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Pinch vs. Dash vs. Hint vs. Smidgen (Do they Really Differ?)

Pinch vs. Dash vs. Hint vs. Smidgen (Do they Really Differ?)
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Cooking and baking are not exact sciences, but it’s helpful when a recipe gives you the precise amounts of each ingredient required to make a dish successful. However, some recipes, including old ones or ones from friends and family, get a little vague, which is tricky if you’re not a kitchen wizard.

What’s the difference between a pinch, a dash, a hint, and a smidgen of something?

A pinch, a dash, a hint, and a smidgen are approximate measurement terms used and cookery, meaning “a little.” There is no official standard measurement for them, but a dash is a ¼ teaspoon, a pinch is between ¼ and 1/16 teaspoon, a smidgen is 1/32 teaspoon, and a hint is 1/128 teaspoon.

When you use the words pinch, dash, hint, and smidgen in ordinary chat, they all mean the same – a small amount. But when you use these words in the context of food and cooking, they have more specific meanings, influencing how much of an ingredient you use.

What Is The Difference Between a Pinch, a Dash, a Hint, and a Smidgen?

A pinch, a dash, a hint, and a smidgen are all terms of measurement in cooking. They all refer to tiny amounts of any ingredient.

Each term has a historical origin that predates standard measurements and often has no association with cooking. You might find these words in old recipe books, or more likely in a recipe written down for you by a friend or your great-aunt – and they all assume you know what they mean.

There is no official national or international standardization of these obscure measurements. However, in the early 2000s, measuring spoon companies began producing novelty measuring spoons with these labels, and the desire for a more precise definition began. These cute spoons make a fun gift, but they’re not accurate.

Cookery writers and chefs generally agree that all of these words refer to tiny amounts of seasoning, which won’t have a massive impact on the outcome of a dish.

According to Jonathan Bartlett in his Cook’s Dictionary and Culinary Reference, these words are used “when so little is needed that the exact amount is irrelevant.”

The only time the slight difference in amount may make a difference is if you’re using an overwhelming ingredient, say a spicy chili or potent truffle oil.

So, if you have to be precise, here are some broadly agreed measurements linked to these words your grandma used, in order of size from largest to smallest.

TadDashPinchSmidgenDropHint
¼ teaspoon¼-1/8 teaspoon¼-1/16 teaspoon1/32 teaspoon1/60 teaspoon1/128 teaspoon

How Much Is a Tad?

When working with obscure and old-fashioned measurements, you have to begin with a tad, which some cookery writers will define as being ¼ teaspoon, the largest of the small measurements. A tad can refer to a dry or liquid ingredient.

The dictionary definition of a tad is “somewhat” or “a little bit,” so it’s easy to see how it came to be used to describe the addition of a small amount of an ingredient to a dish.

A fact you’d rather not know while cooking is that the word probably comes from “tadpole” or baby toad – not an appealing thought.

How Much Is a Dash?

The origins of the cookery measurement “dash” aren’t hard to imagine – you quickly want to throw in an ingredient, at the flick of your wrist, usually out of a bottle or container.

A dash is 1/8 of a teaspoon, making it half a tad, for dry ingredients, like herbs.

However, the dash measure is also used in cocktail-making, where it has a slightly different definition, specifically for Angostura Bitters. According to the 1954 Angostura Professional Mixing Guide, a dash is 1/6 of a teaspoon or 1/48 of an ounce.

How Much Is a Pinch?

The cookery origins of the term pinch are apparent – a pinch is the amount of a dry ingredient you can pick up between your forefinger and thumb, so it seems a manageable amount to measure.

However, different people have different-sized fingers. And some people may pinch with three fingers, the forefinger, thumb, and middle finger, resulting in a larger pinch. Add to the mix the fact that ingredients have a variety of textures, making them easier or less easy to grasp.

When a pinch refers to salt, it likely means between ¼ and 1/8 of a teaspoon. That’s why most recipes will add the proviso “to taste.”

A pinch is more likely to be between 1/8 and 1/16 of a teaspoon for other dry ingredients. This means that two pinches make a dash.

How Much Is a Smidgen?

The wonderfully sounding word “smidgen” is an ancient Scottish term “smitch,” meaning smudge or mark. That gives you an idea of how little a smidgen or smidge is supposed to be – enough to smudge your fingers.

If you want to be accurate, a smidgen is half a pinch, about 1/32 of a teaspoon. That’s a really tiny amount and is used when you’ve got a potentially overpowering ingredient, truffle, or a costly one, like saffron.

Smidgen refers only to dry ingredients.

How Much Is a Drop?

A drop is a common word used for anything from rain to alcohol. For cooking, the term came into use when essences like vanilla were packaged in bottles that could dispense a single drop at a time. The amount dispensed from these dropper devices is 1/64 of a teaspoon.

A drop specifically refers to liquid ingredients.

How Much Is a Hint?

A hint is not so much a cookery measurement as a suggestion – although culinary pedants will describe a hint as half a drop, being 1/128 of a teaspoon, a minuscule amount that you can barely measure.

In reality, when a recipe suggests adding a hint of an ingredient, it means using barely any at all, such as when you add liquid smoke to a dish. You really just want the flavor in the background.

Final thoughts

There is no significant difference between a pinch, a dash, a hint, and a smidgen of an ingredient. These are all terms used to refer to a tiny amount of something, usually a seasoning.

A dash is the largest amount (around ¼ teaspoon), then a pinch, a smidgen, and finally a hint (1/128 teaspoon).