The dark side of recipe hack videos
The internet is full of short recipe hack videos. These often seem too good to be true, and in many cases they are exactly that.
Everyone loves a good life hack, and in the hierarchy of hacks, there are few things more enticing than a bakery hack. It’s likely you’ve seen those Facebook videos of a pair of hands whipping up a three-ingredient ice cream, or making miraculously simple meringues from chickpea water. By reducing baking down to a process of two or three steps, these videos make cooking look almost as easy as scrolling. Millions of people love to watch, and many try to emulate the recipes themselves.
But the fact is that a large proportion of these recipes simply don’t work. Worldwide, kids in kitchens are discovering for themselves that these instructional videos waste ingredients, yield disgusting results, and make a mess of your kitchen.
Food scientist Ann Reardon has taken to YouTube to expose the lies that channels like 5-Minute Craft and So Yummy publish. With a scientific knowledge of how foods actually react when, say, microwaved in a jug... or held over a naked gas flame... she is able to discern which recipes are valid and which are not.
Best of all, she makes them herself so you can see how bad these recipes really are without ruining your own kitchen. Some, like the almond butter cookies made from just almond butter and an egg (note: no sugar), simply taste foul.
Others, like the ‘simple caramel’, in which a jug of condensed milk is microwaved for 10 minutes, lead to molten condensed milk spewing all over your microwave and leave nothing left in the jug but blackened, burnt remnants.
It’s clear the makers of these recipe videos are using editing to secretly swap out ingredients and to deceive viewers into thinking their recipes work, and this seems demonstrative of the deceit with which these recipe channels work. The shoddiness of the recipes isn’t a result of negligence or incompetency; the use of editing demonstrates that what these channels publish is fantasy transformations from, say, gummy bears to jelly: they know their own recipes don’t work, but offer them out anyway to their 64 million YouTube subscribers.
These videos are inherently watchable, and in a world of click wars, this kind of stuff wins. BBC Click's Chris Fox has also been trying out some of these videos recently, and being brave enough to try the pretty grim looking microwavable flan...
Many of these hacks are so poor that you don’t need a scientist like Ann to tell you they don’t work. For example, one hack video suggests that if you’re out of popcorn on movie night, you can just microwave (they really like using microwaves) an ear of corn in a paper bag for a few minutes and it’ll make popcorn. Obviously, this isn’t the case: microwaving corn leaves you with hot sweetcorn, not popcorn.
Not just flawed, but dangerous
The worst of 5-Minute Crafts and similar channels are the instructionals that are not only flawed, but dangerous. One video suggests that users pour molten caramel onto a spinning hand whisk to make a sugar nest. When done in testing, the molten caramel – which is over 100 degrees celsius – sprays in all directions around the room, making this recipe extremely dangerous.
Considering that these hacks – with their bright colours, youthful actors and chirpy music – are clearly targeted at children and teenagers, the danger of some is unjustifiable. I found one video that suggests that you can sort dead ends in your hair by burning them off with a candle. This isn’t so much a food recipe as a sure recipe for disaster; holding a naked flame to hair is bound to end at best in damaged hair, and at worse a fire. How could anyone advise children to do this?
Another shows viewers how to make white strawberries with only two ingredients: strawberries and bleach. The recipe suggests you soak the strawberries in a bowl of bleach for a while and… ta da! White strawberries. Of course, anyone who ate these would be poisoned, but for many children or young people watching this might not be common sense as it is to you or me.
Pointless, and useless
The most confusing ones are the ones that are both pointless and useless. Have you ever found yourself sitting around a fire with nothing but bacon, eggs and a paper bag? Well apparently when this common predicament next befalls you, you can break your eggs into the bag, throw in the bacon and hold it over the naked flame! According to the video, the bag should stay intact, leaving you with a delicious scrambled breakfast. Surely this would not work, and if it did it would never be needed.
It's hard to see a solution to the issue of bad recipes. Some might say that anyone stupid enough to believe these 'too good to be true' recipes deserves what's coming to them. However, the fact is that they are being watched by children who may never have baked anything before, and so have no way of knowing what's right or wrong. The internet is already full of debunking videos; Ann Reardon's channel is one of many.