A tablespoon is a large spoon used for serving or eating. In many English-speaking regions, the term now refers to a large spoon used for serving, however, in some regions, including parts of Canada, it is the largest type of spoon used for eating. By extension, the term is used as a measure of volume in cooking. In this capacity, it is most commonly abbreviated tbsp or T, and occasionally referred to as a tablespoonful to distinguish it from the utensil. The unit of measurement varies by region: a United States tablespoon is approximately 14.8 ml (0.50 US fl oz), a United Kingdom tablespoon is exactly 15 ml (0.51 US fl oz), and an Australian tablespoon is 20 ml (0.68 US fl oz). The capacity of the utensil (as opposed to the measurement) is not defined by law or custom and bears no particular relation to the measurement.
Before about 1700, it was customary for people of European descent to bring their own spoons to the table. Spoons were carried as personal property in much the same way as people today carry wallets, key rings, etc. From about 1700 the place setting became popular, and with it the "table-spoon", "table-fork" and "table-knife". Around the same time the tea-spoon and dessert-spoon first appeared, and the table-spoon was reserved for eating soup. The 18th century witnessed a proliferation of different sorts of spoons, including the mustard-spoon, salt-spoon, coffee-spoon, and soup-spoon. In the late 19th century UK, the dessert-spoon and soup-spoon began to displace the table-spoon as the primary implement for eating from a bowl, at which point the name "table-spoon" took on a secondary meaning as a much larger serving spoon. At the time the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary was published in 1928, "tablespoon" (which by then was no longer hyphenated) still had two definitions in the UK: the original definition (eating spoon) and the new definition (serving spoon).
In the 18th century, the table-spoon became an unofficial unit of the Apothecaries' system of measures, equal to 4 drams or 1⁄2 fl oz. It was more commonly known by the Latin cochleare majus (abbreviated cochl. maj.) or, in Apothecaries' notation, f℥ss or f℥ß.
A level tablespoon, the usual meaning without further qualification, is measured by filling the spoon and scraping it level. In contrast, a heaped, heaping, or rounded spoonful is not leveled off, and includes a heap above the spoon. The exact volume of a heaped tablespoon depends somewhat on the shape and curvature of the measuring spoon being used, and so is not a precise unit of measurement.
Common tablespoons intended for use as cutlery (called dessert spoons in the UK, where a tablespoon is always a serving spoon) usually hold 7–14 ml (0.24–0.47 US fl oz), considerably less than some tablespoons used for serving.
Relationship to teaspoon and fluid ounce
In most regions (including the US, UK, most Commonwealth countries, East Asia and the Philippines), one tablespoon equals three teaspoons. In these regions, one tablespoon is 14.8 ml (0.50 US fl oz). In some places like the US, the tablespoon was historically defined as 1⁄2 US fl oz (2 tbsp. = 1 US fl oz). In Australia, a tablespoon is defined as four teaspoons, equaling to 20 ml (0.68 US fl oz). Victorian and Edwardian era tablespoons used in the UK are often 25 ml (0.85 US fl oz) or sometimes larger. They are used only for preparing and serving food, not as part of a place-setting.
In writing volume-based recipes, an abbreviation like tbsp. is usually used to refer to a tablespoon, to differentiate it from the smaller teaspoon (tsp.). Some authors additionally capitalize the abbreviation Tbsp., while leaving tsp. in lower case, to emphasize that the larger tablespoon, rather than the smaller teaspoon, is wanted. The tablespoon abbreviation is sometimes further abbreviated to "Tb." or T.
The traditional US interpretation of the tablespoon as a unit of volume is:
The Australian definition of the tablespoon as a unit of volume is:
- The Oxford English Dictionary Third edition, December 2008, entry at tablespoon(subscription required)
- "How Many Tablespoons in a Cup - Easy Conversions". First Health Mag. Retrieved 2016-05-29.
- Chuck Smothermon (2002). Better Homes and Gardens Biggest Book of Slow Cooker Recipes. Meredith Books. p. 416. Retrieved 9 January 2015.
- Moore, Simon (1987). Spoons 1650–1930. Shire Publications. p. 12.
- Simon Moore (2005). Spoons 1650-2000. Osprey Publishing. p. 44. ISBN 978-0-7478-0640-0. Retrieved 12 December 2011.
- Alexander Whitelaw, ed. (1884). The popular encyclopedia; or, 'Conversations Lexicon'. p. 11. Retrieved 12 December 2011.
- Thomas Jefferson Ritter; Elizabeth Johnstone (1910). Mother's remedies; over one thousand tried and tested remedies from mothers of the United States and Canada. G. H. Foote pub. co. p. 637. Retrieved 12 December 2011.
- Hazell's annual. Hazell, Watson and Viney. 1910. p. 584. Retrieved 12 December 2011.
- Dean BS, Krenzelok EP (April 1986). "Syrup of ipecac dosing ... How much is a tablespoonful?". Vet Hum Toxicol. 28 (2): 155–6. PMID 2871653.
- A. Thompson and B. N. Taylor. The NIST Guide for the use of International System of Units. United States Government.
- Mechtly, E. A: The International System of units, NASA-SP=7012, 1964, 1973. The reference indicates the exact conversion to cubic meters, which has been converted to 14.78676478125 ml here for convenience.
- 21 CFR (Code of Federal Regulations) 101.9(b)(5)(viii)
- Cardarelli, François Cradarelli (2003). Encyclopaedia of Scientific Units, Weights and Measures. London: Springer. p. 44. ISBN 978-1-4471-1122-1.
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