Converting German Recipes to Standard American Measurements

Dry measuring cups with spices

Brian Macdonald / Getty Images

Recipes that have been handed down through the family or from folk sources often use units of measure that are different than the standard units found in most modern published recipes. Rather than teaspoons, tablespoons, or cups, for example, you may find quantities specified as knife tip or coffee cup. For some reason, German recipes are most likely to use these unusual units. For example, you may have a handed-down recipe from Grandma or an older aunt that includes phrases such as a soup spoon of sugar or a coffee-cup of flour. Sometimes this reflects the fact that these kitchen tools are all the cook had in her kitchen at the time she was creating the recipe. 

What do you do if you have a recipe handed down from a German relative or are dying to make a specific German dish when the written instructions make use of these unfamiliar units of measure? Or what if the recipe is actually in the German language? What is the American equivalent of a "coffee-cup of flour"? Or a "soup spoon of vanilla"? 

Converting Ingredients

A recipe in its original German will pose some difficulties not only in converting its measurements, but also in just understanding what ingredients are being used, and what units of measure are being described. A good glossary of German cooking terms is the first place to turn if you are cooking a German recipe printed in the original German for the first time. 

Germans typically measure liquids as units of volume, using everyday kitchen utensils as the measuring units. Solids, on the other hand, are usually measured by weight in German recipes, so it can be tricky converting a German recipe in your American kitchen. Few Americans understand how to add "100 grams of white sugar" (it is actually about 1 cup). Along with sugar, some of the other ingredients that might be measured by weight rather than volume in German recipes include flour, butter, baking soda, and lard.

Converting Temperatures

German recipes that have not already been translated will have their baking temperatures given in the Celsius scale. To convert Celsius temperatures to Fahrenheit: 

Multiply the Celsius temperature by 1.8. Add 32 to this number. This resulting number is the temperature in Fahrenheit.

For example, if a German recipe says to bake at 220 C, multiply this by 1.8, which gives 396. Then add 32, which gives 428 F.

Liquid Conversions

Instead of using cups, tablespoons, and teaspoons, German recipes often designate liquid ingredients with units such as a "soup spoon," or "EL." Here are a few equivalents to help you navigate that German recipe:

  • 1 coffee cup (Tasse or T) = approximately 150 ml or about 2/3 cup
  • 1 large soup spoon (Essloeffel or Eβlöffel or EL) = approximately 1 level tablespoon
  • 1 teaspoon (Teelöffel or Teeloeffel or Teel. or T) = approximately 1 level teaspoon
  • 1 knife tip (Messerspitze) = 1/8 teaspoon or 1 pinch

Measurement Modifiers

You may come across certain German terms proceeding some ingredient measurements, such as teaspoons or cups. Gehäuft(e) means heaping, as in "heaping teaspoon," and gestrichen(e) means level, as in "level teaspoon."

Metric Conversions

If ingredients aren't measured using items found in the kitchen, then they will be in metric volume and weight measurements, such as milliliters and grams. Memorize some basic measurements—or use a handy conversion tool, which can convert just about any measurement amount from metric to U.S. equivalents and vice-versa, simply by plugging in the number and the unit desired.

Don't be afraid to experiment with a German savory recipe—if your measurements are a little off, it won't be the end of the world. But if you are baking, be sure to convert from metric, since baking is a fairly exact science and requires precise measurements. 

Metric to U.S. Equivalents
Metric U.S.
100 ml 2/5 cup
250 ml 1+ cup
1 liter 1 quart + a bit
100 grams white flour 7/8 cup
100 grams white sugar 1 cup
100 grams butter 7 tablespoons