I'm married to a scientist, so that fact that I haven't thought of this until now is kind of embarrassing. I currently have a 1000ml Pyrex beaker (well, technically a flask) that I brought home from a wedding. (The bride and groom — also scientists — used them as flower vases at the reception.) I'd been using it as a vase, too, when suddenly it dawned on me. These are actually perfect prep tools for cooking! They're non-porous, heat-, cold-, and crack-resistant, have easy-to-read measurements on the side, and a spout for pouring. So why aren't more people using them in the kitchen? Here are 3 reasons why we should all start:
So what, you may be saying right now. My Pyrex liquid measuring cups have all of those things. True. But there are a few qualities lab beakers have that make them worth adding to your prepware collection:
1. Beakers come in sizes as small as 10ml.
The smallest size Pyrex measurement you can buy is 1 cup, but beaker sizes range as small as 10ml. Right — you might never actually use a 10ml beaker, but I bet you could find use for a 50 or 100ml beaker. Think of these as great tools for mise en place!
2. Lab beakers are made with borosilicate glass, which has much greater heat resistance than Pyrex liquid measuring cups.
Little history lesson: Corning, the company that first introduced Pyrex in 1915, used to manufacture all Pyrex with borosilicate glass, the same super-strength, low-thermal-expansion glass used in scientific beakers. But in 1998 Corning sold Pyrex to World Kitchens, which switched to using a less-expensive tempered soda-lime glass instead of borosilicate.
This isn't nearly as good, as Consumer Reports discovered in 2010. They found that soda-lime glassware was much more likely to shatter when exposed to extreme temperature changes (moving from a hot oven to a cold, wet granite surface, for example) than borosilicate glassware.
Interesting side note: The European manufacturer of Pyrex, ARC International, still manufactures Pyrex with borosilicate. So if you want authentic borosilicate Pyrex kitchen glassware, you'll have to pick it up on your next trip to Europe!
Borosilicate beaker from Williams-Sonoma
Ok, so your Pyrex measuring cups may not undergo such extreme temperature changes all that often. But I think it's worth it to have a glass container you really don't have to worry about, if for no other reason than your peace of mind. Enter lab beakers. Most (if not all) lab beakers are made with borosilicate glass, including Pyrex beakers. It's always good to confirm that in the description, though. It should specify it's made with borosilicate glass.
And finally, the third reason we should all start using beakers in the kitchen...
3. They look dang cool.
While skimming the web to see if any home cooks regularly use beakers in the kitchen, I came across Momofuku For 2, a blog by a woman in New York City, Steph, who cooked her way through David Chang's Momofuku cookbook. I noticed in many of her photos that she used beakers for measuring out ingredients. She even talks about it in her FAQ section, saying she thinks "beakers are awesome for cooking" — not only because of the heat-cold-flame resistant stuff, and the measurements on the side, but also because "they look so good!"
Indeed! There's something a little geeky-chic about them, and I'm totally down with that. Even Williams-Sonoma is selling a borosilicate beaker!
Important Note: To be perfectly safe, it's best to only use brand new beakers when you're working with food. While vintage beakers might be cool to store pencils in (and readily available on Etsy) you should avoiding using them in the kitchen since there's no knowing what chemicals have been in them before. So, stick with new.
Where To Buy Borosilicate Lab Beakers and Flasks
Try a science supply or lab equipment store, or search Amazon!
What do you think? Are you up for trying out a few beakers in the kitchen?
Post update: Per a reader's good suggestion below, I felt I should clarify that a beaker is cylindrical with straight sides, while an Erlenmeyer flask (shown in the first photo) is conical with sloped sides! Just so you know when you're out purchasing!
(Images: 1. Cambria Bold; 2. Utah Biodiesel Supply; 3. Williams-Sonoma; 4+5. Momofuku 2)