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Dear online recipe authors: cut to the chase!

Overly lengthy preambles are the bane of many an online recipe. I need to voice my frustration.

1y ago

When writing a recipe there are certain things that are vital if the meal is to be successful for everyone. A clear ingredient list is essential. A list of required equipment is desirable. And of course, a straightforward, well planned step-by-step instructional guide is imperative. But online recipe authors take note: 500 words about where the recipe idea came from, why you put spinach in it, and how your kids loved it when you cooked it for them last week is not necessary.

Take a look at this dahl recipe, for example. There are 937 words before the author gets to the step-by-step tutorial. This preamble is almost long enough to qualify as an Homeric Epic; you could be mistaken for placing this recipe among the great Russian novels of the eighteenth century; the recipe begins by telling us that this can be prepared in '25 minutes' – is this calculated to include the enormous amount of reading time required before we can even dice an onion?

What, I hear you ask, could possibly fill 937 words of preamble? Well, there's discussion of when is best to cook it (weeknights, apparently), reviews from other users (curated by the author, so more or less redundant), some info about the tweaks the author has made over the years (how does this help me, again?), a reminder that this can be 'on the table in 30 minutes' (5 minutes to get the cooked food onto the table? How big is the author's house?) and so much more.

It just keeps going. Weight Watchers points. Vegan. Dairy-free. Coconut milk. Chilli optional. When will this end?

Finally, we reach the subheading we've been waiting for: 'HOW TO MAKE RED LENTIL DAL ON THE STOVETOP (STEP BY STEP TUTORIAL)'.

This is followed by:

'This daal is really easy to make. If you can spare a bit more time, then I’d suggest you slowly cook the onions for about 10 minutes until soft but not too brown. Then also simmer the daal a little longer.'


Finally, we get to the step-by-step, and it comes to a grand total of.... 99 words. That's right, 937 words of introductory waffle for a 99 word recipe. This is madness.

But the worst part? This is normal. There are so many recipes online that follow this same format. The only reason I can think of is to boost SEO (Search Engine Optimisation), but the user experience suffers so much in the process that it makes the recipes all but useless.

If I'm scrolling through a recipe online it's usually because I need some quick information. Rarely do I cook a recipe start to finish; I'm much more likely to dip into one or two, just borrowing techniques when I realise that, for example, I've no idea what the correct hydration of taco dough is, and I don't know how to cook the orzo I've found in the back of my cupboard.

Therefore, I want a recipe no more than: a clear list of measured ingredients, maybe a list of equipment and a clear, well laid out step-by-step.

I've noticed HelloFresh and other meal kits don't have these preambles on their recipe cards. Maybe this is why people say that they make cooking so much quicker, easier and hassle-free: no endless scrolling about how your gran passed the recipe down to you as a child!

So I beg of any author of online recipes: give us what we need, and no more! And if you must impose your personal touch onto a recipe, do it below the actual recipe: tips and tricks only make sense once we've read the recipe anyway.

Do you agree with me? What do you like from an online recipe?

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Comments (18)

  • I entirely disagree. Give me the story, details, step-by-step, all info I need.

    Strongly suggest all FoodTribe writers to do so as well. We’re not ingredient listers and arrangers. We love food. We write about food.

      1 year ago
    • (Excellent article, though!)

        1 year ago
    • Maybe there's a happy medium to be struck? Perhaps list the ingredients, equipment, and instructions at the top of the page, then place the story, history, prose, dissertation, etc underneath. So those who want to read it can find it, and...

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        1 year ago
  • I can't entirely agree. There are simple recipes that don't need to be explained. Instead, there are ancient recipes, with a history and legends that maybe someone is interested in. The useful thing is to divide the article so that it is clear: the story on one side the recipe on the other. But ok, I am Italian, we have a long story of cooking, maybe for dishes born yesterday it's different. Another thing: you don't go to the supermarket reading the ingredients from your iPhone, you first check what can be served.

      1 year ago
    • agreed: clear separation is the key! And i think i need to get my act together... i often find myself traipsing round the shop, phone out searching for recipes

        1 year ago
  • Isn't it easy to just skip the stuff that you don't want to read? Just scroll down. That way everyone gets the choice to either read whatever story the author of the recipe wants to tell or to leave it out and get right down to business 😊.

      1 year ago
    • I see what you mean, but the recipe is so often nestled amongst text, images, suggested articles, comments, etc, that it's not as simple as zipping straight to the bottom. Instead it has to be found among the other stuff. I think the...

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        1 year ago
  • I don't know. I just look at the pictures.

      1 year ago
  • I SO agree! Often I'm in the supermarket trying to figure out what I should do with that butternut squash I bought on a whim and all the recipes online are just filled with utter crap about how it's been passed down in the family for centuries. Then, when you finally get to the recipe an ad pops up and blocks you from reading it!! Ahhh you've struck a nerve, but that's why I'm a devout fan of the BBCgoodfood app!

      1 year ago