Okay—What’s The Scoop on Two Scoops

By The Metric Maven

Bulldog Edition

I have no idea when I first saw the commercial. It’s part of our collective commercial culture. We all know there are “two scoops”  of raisins in a box of Kellogg’s Raisin Bran. Internet academics ask that if there are “two scoops” of raisins in a box, then is there a larger ratio of raisins to cereal in the small boxes than in the large ones? Gregory J. Crowther, Ph.D. and Elizabeth A. Stahl, J.D have done the research and published it in the Science Creative Quarterly. They formalized the hypotheses into: always two scoops, or the scoops are proportional to the box size. The boxes come in 15, 20 and 25.5 ounce sizes. Or when related to people with refined culinary sensibilities:  425, 567 and 723 gram sizes. These intrepid explorers of knowledge at SCQ counted the raisins in these different size boxes, and have reported their results as a range. The credibility of these scientists suffers as they report their results in Ye Olde English units, but I have converted them to the metric system so they may be seriously discussed:

425 gram box  201 (47.29 raisins/100 g) — 241 (56.71 raisins/100 g)

567 gram box  381 (67.12 raisins/100 g) — 294 (51.85 raisins/100 g)

723 gram box  308 (42.60 raisins/100 g) — 331 (45.78 raisins/100 g)

This data forced them to abandon their original hypotheses which they labeled A and B. Like most research it creates more questions than it resolves. They now offer these alternative hypotheses to contemplate:

(C) Kellogg employees are poorly trained in the operation of the scoops.

(D) Kellogg factories are equipped with a very large number of scoops of different sizes such that no two scoops are alike.

(E) Kellogg allocates raisins via some stochastic process rather than with scoops.

I have translated their conclusion to SI so that my readers might understand their weighty observations:


If you like raisins, you should buy Kellogg’s Raisin Bran in [567 gram] boxes, which appear to contain the most raisins per [100 grams]. If you dislike raisins, we recommend the [723 gram] boxes or, better yet, a raisin-free cereal.

To achieve truth in advertising and avoid lawsuits, The Kellogg Company should replace its misleading “Two scoops!” slogan with a statement listing both the mean number of scoops per box (presumably 2) and the standard deviation (roughly 0.4).

Number 50 Disher — click to enlarge

Their research did not provide an answer to “what size is the scoop used for allocating raisins to the boxes?” They did not even offer a hypothesis of what its size might be. Thankfully I have my friend Pierre to diligently work his way through the US culinary forest of literature where there are “ounces, and pottles and quarts—oh my!” The question of scoop size first entered my mind when Alton Brown of Good Eats was discussing the dispensing of—probably cookie dough? He pointed out there is a number printed on the inside of the disher, on the sweeper. My sweeper has a 20 on it. So how big is this scoop? Why 1/20 of a quart of course. You all can visualize that—right? Pierre obtained this information from a top cooking reference which explains the volumes found in US scoops (and confuses mass and weight):

Well, this graphic uses the Scoop  Number like a gauge and 20 is 1/20th of a quart or 0.05 quarts–but only tell you that in the text. The quarts are suppressed and you are offered alternating fluid ounces and cup values to explain the fractional gauge values. I’m even more confused when I use my conversion program to check the table. Well, number 20 should be 0.05 quarts which is 1.6 ounces? The answers are 1.5 fluid ounces and 1.75 ounces. Wow, my converter doesn’t offer either of those:

Ok, let’s get this straightened out. Certainly it must get the metric volume right—right? Well the output is 47.31 mL instead of 45 mL. Ok, that’s enough of this. I truly appreciate Pierre’s hard work finding the cooking reference, but I’m going over their head to Wikipedia. Their entry for scoop has this table:

Wow, there it is, Wikipedia explains the number is scoops per quart, has 1.6 US fluid ounces, and 47 mL, which would be the correct rounding from 47.31 mL. I also have a number 50 disher, which is conveniently left off of the list.

This mess, and other culinary metrology disasters, inspires me to write a one sentence book with the title: Why Johnny and Jane Can’t Cook. The sentence: Because the US does not have the metric system.

But all of this has been for not, as Wikipedia explains, there are more than one kind of scoop:

In the technical terms used by the food service industry and in the retail and wholesale food utensil industries, there is a clear distinction between two types of scoop: the disher, which is used to serve ice cream, measure a portion e.g. cookie dough, or to make melon balls; and the scoop which is used to measure or to transfer an unspecified amount of a bulk dry foodstuff such as rice, flour, or sugar.

Alfred Cralle

The disher or ice cream scoop was created by a Pittsburgh inventor one Alfred L. Cralle in 1897. Mr Cralle at least had the good sense to create a scoop which is calibrated. Even if it is in Ye Old English volumes.  This would certainly allow a merchant to keep track of the amount of ice cream or other commodity they sold to the public which would in turn help them stay in business.

