I was reading a recipe of macaroni-and-cheese. In Brazil (Portuguese) cheese is sold only by weight.

I understand the concept of cups to measure volume or weight of liquids and powders, but as far as cheese goes, I have no idea what a cup could mean.

  • Is a cup a unit?
  • Can a conceptual cup as unit of measurement be used to measure the volume or weight of a big solid object that would never fit in a cup?
  • What else could cup mean in that sentence?
  • 1
    Does it specify shredded cheese? That makes sense to me. Nov 20 '12 at 15:45
  • 4
    The cup is a unit, equivalent to roughly 236.6 cubic centimeters. If you're making macaroni and cheese, you will indeed have to shred the cheese, as the other comments say. After it's shredded, it can fit in the cup. Nov 20 '12 at 15:46
  • 1
    As @PeterShor pointed out macaroni is usually made with shredded cheese. Whoever wrote this recipe did likely presume that everyone would automatically think of shredded cheese.
    – Em1
    Nov 20 '12 at 15:54
  • 6
    Or even "grated cheese". We don't shred cheese in the UK, that's just weird. Food is grated; inedibles like paper are shredded. And then there's Shredded Wheat, which could conceivably fall in both camps.
    – Andrew Leach
    Nov 20 '12 at 16:15
  • 3
    @AndrewLeach: I'm a shredded wheat fan, too, but, as you mentioned, others don't share our enthusiasm. As my wife likes to say, "Why don't you just tear up the box into little pieces, and put those in the bowl, too?" At any rate, this cheese question seems like maybe it could be migrated to the Cooking Stack Exchange.
    – J.R.
    Nov 20 '12 at 17:04

It is a measure of volume. One cup equals eight fluid ounces or about 240 milliliters.

How much cheese that is by weight depends on the density of the cheese. Usually cup would be used to measure either a cheese that was soft like a paste, or shredded cheese. For solid cheese American recipes usually use weight too.

By the way if you google for "one cup in ml" it will give you the conversion.

  • note that shredded cheese will be less cheese, by volume, than unshredded cheese. I don't think this matters for mac'n'cheese.
    – horatio
    Nov 20 '12 at 16:14
  • It makes a lot of sense to use volume to measure cream cheese (pasty), feta cheese (crumbly), and cottage cheese (clumps). A solid block of cheddar? Not so much. Still, if that's what the recipe called for, you could always cut it up. If you're making mac & cheese, I don't suppose it would work well to just drop a big block of cheese into the pot.
    – Jay
    Nov 20 '12 at 16:14
  • Yeah. If the cheese were already shredded, "one cup" would make sense. Nov 20 '12 at 16:15

Is a cup a unit?

Yes. In a US recipe, it means the customary cup. The US customary system of measurement includes a unit of liquid volume, the US gallon. One gallon is 231 cubic inches. There are sixteen customary cups per gallon, making a a customary cup 14 ⁷⁄₁₆ cubic inches. Cups of this size can be found in any US supermarket for use in following cooking directions.

Can a conceptual cup as unit of measurement be used to measure the volume or weight of a big solid object that would never fit in a cup?

Yes, theoretically. But when measuring cheese by the cup, you would measure it in the form called for by the recipe, such as cubed, shredded, finely shredded, or grated. So you are actually measuring not the volume of the cheese but the volume of the cheese plus the interstitial air.

What else could cup mean in [cup of cheese]?

In the context of a contemporary US mac-and-cheese box, nothing else. In other contexts, there are many possibilities. For example:

Cup Type            Volume (mL)  Comments
--------------      -----------  --------------------------------------
Imperial            284

metric              250

US legal            240          nutrition labels
US customary        237
US coffee           118–177      not standardized even on coffeemakers,
                                 but generally 4–6 customary fl. oz.

Turkish water       200–250      “su bardağı”, water glass/tumbler
Turkish tea         100–125      “çay bardağı”, tea glass
Turkish coffee      75–90        “kahve fincanı”, coffee cup

Japanese            200
Japanese gō         180

32A                 241          brassiere measurement, US system

In older recipes from many countries, you will find volume given in common household units such as coffee cups, teacups, and tumblers. Sizes vary. For example, a cup in a Turkish recipe is not equivalent to a US cup. The same is true for teaspoon and for other measuring devices. These words refer to different size objects according to locale and even time period.


Wikipedia, cooking sites found with Google, and personal experience.

  • I think it is interesting to note that the legal definitions of the U.S. customary measures are, in fact, legally defined in terms of the SI ("metric") system. That is, an inch is exactly 2.54 cm, a cubic inch is therefore exactly 16.387064 cm³. A gallon being 231 cubic inches, and a cup being 1/16 of a gallon, is therefore exactly 14.4375 cubic inches, which is exactly 236.5882365 ml.
    – nohat
    Nov 20 '12 at 21:37
  • Also interesting: I was taught in public school that the pound is a unit of weight, not a unit of mass like the gram. But actually the pound is defined as 0.45359237 kg is therefore a unit of mass – and has been since 1959, before I was born.
    – MetaEd
    Nov 20 '12 at 23:33
  • well, I think the difference between weight and mass is really only relevant in extraterrestrial contexts, right?
    – nohat
    Nov 20 '12 at 23:47
  • Relevance depends on the application. A potato weighs 1 pound-force at sea level and 0.9995 pound-force in Denver. Makes no difference to the cook. But a silver mine that fails to take that last 0.0005 into consideration stands to lose nearly $ 500 per ton at today’s prices.
    – MetaEd
    Nov 21 '12 at 0:08
  • Well it does make a difference to the cook; potatoes take longer to cook at higher altitudes.
    – verbose
    Feb 24 '17 at 21:11

Fraser's is correct, and I wanted to add:

When you purchase pre-shredded cheese in the US, it generally comes in bags marked with the number of cups. 8oz of shredded cheese is roughly 270g (depending on variety), and is marked as "2 cups".

  • 2 cups of water is 16 oz.
    – tchrist
    Nov 21 '12 at 4:05

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