calorie, abbr. cal, unit of heat energy in the metric system. The measurement of heat is called calorimetry. The calorie, or gram calorie, is the quantity of heat required to raise the temperature of 1 gram of pure water 1°C. The kilocalorie, or kilogram calorie, is the quantity of heat required to raise the temperature of 1 kg of pure water 1°C; it is equal to 1,000 cal. The kilocalorie is used in dietetics for stating the heat content of a food, i.e., the amount of heat energy that the food can yield as it passes through the body; in this context, the kilocalorie is usually called simply the calorie. The amount of heat energy needed to effect a 1°C temperature increase in 1 gram of water varies with temperature (see heat capacity); thus the temperature range over which the heating takes place must be stated to define the calorie precisely. The 15° calorie, or normal calorie, is widely used in chemistry and physics; it is measured by heating a 1-gram water sample from 14.5°C to 15.5°C at 1 atmosphere pressure. The 4° calorie, also called the small calorie or therm, is measured from 3.5°C to 4.5°C (water is most dense at 3.98°C); the large calorie, or Calorie, is equivalent to 1,000 small calories. The average value of the calorie in the range 0°C to 100°C is called the mean calorie; it is 1/100 of the energy needed to heat 1 gram of water from its melting point to its boiling point. The calorie may also be defined by expressing its value in some other energy units. The 15° calorie is equivalent to 4.185 joules (J), 1.162×10 - 6 kilowatt-hours, 3.968×10 - 3 British thermal units, and 3.087 foot-pounds; the 4° calorie equals 4.204 J; and the mean calorie equals 4.190 J. Two other calories sometimes used are the International Steam Table calorie, equal to 4.187 J, and the thermochemical calorie, equal to 4.184 J. When the calorie is used for precision measurement of heat energy, the particular calorie being used must be specified.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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