Wikipedia has an illustration of a transfer scoop:

Transfer Scoop — Wikimedia Commons

Scoop of Raisin (85 Scoop)

Transfer Scoop of Raisin (85 Scoop) — Two Scoops would still be two scoops of raisins.

“Two Scoops? I love the idea Darrin”

Uh—oh. This image looks like one of the two scoops shown on the Raisin Bran cereal box, which are expertly utilized by Sol who is apparently a two fisted scooper. I’ve seen this kind of scoop many, many times. I’ve seen it vending screws and nails at hardware stores. When this is done, one always uses a scale to measure the quantity for pricing purposes. These scoops are ubiquitous in grocery stores and supermarkets. They all have one thing in common, I don’t recall ever seeing one with any sort of graduation on it. They are just used to transfer bulk quantities to a scale of some sort, which does measure them. So, at the end of our measurement quest, we have been yet again taken in by a marketing scheme. A transfer scoop does not imply any manner of quantity. It only will transfer the raisins to a device, such as a mass or volume scale, which will then be used to quantify the substance. So kids, there is no such thing as two scoops of raisins, no matter how much that amiable animated sun cheerfully claims otherwise. There is only an unaccountable advertising campaign, which almost certainly designed it that way. Sorry you had to hear it from me first kids.


The Metric Maven has published a new book titled The Dimensions of The Cosmos. It examines the basic quantities of the world from yocto to Yotta with a mixture of scientific anecdotes and may be purchased here.



My_Brothers_BarjpgBy The Metric Maven

Bulldog Edition

Not long ago I recall reading a dismissive internet comment which was something on the order of: “the metric system is for scientists and not for regular people.” Clearly, if one understands the simplicity of a metric upgrade for the average person, this statement is completely born of ignorance. If a person uses milliliters, grams, millimeters and so on, then much of everyday life becomes elegant, and the displaced medieval measures are as unwelcome as trying to figure out which number Superbowl XXXVIII was. It was Superbowl 38.

The assertion that “metric is only for scientists” clearly was not a technical statement, so what kind of statement is it? When I read the statement, my mind went back to when I first lived in Los Angeles. The music on the radio was no longer likely to be The Beatles, but was instead The Beach Boys. When an old surf music oldies hour was introduced, the introductory line, (as best as I can recall) was “Remember when boys with buzz cuts were surfers and long hairs listened to classical music?” Indeed, “long hair” was at one time a proverbial phrase. Isaac Asimov in his 1957 essay Victory on Paper,{1]  when discussing the importance of paper chromatography states:

Nor is this ‘impossible’ problem just a matter of idle curiosity on the part of long-haired biochemists who have nothing better to do.

Surfers and long-hairs are viewed quite differently in American culture. Surfing is an athletic, sun-bathed, manly activity, and happens out in the fresh air. Listening to classical music is thought to be a square, intellectual non-activity that men who have a delicate constitution engage in.

This seeming comparison of surf music and classical music actually also contains a succinct statement about American anti-intellectualism. Richard Hofstadter in his work Anti-Intellectualism in American Life makes this point about how teachers are viewed in the US:

The boys grow up thinking of men teachers as somewhat effeminate and treat them with a curious mixture of genteel deference (of the sort due to women) and hearty male condescension. In a certain constricted sense, the male teacher may be respected, but he is not “one of the boys.” pg 320.

I’ve found it a curious truth that US scientists generally use more metric than not, but engineers use almost no metric. Engineering is also a profession that builds bridges, bends steel into aircraft and developed muscle cars of the 1970s. Perhaps this is an oversimplification, but when a statement like “metric is only for scientists” is forwarded, it seems to be directed somewhere other than at a comparison of the utility of medieval measures and modern metric ones. It becomes a “feeling” about what metric is, and it’s not manly. One can almost hear a more modern version “those latte sipping pro-metric guys can have their system, no one’s stopping them. It’s a free country” with the implied attack on their manhood and inveighing against comfort that these sissies would embrace inside of a coffeehouse while discussing impractical literature.

Another aspect of American anti-intellectualism is the idea that practical is always better than theoretical. John Kasson (1822-1910) saw metric as practical and said so much after he lost his 1866 bid to make metric mandatory in the US:

The interests of trade among a people so quick as ours to receive and adopt a useful novelty, will soon acquaint practical men with its convenience. When this is attained–a period, it is hoped not distant–a further Act of Congress can fix the date for its exclusive adoption as a legal system. At an earlier period it may be safely introduced into all public offices, and for government service. [emphasis mine]

In the US, then and now, metric is seen as an effete system created by a bunch of scientific dandys from France, despite its English origins. When discussing The Practical Culture of the US, Richard Hofstadter states: “With all this there went a persistent hostility to formal education and a countervailing cult of experience.” (pg 257). When I was growing up, I often heard these phrases: “I’m a person who works with his hands.”, “You can’t learn this from a book” or “They don’t teach people this in college.”

