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A tablespoon is a large spoon used for serving or eating. In many English-speaking regions, the term now refers to a large spoon used for serving, however, in some regions, including parts of Canada, it is the largest type of spoon used for eating. By extension, the term is used as a measure of volume in cooking. In this capacity, it is most commonly abbreviated tbsp or T, and occasionally referred to as a tablespoonful to distinguish it from the utensil. The unit of measurement varies by region: a United States tablespoon is approximately 14.8 ml (0.50 US fl oz), a United Kingdom and Canadian tablespoon is exactly 15 ml (0.51 US fl oz), and an Australian tablespoon is 20 ml (0.68 US fl oz). The capacity of the utensil (as opposed to the measurement) is not defined by law or custom and bears no particular relation to the measurement.
Before about 1700, it was customary for Europeans 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". Around the same time the tea-spoon and dessert-spoon first appeared, and the table-spoon was reserved for eating soup. The 18th century witnessed a proliferation of different sorts of spoons, including the mustard-spoon, salt-spoon, coffee-spoon, and soup-spoon.
In the late 19th century 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 in 1928, "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).
Victorian and Edwardian era tablespoons used in the UK are often 25 ml (0.85 US fl oz) or sometimes larger. They are used only for preparing and serving food, not as part of a place-setting. Common tablespoons intended for use as cutlery (called dessert spoons in the UK, where a tablespoon is always a serving spoon) usually hold 7–14 ml (0.24–0.47 US fl oz), considerably less than some tablespoons used for serving.
In recipes, an abbreviation like tbsp. is usually used to refer to a tablespoon, to differentiate it from the smaller teaspoon (tsp.). Some authors additionally capitalize the abbreviation, as Tbsp., while leaving tsp. in lower case, to emphasize that the larger tablespoon, rather than the smaller teaspoon, is wanted. The tablespoon abbreviation is sometimes further abbreviated to "Tb." or T.
In most places except Australia, one tablespoon equals three teaspoons—and one tablespoon is 14.8 ml (0.50 US fl oz) or 15 ml (0.51 US fl oz).
The traditional US 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 (0.51 US fl oz).
A metric tablespoon is exactly equal to 15 ml (0.51 US fl oz).
The Australian definition of the tablespoon as a unit of volume is:
For dry ingredients, if a recipe calls for a level tablespoon, the usual meaning without further qualification, is measured by filling the spoon and scraping it level. In contrast, a heaped, heaping, or rounded spoonful is not leveled off, and includes a heap above the spoon. The exact volume of a heaped tablespoon depends somewhat on the shape and curvature of the measuring spoon being used, and so is not a precise unit of measurement.
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.
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