What It Really Means To Add A Pinch When Cooking

Whether watching a classic Food Network show or learning an old family recipe, chances are you've heard someone say to "add a pinch" of something. It's a bit strange when you think about it since everyone has different sized fingers and therefore different sized pinches. In cooking, and especially in baking, precise measurements are very important, as using too much or too little of something can totally throw off a recipe. Luckily for those who can't stand vague terms, a pinch actually can be defined as something more specific.

While the amount of herbs or spices you can pick up with your thumb and forefinger may vary, in general, a pinch is considered to be around 1/16 of a teaspoon. You may be able to find a measuring spoon that holds such a small amount, but they're not as common as the larger sizes, so associating a pinch with 1/16 teaspoon is a good rule of thumb (pun intended). A pinch can also be as much as an ⅛ teaspoon, depending on how many fingers you pinch with.

A pinch of this, a dash of that

A pinch isn't the only colloquial measurement being thrown around the kitchen. There are also "tads" at about ¼ teaspoon, "dashes" that are around ⅛ teaspoon, and "shakes" that are typically only 1/32 teaspoon. It's possible some of these terms originated from a time before standard measurements were developed in the late 19th century. Before then, if a home cook wanted to share a recipe, they needed to describe amounts in a way everyone could understand, so measurements like a "handful" were very common. There were also "pugils," which is an archaic term for a pinch.

Pinches and other unusual measurements are typically used when flavoring a dish, so the exact amount is somewhat up to the chef's discretion. Using a larger or smaller pinch shouldn't make or break a recipe — unless you're baking, in which case you should follow the measurements as closely as possible. Phrases like "shake," "dash," and others are far from the most precise terms, but when it comes to ensuring your dish is properly flavored with the most essential spices, they'll work in a pinch.