The evolution of a recipe

 homemade French onion dip

For an office function last week, I made my "famous" caramelized onion dip, which I got ages ago from a magazine that has been lost to history. A friend asked me for the recipe, so I went to fetch it off my computer. As I got ready to print a copy, I realized that I no longer used that recipe. 

It wasn't that I found the wrong recipe in my database (naturally, I index my personal recipes on EYB to avoid such a problem), it's that I had changed several of the ingredients. The changes aren't on-the-fly tweaks, they have been consistent every time, yet I've been slow to update the database. But the experience got me thinking about how many changes it takes before a recipe is no longer recognizable as the original and becomes its own creation. 

In this case, I had substituted Chinese black vinegar for the Worcestshire sauce, changed the ratio between the cream cheese and mayonnaise, omitted a couple of distracting additions (chopped pistachios on top? really?), and used butter instead of oil. Each change was a incremental step, but when aggregated it became clear that the recipe that was in my database was no longer the recipe I used. 

How many changes does it take until it's an entirely new recipe? The concept is subjective and everyone probably has a different take on how substantial the tweaks must be before you reach that threshhold. One or two small changes probably won't cut it, but when you are making a half dozen substitutions or changing several volumes, it is pretty clear that it's a new concoction. Where do you draw the line on whether you have created a new recipe?

Photo of Homemade French Onion Dip from Saveur Magazine 

6 Comments

  • Lynled  on  10/27/2016 at 11:03 AM

    Great question Darcie. I'd also be interesting in learning what is the rule of thumb about crediting back to a recipe you have tweaked and want to post online

  • Cubangirl  on  10/27/2016 at 2:16 PM

    That is so true Darcie. I make 6 layer bars in the microwave. I still have the original newspaper page my mom sent me in the 1970s. As I was describing what I'd made to my daughter, she said "mom those sound great but they are not your 6 layer bars". I've switched the grahams to TJ's coconut thins, subbed coconut oil for half the butter, use semisweet mini chips, pecans instead of walnuts and unsweetened coconut. I still use condenseed milk, thought I often use low fat or no fat instead of full. However, if asked, I would have printed the original from my Living Cookbook.

  • ntt2  on  10/28/2016 at 10:00 AM

    So where is your current recipe?!? ; )

  • hillsboroks  on  10/28/2016 at 2:20 PM

    I started wondering about this question when I clipped a cookie recipe out of our local paper that had won a prize in the Pillsbury Bake Off back in the 1990s. I made the cookies and realized that except for the addition of white chocolate chips and chopped dried apricots that it was identical to one I grew up with and got a copy of from my mom (and I think she got it from her 1950s Better Homes and Gardens cookbook). When I lined the two recipes up they were identical except for the add-ins. My husband loves these cookies with the apricots and white chocolate chips added so I still make them this way but I always thought the baker who submitted the recipe to the bake off was cheating.

  • Cubangirl  on  10/28/2016 at 3:39 PM

    ntt2, is the question for me or for Darcie?

  • annmartina  on  10/30/2016 at 1:53 PM

    I'd love your dip recipe

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