I have a recipe that asks for "a ladleful" of something. The recipe book usually uses imperial weights and volumes, that I can convert to my metric units that I hold so dear.

As I understand it, a ladleful is the volume necessary to fill a ladle - but how much is it? A ladle can take on various sizes, so I guess it wouldn't make much sense to not normalize it in any way (like, a cup is eight ounces).

EDIT: As suggested in the comments, I want to mention it is "a ladleful of sourdough starter" that I should add to 2 pounds 7 ounces / 1.1 kg of rye flour and 2.5 cups of water. I'd normally go with about 500g of starter, but that seems like a big ladle to me.

  • It's time we start returning all recipe books that contains cups, spoons and ladles.
    – user34961
    Oct 17, 2016 at 11:22
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    The idea is that it doesn't matter, if that wasn't obvious. Oct 17, 2016 at 12:31
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    Typical US food service ladles are 6 oz, which corresponds to a "cup" of soup.
    – barbecue
    Oct 17, 2016 at 20:18
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    @Jan Doggen actually, if it is a modern recipe book, it makes me think twice before buying if it is that rich in iron. Oct 18, 2016 at 10:02
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    That was no ladle, that was my knife! Oct 24, 2018 at 4:23

6 Answers 6


Every sourdough starter has different characteristics, a ladleful of one will give a different result from the same amount of another. The recipe is right in that there's no way to say what result you are going to get, so why be exact.

The point I would make is that you want repeatibility, and the capability to adjust your amounts over time to suit your taste. So whatever you use to get it out (ladle, spoon, measuring cup, hand) I would weigh and record how much starter you use, you can add more or less and see how you get. As long as you keep using the same starter you can adjust to your taste.


Yes, ladles differ in capacity. My advice, just use whatever ladle you happen to have. If it were critical to the success or the edibility of the resulting food, the amount would hopefully have been specified a little better. Cooking is regarded by many common people as an art or practical activity, not an exact science (more like dancing than "coding"), so some recipes refer to imprecise quantities e.g. a handful, a few, a little bit of, a pinch (although I think I have heard of some folks trying to quantify that one), "to taste", or a "dusting". I have a hunch "ladleful" is one of those.

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    I thought a pinch is the amount you can grab between the tips of your thumb and index and middle fingers? Being a coder myself, coding is not an exact science ;) On topic, it is "a ladleful of sourdough starter". I fear the amount of starter can impact the rising of the dough - but then, rye tends to rise not that much.
    – Thaoden
    Oct 16, 2016 at 16:52
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    Wouldn't the exact characteristics of people's sourdough starters likely vary quite a bit due to their ambient conditions & the regional mix of yeast they have in there? Maybe it is quite appropriate to use a vague measurement on it.
    – Lorel C.
    Oct 16, 2016 at 18:29
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    Sourdough starter can have any permutations of thousands (to be conservative) of different living creatures in it which can react to different conditions very differently. So, without specifying precisely which species are living at which concentrations, what would be the point in specifying a precise volume? Living systems reject exact science as a rule; Titration is the key, not quantification.
    – The Nate
    Oct 16, 2016 at 18:36
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    i get 40 or 50 ml
    – Lorel C.
    Oct 16, 2016 at 19:06
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    @Thaoden Sure, that's a pinch, but how big are your fingers? A guy with large, thick fingers will have a different size "pinch" than someone with small, thin ones. I wouldn't be surprised at a factor of two or more in absolute measure. Luckily, though, in most recipes that use "pinch", the exact amount doesn't matter all that much. -- On the size of a ladle, you should be looking at a "average" ladle, rather than any extreme size or specialty ladle. A google search turns up this which cluster around 5-6 oz (150-175 mL).
    – R.M.
    Oct 17, 2016 at 15:12

A typical US kitchen ladle hold 1/2 cup. I just measured mine to check my memory. It's not marked, and there are plenty of more or less fancy serving ladles that are likely to be different. So that gives you a ballpark.

If a recipe says 'a ladleful', it is sending you, I think, one of two messages. Either 'this is not an exact process (see answer by GdD for some reasons why in this case)', or 'this is not a very carefully written cookbook.'

There are people who produce repeatable results with sourdough. So, this suggests that either a carefully-maintained culture will produce a consistent result for a consistent quantity, or that there's more to learn about how to adjust.


I would suggest use your intuition and go by it. Since you have read the recipe and know it well and its ingredients, you know how much to use a particular ingredient. For ex, spices would have been definitely mentioned as a teaspoon and salt may be in a tablespoon etc. If it calls for water or stock, then ladleful may have been mentioned. And it's ok if its a little less or more. It will not affect the quality of the dish much. Analysis how much of a particular ingredient will suffice the dish. Try will little quantity and gradually increase in case you are not sure. It should turn out well. All the best.

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    That's it exactly, I don't know the amount of the ingredient (sourdough starter in my case) that I should add. Varying recipes give different ratios. But I went and tried, let's see what the result will be like.
    – Thaoden
    Oct 16, 2016 at 16:54
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    Oh! Actually it would be better if the question is edited to mention which recipe you are trying and which ingredient you are unsure. Because things are different with different dishes, (I understand you need to be exact when it comes to baking) and experienced people who have knowledge about that ingredient will be able to give some real useful answers that's just my opinion. But now that you have tried it, you can always use the ideas for the future trials. Thanks!
    – Vanpram P
    Oct 16, 2016 at 17:04

Sourdough is a living organism, so the results of using it cannot be replicated by just specifying amount of starter, time and temperature. Moreover, if you use sourdough more often, you will use a small portion of the current dough as starter for the next one, so quality of the starter will not be constant. More important than measuring the amount is to judge the outcome: Did the dough raise enough? Has the surface the right feel? Texture is difficult to communicate, and the result you aim for depends on your taste, so the first time you use sourdough you should repeatedly touch the dough while raising, and note how the texture changes. This changing sensation is what you have to look for. Then you do a few experiments which tell you what texture gives the taste and fluffiness you are looking for, and then you can produce consistently good bread.


Both of my ladles measure 1/3 cup.

  • Thank you for trying to help out, but everyone's ladle is a little bit different. We try to keep from having everyone answer individually as it makes way too much to read through, particularly when there are already answers that mention that it's variable
    – Joe
    May 24, 2018 at 16:58

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