Life's too short to eat bad food - Me

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic - Arthur C. Clarke

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Weighty Matters

A difference that makes no difference is no difference - William James

Or not. If you can accomplish a task with one button push rather than two there is a difference.

This is prompted by what I hope will be a lively discussion, between Michael Ruhlman and James Peterson over measuring by weight vs. volume in baking, that started on Facebook. (For the record I am with Peterson on flour (too many variations even with a single brand. It's one of those are where experience is the best measurement) and Ruhlman on just about everything else.) Now I am a big fan of digital scales in the kitchen, but this seemed a good opportunity to tear in to the "tare" debate.

To quote Inigo Montoya: "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

Many educated cooks recommending features on a digital scale, including Michael and Alton Brown suggest that you look for a "Tare" or zero function as if they are the same. Michael, who despite what must be an overflowing inbox is unusually gracious in responding to my e-mails, said: "zero function and tare are the same thing no?".

Proof #1: This my scale, a horribly expensive Edlund E-80 I picked up at a restuarant auction for $10 because it had no cord (works well and is quite mobile on a 9 volt battery, or could work on one of those universal cords, but why?). It has both a Tare and a Zero button. Michael's own more affordable scale also has both. Why would a manufacturer give you two buttons that are identical when they can charge you the same but save money on the extra button? We'd never know the difference

Proof #2: They work differently.

The zero is so easy to understand a caveman could do it. Turn scale on. Put container on. Press zero. Scale goes to zero. Add 500g stuff. Press zero. Scale goes to zero. Add 300g stuff. Press zero. Scale goes to zero. Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. This is the function useful for the cook.

The tare button has a different, specific task. My Dad's 1941 edition of Webster's defines tare as: "A deduction of weight, made in allowance for the weight of a container or vehicle". Useful for portion control or at the Wegman's Olive bar where the chek'em'out person can correct for the weight of the plastic. But that's not optimal for cooking. Turn scale on. Put container on. Press tare. Scale goes to zero. Add 500g stuff. Press tare Scale goes to . . . combined weight of stuff and container. You basically have turned the tare function off. Press tare a third time and it will re-tare to zero. But that is an extra button push.

Considering that if you boot up with a container on the scale it automatically tares, the tare button is acually redundant. YMMV, but that's what I tell classes.

So is this a difference that makes no difference? Weigh in!


Warner (aka ntsc) said...

My scale does not automatically tare when turned on.

Zero is an obviously useful function as you described.

Tare is useful if you use different containers in one cooking cycle. When I do sausage I typically first weigh four batches of 5 pounds pork each. I don't have four identical bowls.

Scotty said...

This is where the confusion comes. The zero key should do the same thing - you put any weight container and it zeroes out the weight. To me the tare function only is more useful if you are filling multiple containers of the same weight. Tare once, and you don't have to do anything else except fill the containers with the desired amount of product.

Warner (aka ntsc) said...

The two separate buttons are only useful/different if the zero button has a method of resetting to the tare set.

Darcie said...

My scale has only a tare button, not a zero button. However, it functions as a zero button - if you press tare again after pressing it and filling the container, it goes to zero, not the combined weight. So is it mislabeled? Glad to 'weigh in' on this discussion - I have never had a scale with both buttons.

The scale automatically zeros if you power it on with a weight on it - in essence an automatic tare - or is it an automatic zero??

FWIW, I have memorized the weights of a few favorite bowls in case I forget to hit the tare button.

Scotty said...

But that's the point. If you are zeroing out the weight of different containers, it's the zero key.

Tare is for zeroing the weight of several of the same container. Like if you want to put 200g of something in a bunch of pint containers. Tare the first one to zero, and just fill the containers without touching the scale again.

Scotty said...

Darcie, I knew I wanted you to stop by. By my estimation it is mislabled - hence the confusion, so maybe I shouldn't blame Michael, but manufacturers for the nomenclature issues. ;-)

Think about this, Warner has a scale that doesn't zero automatically (I think I am preserving tare for the function it was designed for)when booting with something on it, but it does have both zero and tare buttons.

You have one that does boot to zero, but has what is called a tare button, but seems to be a zero.

I have one with all of the above!

I dunno!

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
- Arthur C. Clarke

Life's too short to eat bad food -