Kevin the Harmless (keturn) wrote,

oatmeal with hemp milk and rasins

Changing dietary restrictions has got me really curious about where to go to find new recipes. I've spent a lot of time over the past few days looking at various recipe catalogue sites. I'm focusing more on public recipe repositories, less on individual chefs. I thought I'd share some of my impressions:

Best for answering "What do I want to eat?"

cookthink asks "What are you craving?"

I'm very impressed by the design here. I find my attempts to describe it don't really do it justice. Next time you have a moment of "I'm not sure what I want," try it out!

It does not, however, have a way to filter its suggestions for dietary restrictions, and you cannot add recipes to its collection.

Best for answering "What can I make now?"

Supercook. Searching for recipes by ingredient is pretty common now, but Supercook seems to be unique in that it stores the list of things you have in your kitchen. That is, I can ask it for recipes with lentils now, and it already knows I have coconut milk and ginger from the last time I told it, and will suggest recipes accordingly. It also suggests things I should get to broaden my choices (at the moment, it suggests I buy more lemon, carrots, and spinach), and will remember that I don't want to see any recipes with tofu.

Supercook's collection of recipes comes from automatically searching other recipe sites. You cannot add recipes to it directly.

Most Comprehensive Search Site

I believe that Recipe Puppy does ingredient-based search across more sites than anything else I've seen. In some ways, Recipe Puppy (and companion CookThing) are similar to SuperCook, but their interfaces are different and CookThing doesn't have Supercook's memory about my kitchen inventory and restrictions.

Least Obnoxious Megasite

allrecipes.com probably deserves better than a back-handed compliment like this. Unlike the sites above, you can add your own recipes, or links to recipes. The sheer size of its collection and community counts for a lot.

But for me, choosing between allrecipes.com and its competitors was a process of elimination. RecipeZaar has pop-up ads. And I failed to make it through the sign-up process for Epicurious when it kept redisplaying the registration form like I had omitted some required element, although I couldn't find what. Coulda been a Chrome bug. Or could be some additional flag or checkbox I didn't see buried amongst the various "partner offers" on the lengthy form.

Best at Building a Recipe Box

I'm not really sure how the size of the catalogue or the vitality of the community at Springpad for foodies compares, but their recipe box has this thing where you can point it at an arbitrary URL and it will grab the list of ingredients. Nice!

Go-to site for Indian food

VahRehVah.

From an informationology perspective, the recipe-sharing world is kind of interesting. With the exception of some highly-competitive subcultures, there's a lot of sharing that happens, relatively unhindered by intellectual property concerns. Indeed, lists of ingredients are not eligible for U.S. copyright protection, but cookbooks are, so a lot of this happens in a grey area.

At the same time, you've still got content providers with the same revenue models as elsewhere: old media publishing books or magazines, and online media wanting users to keep coming back to keep their ad impressions up. So you still get big content silos, whether they be driven primarily by user-submitted content like allrecipies or professionally sourced content owned by media giants.

None of the sites I've found so far seems to have a public API, not even Foodista (wikipedia of the cooking world) or Nibbledish (nee OpenSourceFood). It may be that some of the silos have private APIs for those who are willing to negotiate a license.

So we end up with sites with a variety of properties:

  • SparkRecipes has a nutritional info feature, is connected to a nutrition-tracking system, and is tied to an active community, but has very stringent terms about only submitting original work.
  • GroupRecipes has the Recipe Robot, a recommendation engine. But it can only operate within its own content silo.
  • Sites like Recipe Puppy have figured out how to break the content out of the silos to some extent, but I wonder to what degree they're just flying under the radar for the time being.

So, once again, the stronger the silos are, the more the users lose. People come up with these great products to base on a collection of recipes, like nutritional analysis, or a recommendation engine, or filtering by the contents of your fridge, but users have to choose between the site with the feature or the site with the recipe catalogue. Which means that even though I love the idea of an expert recommendation engine, I will probably never use GroupRecipe's Recipe Robot, because having other features or a larger recipe catalogue is more important.

This is probably the best case for microformats I've ever considered. Generally, I've been skeptical of microformats (if you have structured data, I want to access it through a specific API, kthx), but given the amount of distributed recipe data out there amongst these various sites and food bloggers, it might be quite valuable. And in fact, it looks like here is hRecipe, which still says "draft" but is reportedly used by Williams-Sonoma and the Food Network. Perhaps there is hope yet!

Tags: cooking, food, web
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