When is a “cup” not a cup?
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“So What’s the Deal?”
- There is no internationally-agreed standard for “cup”.
- Modern volume ranges are between 200 and 284 milliliters.
“Why Should I Care?”
If your Instant Pot inner liner has markings labeled “cups”, ignore those markings completely — unless you are familiar with the extra-special measuring magic of a rice cooker.
If you need “real” cups, use a “real” measuring cup.
That’s it, that’s all you need to know. Nothing else to see here. Move along. 🙂
Now, if you want to know why these markings aren’t the cups you think they are, then keep reading!
- The United States is one of only three nations that have not adopted the metric system as their official system of weights and measures.
- The other two are Liberia and Burma.
- USA! USA! We’re #1! We’re #1! (*insert giant eyeroll here*)
- The U.S. government passed the Metric Conversion Act of 1975, which made the metric system “the preferred system of weights and measures for U.S. trade and commerce.”
- The legislation states that the federal government has a responsibility to assist industry as it voluntarily converts to the metric system.
- U.S. customary units are widely used on consumer products and in industrial manufacturing — while Metric units are standard in science, medicine, as well as many sectors of industry and government, including the military.
Important Instant Pot Specific Info
If you have an inner liner that indicates “cups”, you need to know that these are indicator lines for Rice Cups, and not for US Cups!
- Fortunately, newer versions of the inner liner now indicate Quarts instead of Cups.
Note how on the photos shown here that for the Lux, Duo and Smart, the “10 cup” line is right below the 3.5 L line, and for the Duo Plus and Ultra the “4 quart” line is right above the 3.5 L line.
- If you fill your your pot to this “10 cup” line — you’ve actually got closer to 16 cups of liquid, not 10 cups of liquid!
- Long story short: if you need “real” cups, use a “real” measuring cup — not the indicator lines on the inside of your pot.
Some Not-so-Fun Facts
It’s highly likely that the majority of Americans don’t know diddly squat about there being more than one “cup” measurement. (I sure didn’t until this “rice cup” thing came up regarding the Instant Pot!)
So, like me, you all probably have always just gone out and purchased measuring cups willy-nilly. Surprise! Not all measuring cups are created equal.
Double Surprise! Unless you know what you’re reading in the product description, you could purchase two different sets that don’t even measure the same way!
Why you might now feel the need to be a more-informed consumer…
Links to Amazon product listings are all non-affiliate
- This product is 1 cup = 250 mL — a “Metric” Cup (details below)
- This product is 1 cup = 236 mL — a US “Customary” Cup (details below)
- This product (which I have) is 1 cup = 240 mL — a US “Legal” Cup (details below)
- And these Pyrex 1 cup containers (which I also have) are 1 cup = 236 mL
- Imagine my surprise just now to learn that if I used my 1 cup measuring cup to fill one of these 1 cup storage containers, that I’d overfill it!!
- And finally, this Pyrex glass measuring cup set (also in my collection) has US and Metric on opposite sides — so I don’t even know what kind of “cup” it is!
…and why you probably don’t actually have to worry too much about that
- The difference between a Metric Cup (250 mL) and a US Legal Cup (240 mL) is just 10 mL — or 2 US Teaspoons (1 tsp = 5 mL)
- The difference between a Metric Cup (250 mL) and a US Customary Cup (236 mL) is just 14 mL — or a little less than 1 US Tablespoon (1 Tbsp = 15 mL)
So for most measurement quantities dealt with by the home cook, these slight differences “scale up” slowly.
- Unless you accidentally measure using Rice Cups
- The difference between a US Customary Cup (236 mL) and a “Rice Cup” (180 mL) is 56 mL — or about 4 US Tablespoons (59 mL)
- So the difference between 4 US Customary Cups (940 mL) and 4 Rice Cups (720 mL) is a whopping 220 mL — or nearly another whole 1 US Customary Cup (236 mL)
The Complete Dirty Details
|Liquid Measure Name||US Customary Fluid Ounces||British Imperial Fluid Ounces||Milliliters (approx.)||Usage Location||Usage Notes|
|US Legal Cup||8.12 fl oz||8.45||240 mL||United States||Nutrition Labeling, as stipulated by the FDA|
|US Customary Cup||8.0 fl oz||8.33||236.59 mL||United States||Traditional cooking recipes|
|US Coffee Cup||A customary "cup" of coffee in the U.S. is usually defined as 4 fluid ounces, brewed using 5 fluid ounces of water.||150 mL||United States||Coffee "cup" measurements account for volume lost to evaporation during brewing. So a "12-cup" US coffeemaker makes 57.6 US customary fluid ounces of coffee (not 8 x 12 = 96 customary fluid ounces).|
|Canadian Cup||7.686 fl oz||8||227.30 mL||Canada||No longer in use; deprecated in favor of the Metric Cup|
|UK Imperial Cup||9.61 fl oz||10||284.13 mL||British Commonwealth||No longer in common use, but appears in older recipe books|
|Metric Cup||8.45 fl oz||8.8||250 mL||Canada, UK, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and some other members of the Commonwealth of Nations||Although derived from the metric system, "cup" it is not actually an official metric unit|
|Japanese gō 合 ("Rice Cup")||6.09 fl oz||6.34||180 mL||Japan||Traditional unit of measure for Rice and Sake|
|Japanese Standard Cup||6.76 fl oz||7.04||200 mL||Japan|
|Latin American Cup||In Latin America, the amount of a "cup" varies from country to country -- from anywhere between 200 mL and 250 mL (Spanish: taza or vaso), or 236 mL to 240 mL (US legal or customary measures).|
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