How much juice in a lemon?

As a baker, I am accustomed to precise recipe measurements. The difference between one and two teaspoons of baking soda in a cake can have significant impacts on the finished dish. Cooking, on the other hand, is generally more forgiving, although that is only true to a point. Having too much onion or lemon juice can alter the outcome of a recipe, even though the recipe doesn’t specify a measurement.

It can be frustrating when the instructions call for “the juice of one lemon” or “one onion, diced” as though all lemons contain the same amount of juice or all onions are the same size. In one bag of onions I recently spied at the grocery store, one of the onions was nearly twice the size of the smallest in the bag. While it’s easy to say that you can “taste as you go”, that is not always practical, like in the case of sweating an onion and realizing halfway through that you need more. Other ingredients can be problematic too, including potatoes (how big is a ‘large baking potato’?), shallots, leeks, all manner of citrus fruits, peppers, and so on.

So what is the solution? One is to ask recipe writers to use measurements instead of descriptions. Another is to keep track of average weights or volumes and use that as your guide, as the always amazing Nik Sharma does. He takes this issue seriously, recently tweeting a screenshot of a spreadsheet he uses to track ingredient measurements. Now that’s dedication. For the record, the average output of a Eureka lemon according to the chart is 2.79 tablespoons.

Photo of Meyer lemon bitters from Serious Eats

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  • debkellie  on  November 10, 2019

    Same question for “how much is half a bunch of herbs” .. our fresh Asian markets sells bunches that are huge compared to the local supermarkets .. weights/measures please cookbook authors!!

  • readingtragic  on  November 10, 2019

    I find US baking recipes, with their insistence on cup measures, infuriating…

  • averythingcooks  on  November 10, 2019

    This post resonated with me for a variety of reasons. My choice (outside of summer when I grow most of my own) is to buy most fresh herbs in small packages (is that actually a “bunch”? Who knows??) except for parsley which comes wedding bouquet size! Also – as much as I do use my kitchen scale for lots of recipes, I still appreciate “3 1/2 cups of broccoli florets” rather than “a medium head of broccoli. Lastly , I make a Jamie Oliver ground beef & onion pie that calls for “3 red onions”. The red onions in my grocery stores are the size of softballs – there is no way that is what he means. All of this supports why I DO write in my books as I have figured out how much to actually use for all of these confusing issues.

  • Rinshin  on  November 10, 2019

    Interesting spreadsheet numbers. I have 4 varieties of lemon/lime types. My Meyer lemons are huge, sometimes the size of small naval oranges. So it would be opposite of this chart compared to Eurekas. OTH, my lime is Bearss so it is smaller than the measured amount.

  • darcie_b  on  November 10, 2019

    Yes – herbs! I just bought dill at a co-op that was definitely bouquet sized, then when I went to another store the dill “bunch” size was maybe 1/3 of that.

    I also hate baking books that don’t have measurements. That’s why I keep a chart of weights taped to the inside of my cupboard door. In my experience, 4.5 oz (125 g) is a good rule of thumb for the weight of all-purpose flour in most US baking books, save for Cook’s Illustrated which is 5.0 oz (140 g). Sugar is always 7 oz (200 g). Cake flour is 4.0 oz (115 g). Confectioner’s sugar is likewise 4.0 oz. HTH!

  • MargaretM  on  November 25, 2019

    And for we Antipodeans – a ‘stick’ of butter. Oh dear….

  • Ingridemery  on  November 26, 2019

    It’s a delicate balance – I would like to know whether ‘juice of one lemon’ is one, two or four tablespoons, but I also sometimes look at more precise recipes (Ottolenghi for example) where they ask for 20g of tarragon and find it a bit stifling and bossy. I wonder if there is some kind of happy medium like putting in indicative quantities?

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