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In the US and parts of Canada, a tablespoon is the largest type of spoon used for eating from a bowl. In the UK, Europe and most Commonwealth countries, a tablespoon is a type of large spoon usually used for serving. In countries where a tablespoon is a serving spoon, the nearest equivalent to the US tablespoon is either the dessert spoon or the soup spoon.
A tablespoonful, nominally the capacity of one tablespoon, is commonly used as a measure of volume in cooking. It is abbreviated as T, tb, tbs, tbsp, tblsp, or tblspn. The capacity of ordinary tablespoons is not regulated by law and is subject to considerable variation.
In the US one tablespoon (measurement unit) is approximately 15 mL; the capacity of an actual tablespoon (dining utensil) ranges from 7 mL to 14 mL. In Australia one tablespoon (measurement unit) is 20 mL.
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." The 18th century witnessed a proliferation of different sorts of spoons, including the tea-spoon, coffee-spoon, dessert-spoon, and soup-spoon. In the 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, "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 tablespoonful, the usual meaning without further qualification, is measured by filling the spoon and scraping it level. A heaping, heaped, or rounded spoonful includes a heap above the spoon. The exact volume of a heaping tablespoon depends somewhat on the shape and curvature of the measuring spoon being used, and so is not a precise unit of measurement; however, in most cases, the volume of a heaping tablespoon is roughly equal to between one-and-a-half to two times as much as a level tablespoonful.
Common tablespoons intended for use as cutlery (called dessert spoons in the UK, where a tablespoon is always a serving spoon) usually hold 7 mL to 14 mL, considerably less than some tablespoons used for serving.
In most regions (including the United States, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, South Africa, United Kingdom and the Republic of Korea), one tablespoonful equals three teaspoons. In these regions, one tablespoon is approximately 15 mL, which is about 1⁄2 U.S. fl oz. In some places like the U.S., the tablespoon was historically defined as 1⁄2 U.S. fl oz. (2 tbsp. = 1 U.S. fl oz) In Australia a tablespoon is defined as four teaspoons (20 mL). Victorian and Edwardian tablespoons used in the UK are often 25 mL 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 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 may be even further abbreviated to T in some cases.
The traditional U.S. interpretation of the tablespoon as a unit of volume is:
In nutrition labeling in the US and the UK, a tablespoon is defined as 15 mL.
The Australian definition of the tablespoon as a unit of volume is:
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