Gastro-Economics 101 - The Price is Right
Tying Roasts Together to Cook

Weighing In

My new kitchen scale has a button labeled "Tare".  I'm not sure what it is for or how to use it.  Can you help?


The 'Tare' button, sometimes labeled as a 'Zero' button, is used to reset the scale to zero.  It can be used in a number of ways.  The simplest is to make sure that the scale is actually reading zero.  When you turn on your scale to use it, it will sometimes not read exactly zero.  Pressing the 'Tare' or 'Zero' button will set it to zero.

Now, suppose you want to weigh an ingredient, maybe a piece of chicken breast or the amount of pie filling you have.  Obviously for health or clean up reasons you don't want to put it directly on the platform of the scale.  Instead you might put a measuring cup or a bowl onto the scale to keep it clean.  Now the scale shows the weight of the container.  Rather than having to do the math by hand, if you press the 'Tare' button the scale will read zero again, having subtracted the weight of the empty bowl from the reading, and you can go ahead and weigh the ingredient.

For some recipes, like making bread using Baker's Percentages, you want to weigh a number of ingredients in succession into the same container.  In that case, you can weigh the first ingredient, press 'Tare' to set the scale to zero again before weighing the second, press 'Tare' again, and so on until all of the ingredients have been added.

Another use for 'Tare' is when you are measuring something off of a larger chunk.  Suppose, for example, that you need 4 ounces by weight of grated cheese.  You could try to guess how big a four ounce piece would be and cut it off the larger block before grating it.  Or, you could grate some cheese, put it into a bowl on the scale to see if you have enough and keep going back and forth until you have the four ounces you want. 

Somewhat easier and a lot more convenient is to weigh the whole block of cheese and then press the 'Tare' button.  The scale will read zero, and when you take the cheese off, it will show the weight again, but this time with a minus sign ('-').

Now go ahead and grate the cheese,  When you think you may be getting close to the amount you need, put the whole block back on the scale.  The weight shown will be the amount that you have removed from the block, again with a minus sign in front.  If necessary, grate some more and reweigh  until the scale reads minus four ounces.  This is easier since you don't need to stop to move grated cheese from the work surface to a container.  You will likely also get fewer dishes or utensils dirty that you then need to clean afterward. 

Note that if the number shown when you weigh the block is less than 4 (ignoring the minus sign), you need to grate more.  If it is larger than 4, you have grated too much.  The first few times you use this method, you may need to think it through before it makes immediate sense, but it works.

The only challenge with the last use for the 'Tare' button is that most electronic scales have a time-out which turns the scale if if it is not used in a minute or two.  You need to be faster than the time out, or just put the block back onto the scale to reset the time-out timer.  Worst case is it times out and you either need to remember how much you started with and do the math by hand or you need to weigh the final amount of grated cheese.

For those who are incurably curious, the word 'tare' comes from an old Italian word 'tara' which in turn came from the Arabic 'tarha' meaning 'that which is removed'.

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