Back when we were still working in the office, I’d been on the hunt for a gigantic drinking vessel for all-day hydration. One morning, to my delight, I stumbled upon a large borosilicate lab beaker on our office giveaway table. I had no idea how it ended up there, but the unknown provenance of free items is part of what makes the giveaway table such an alluring place, so it’s best not to ask those questions.
The more I’ve sipped from this beaker, the more I’ve pondered scientific glassware’s legitimate place in the kitchen. As a drinking glass, the beaker is easy to fill. It tinkles nicely when full of ice and holds enough water for the whole day while still fitting comfortably in my hand.
Since I brought my beaker home, I’ve used it to make stirred cocktails and even submerged it in boiling water as a quick, makeshift double boiler. After all, lab beakers and flasks have clearly marked measurements, and borosilicate is highly resistant to temperature fluctuations and breaks. And not for nothing, the beaker’s utilitarian design is charming too.
But I am just a food writer with one handy beaker. I was curious to know if the idea of using lab beakers in the kitchen would anger or annoy scientists, so I asked a few to find out.
I spoke with a scientist and executive who I will refer to as Dr. M. Dr. M, who agreed to speak with me under strict conditions of anonymity, uses glass lab beakers as water glasses in her home, and told me that it’s not unheard of for organic chemists and other people who’ve worked in a laboratory setting to have scientific glassware around the house.
“For those of us who have been out of the lab for several years, it’s a little bit of a throwback to our roots,” Dr. M says. “People have those Pyrex measuring cups. Instead of one of those, imagine having a cupboard of eight or 10 beakers.”
Reyna Simon, Ph.D., a chemist and director at a biopharmaceutical company, agrees: “Having lab equipment at home is just kind of a fun thing. My chemistry friend from grad school sent me two wine glasses that were literally beakers on stems.” For both Dr. M and Dr. Simon, the glassware carries some nostalgia, but there’s more to it than that. “Lab-grade glass beakers can withstand extremely high temperatures; they’re really high quality. You can use them to measure ingredients, you can put them in the microwave to heat things up, and you can easily pour from them,” Dr. M says.
The list of uses goes on: Smaller beakers are great for measuring cocktail ingredients (and they also make precise shot glasses). When a recipe calls for whole milk and Dr. M has only cream and 2% on hand, she uses her beakers to measure the precise ratio of the two needed to make 4% whole milk. Because beakers follow the metric system, they’re perfect when following recipes printed outside the U.S. They also come in handy for bread enthusiasts looking for more exacting baking results.
I’ll admit that you won’t find me taking advantage of all the technical assets my big beaker offers. Instead, you’ll find me sipping water from it while perched in my Poäng, wistfully remembering (free) things past.
Originally Appeared on Epicurious