When metric hearings were held in Congress in 1905 a Mr Gaines asserted the usefulness of the foot for farmers estimating how much volume would be needed to store grain. This exchange took place between Mr George Wetmore Colles a consulting mechanical and electrical engineer which was used to make a point about impractical people:

Mr. Gaines. Now, you yourself do not use the peck or the quart, or the pint. Then you are not an expert in this. Then you are a professor in this.

Mr. Colles. No; I am an engineer.

Mr Gaines. Rainbow people want this metric system, and the practical people do not want it. And when you want to change the bushel into something else you become yourself one of these rainbow chasers. [Laughter] (pg 153)

Mr. Gaines was clearly not pleased that an engineer might side with impractical scientific longhairs and wanted to press the point. This testimony may have been in 1905, but in the late 20th century a supervisor at a company where I previously worked summoned a group of engineers to present a talk he had prepared. His presentation began with a question: “Who has done more for humankind? Albert Einstein or Thomas Edison?” The engineers (mostly electrical engineers) looked at each other, and when polled, unanimously stated that the answer was clearly Albert Einstein. The supervisor had a negative visceral reaction, he was sure it was Thomas Edison, and was furious the group had given “the wrong answer.” What kind of people were they?! Edison is a focal point for the “cult of the practical man” and the supervisor was dealing with a room filled with apostates.

To the less-than-studious engineering supervisor, Albert Einstein was probably the archetypal impractical and effete “long-hair.” Thomas Edison was a “practical” git ‘r done person who had “invented” many practical devices. Today, very few of those devices are of any great importance. The invention of the electric light bulb was an act of brute force and Joseph Swan is certainly its inventor. Edison simply won a blind brute force trial and error race to produce a commercially viable inefficient version. Albert Einstein explained the photoelectric effect, which is part of what would become quantum mechanics and in turn led to the development of highly efficient LED (light emitting diode) “light bulbs” that are rapidly replacing Edison’s “practical design.” Edison ignored the “Edison effect” as he saw no “practical” use for it although it was the key to vacuum tubes that would revolutionize electronics. When cathode ray tubes were developed for television screens, engineers needed to use relativity theory to predict the path of the electrons inside which paint the images. The “impractical” Einstein also invented a new type of refrigerator with his former student Leo Szilard.

The year 1905 was the “miracle year” when Einstein published three amazing papers that changed engineering and physics forever. It was a less than miraculous year for metric testimony in the United States:

Mr. Lanning. Is there any theoretical or practical relation between the electrical unit and other metrical units, or the unit which we use in all ordinary standards of weights and measures?

Mr. Colles. There is a theoretical relation, but no practical relation. It relates in words, I may say, to the velocity of light, and, as I say, it is very abstruse that it does not concern anyone outside of a laboratory, and even then only those engaged in investigations like those of X-rays and other scientific inventions, which have no practical constructive value, and probably never will have. (pg 151)  [emphasis mine]

1905 is a year for great intellectual irony in the US, where a false dichotomy of meaningless “scientific inventions” and useful “actual inventions” is delineated by a “practical person.”

I ran across a letter to the editor in the May 19, 1920 Bridgeport Times and Evening Farmer that railed against current legislation which would make the metric system mandatory in the US. Here is the section that is pertinent:

The meter was never designed by manufacturers for manufacturing. A meter was sort of conjured up by a bunch of purely theoretical scientists. In practical use, the divisions of the metric system are either too great or too small to be of practical value.

Go through any buyer’s guide from A to Z and see if you see any products whose sale or manufacture would be improved by metricalizing their measurements. Manufacturers are the immediate butt of the metrical joke. (It’s a theoretical joke but a practical calamity)

The epistle is reprinted from a company newsletter called “Drill Chips” originally published by The Cleveland Twist Drill Company. This name still exists as a brand in the US.

It is the fate of the metric reformer in the US to be viewed through the lens of American anti-intellectualism. These metric ideas are seen as abstract; they are not “practical” or we would have known about them already and adopted them in the US. The reformer is not a “git ‘r done” guy, but is instead a mamby pamby complainer with impractical “ideas.”

There are many factors that contributed to the lack of metric adoption in the US over the last 150 years. Our lack of a strong central government is cited by Hector Vera as an essential roadblock, but even if it wasn’t, other contributing factors could be America’s inward looking attitude and a belief that if an idea was worthy, a practical American would have thought of it, and the rest of practical America would have already adopted it. The assertion that metric is for scientists and not for regular people is not a technical statement, it’s just a prejudicial one.

[1] Isaac Asimov Only A Trillion Abelard – Shuman 1957 pg 57

Related essays:

Familiarity Versus Simplicity

Metamorphosis and Millimeters

Isaac Asimov — Technophobe


The Metric Maven has published a new book titled The Dimensions of The Cosmos. It examines the basic quantities of the world from yocto to Yotta with a mixture of scientific anecdotes and may be purchased here.