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.

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Take It With 64.798 91 Milligrams of Salt


By The Metric Maven

Bulldog Edition

I have often made a point that a pound of feathers weighs more than a pound of gold, and that an ounce of feathers weighs less than an ounce of gold. This is because A troy pound is equal to 0.822 857 1 avoirdupois pounds. Feathers are weighed in avoirdupois pounds and gold is measured with troy when using medieval units. The Troy pound is divided into 12 ounces and the avoirdupois pound is divided into 16 ounces.

At one time I made the incorrect assumption that because the troy pound is defined as 5760 grains and the avoirdupois pound is 7000 that the value of a troy grain and avoirdupois grain were different. To my surprise, the common weight definition for pounds in Ye Olde English is the grain. The same grain is used to define the 5760 grains of a troy pound and the 7000 grains of an avoirdupois pound.

Recently I was watching an episode of the 1960’s mini-series The Prisoner. A discussion took place concerning how much of a drug had been given to the main character and what should be done when the effects were not as predicted:

Number 86: “I gave him eight grains of mitol. Suspicion, doubt, these are factors of aggression. The drug should preclude all such reactions.”

Number 2: “….go to him now repeat the dose.”

Number 86: “Now? But sixteen grains of mitol is quite impossible.”


The values are all in grains. What struck me as I thought about this exchange is the concern that some literary Lilliputians have that our clichés will suffer at the hands of a metric switch-over. The one phrase I don’t recall being discussed in this context is: “you better take that with a grain of salt.” It means that one should view a statement with some skepticism. The origin of the phrase is a bit apocryphal and is possibly from a Latin phrase. I realized that I had never interpreted the phrase “properly” until I saw that old episode of The Prisoner. The invention of the microscope around 1610 or so soon allowed humans to look at individual “grains” of salt. These grains vary, but a reasonable estimate is about 60 micrograms per salt crystal “grain.” I always took the meaning of taking something with a grain of salt as adding in an infinitesimal amount of salt to make it more palatable. When I thought of the phrase I thought of the microscopic salt crystals of NaCl and not the approximately 1000 of them that make up the Ye Olde English unit called the grain. when I think of a grain of sand I don’t think of 64.798 91 milligrams of sand, I think of a single particle of sand, which is on the order of 15 milligrams.

The grain as a unit is so unfamiliar to Americans as to be intellectually invisible. One has to remind people that some aspirin in the US are also labeled in grains, and if one asked how many grains are in an ounce they would not realize that it is 473.5 grains for an avoirdupois ounce and 480 in a troy ounce. The grain is as devoid of meaning for the average person as is a coomb.

The grain was defined in 1572 long before our modern notion of mass was developed. The pound was not uniquely defined as a mass or a force, and because of its pre-scientific heritage it continues to act as a barrier to a scientific understanding of our world by the average person, and often educated engineers and scientists. When we stand on a bathroom scale and read off the value in pounds, it is often assumed to be a mass. But the word pound is used interchangeably for weight or the force gravity exerted on the mass of the object. We in the US still say pounds per square inch when discussing pressure, which in terms of mass does not seem to make any sense. An object with mass is a three dimensional object and not a two dimensional area. Using the identical name pound for pound-mass and pound-force traps citizens in the US into a medieval view of the world. It also traps engineers and scientists.

Recently I was watching an episode of the highly enjoyable program Impossible Engineering. It dealt with the design of the World’s Biggest Cruise Ship. In the program Physicist Dr. Andrew Steele sets out to demonstrate the amount of drag or opposing force that different hull shapes of boats produce, as first mathematically expressed by engineer William Froude (1810-1879) in the 19th century. Dr. Steele attached a spring scale using rope to each example and then described the amount of force (hydrodynamic drag) they each exert. The value is read from the scale in Kilograms (mass) and not in newtons (force). Dr. Steele is British, which produces a sort of double irony. When a person is conditioned to see pounds as both mass and force, it is a short step for an average person, or a PhD, to substitute Kilograms for newtons and blur the modern distinction. The retention of medieval units brings along their pre-scientific baggage in a world where the public understanding of science is of existential importance.

When you see scientific explanations on popular television programs, remember to take them with a grain of salt.

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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.