ingredient. It is fairly easy to find gram or ounce equivalents for most items online, or by asking an Alexa, Siri, or Google. Bonus: no clean up of measuring cups or spoons!

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  • +1. For dry, powdery substances like sugar or flour, the spoon/cup system might be slightly more convenient, but for pretty much everything else, weighing is far easier and more consistent.
    – MaxD
    Commented Jan 28 at 13:02
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    @MaxD disagree. The amount of flour in a measuring cup can vary depending on how one scoops or pours....humidity can impact volume. Weighing, especially in baking, is always superior, both for convenience and accuracy. No spoons to find or wash. My scale is always on the countertop.
    – moscafj
    Commented Jan 28 at 13:28
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    You can put the ingredient container on the scale and take out the required amount - that way, whatever is stuck to the spatula/spoon is accounted for. No waste. If the scale allows for it, zero the scale and the amount removed will be shown, albeit with a negative sign. Commented Jan 28 at 16:06
  • Measuring by weighing is an interesting approach that I would certainly prefer, given that I can find a reliable conversion factor for each ingredient online. For common items like olive oil or vinegar this isn't too difficult. The problem would come up when I'm dealing with a very specific item, or worse, if this factor is inconsistent between batches / types / sorts. A simple wikipedia search for honey reveals a range of densities that depends, among other things, on temperature. Commented Jan 29 at 12:34
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    @AndrewJackson it appears that the range of densities for honey is smaller than the actual measurement error from using measuring spoons. In the case of honey, measuring one with a density of 1.38 kg/L as if it was 1.45 would give you 1.05x as much honey. 5% more honey isn't usually significant, and it's very easy to measure 5% more just by overfilling your measuring spoon/cup by a tiny amount. The same applies to most substances you'd be measuring for cooking.
    – Esther
    Commented Jan 29 at 18:00
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Moscafj's answer is the right one IMO.

However, an additional technique that works reasonably well for viscous sticky substances is to apply a fine coating of oil to the measurement implement before trying to scoop out the viscous/sticky substance. I usually use a drop of a neutral oil, such as canola, or even a tiny amount of butter. You do need to be careful to coat all surfaces (including the rim) that will come into contact with the substance to ensure that it won't stick anywhere.

You just then need patience to allow the substance to flow out of the measuring implement. Having things like honey or molasses warm helps with the viscosity.

Be warned that it'll only work for a couple of repeated measurements before you need to re-coat.

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  • I appreciate the comment, but I'm skeptical for three reasons. Firstly, it would definitely have to be a neutral oil that won't noticeably affect the recipe you're following. But more importantly, I don't imagine that everything will freely separate itself from oil (and I'm not just talking about dry ingredients here). Moreover, I'm not sure that it'd help if I need the cup to get rid of 'lumps' in a mixture, as is often the case with tahini that has settled. I think it'll just make more of a mess. Commented Jan 29 at 12:48
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    @AndrewJackson It's literally a smear of oil. A small drop on a tablespoon, maybe 2-3 drops in a cup is enough. It works for most things in my experience; but I've not tried tahini. I'd presume that it won't work for things that contain a lot of oil already because they'll absorb the oil off the implement. Certainly works well for molasses, golden syrup, honey, glycerin.
    – bob1
    Commented Jan 29 at 20:22
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A bit of a frame-challenge: Just measure by eye/feel.

Of course, this is context-dependent. In some settings (e.g. commercial or other large-scale kitchens, or for a few kinds of home baking) high-accuracy or high-consistency measurement really is important, which is much easier with a scale than by eye; in such settings, moscafj’s advice of measuring by weight is spot on.

But for most ingredients in most home cooking, high-precision measurements are a red herring — recipes are robust to small changes in proportions, and the imprecision in the measurement is small compared to the difference between different sources/brands/batches of an ingredient. For tahini, for instance, the difference between 100g from two different brands can be much more than the difference between 90g and 110g from the same jar, and measuring by eye can be at least that accurate, with just a bit of practice. And certainly, none of these will be the difference between a good and a ruined dressing.

So much of the time, in most home cooking, measuring by eye is just as good — don’t worry about the exact weight or volume, but measure as something like “three tablespoons of tahini”, saving the need for any kind of separate measuring receptacle.

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  • You are absolutely correct here - given a decent recipe, small errors really shouldn't matter. I have two problems though: First and foremost, I'm a perfectionist 😅. (I hope to get over it someday) Secondly, my recipes are not set - I have made them to evolve continuously. Each batch of something can be seen as an experiment and experiments only really mean something if you change as few factors as possible between them. Commented Jan 29 at 13:02
  • On that note, I’d be glad to share my recipes as they currently are - there are a few in which I would actually argue in favor of greater precision! Commented Jan 29 at 13:31
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I find that slightly heating honey in the microwave lowers its viscosity. Same for refrigerated sauces.

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