From stone tablets to cookbooks, cooking blogs and personalized recipe apps, the recipe has evolved.

The earliest recipes known today date back to Mesopotamia, 1730 BC. They’re engraved on stone tablets in cuneiform and outline general instructions, such as this one for a stew.

“Meat is used. You prepare water. You add fine-grained salt, dried barley cakes, onion, Persian shallot, and milk. You crush and add leek and garlic.” Source: BBC.

(Credit: Yale Babylonian Collection)

(Credit: Yale Babylonian Collection)

This narrative style of recipe writing, where ingredients and instructions were grouped together, was the standard up until the mid-19th century. Written recipes were most likely an accompaniment to the practice of passing instructions down in-person, generationally, and so only the vaguest written record was needed. “Modern Cookery in All Its Branches,” by Eliza Acton in 1845, is credited as one of the first innovations in recipe writing, with the ingredients and their quantities listed to guide the reader.

Double mushroom catsup recipe from Modern Cookery by Eliza Acton (1845) - source: https://slicesofbluesky.com/the-evolution-of-recipe-writing-style/

Double mushroom catsup recipe from Modern Cookery by Eliza Acton (1845) – source.

Deliciously Digital — The Steps Towards Actionable Recipes

Since then, recipes have evolved from stone tablets to cookbooks, to recipe blogs. As the early Internet was primarily used by government officials, research scientists, and military intelligence personnel, the first digital recipe was probably the family favorite of a high-level official with security clearance and some downtime. Electronic bulletin boards and USENET newsgroups were the forerunners of today’s social media. Moderated or open, these groups arranged themselves by topic, and rec.food.recipes was one of the earliest dedicated online recipe exchanges, around 1985.

Web-based recipes are now almost uniformly structured in JSON-LD, to help with discoverability through Google and other search engines. This, combined with the personal story and tips about the recipe, helps the recipe creator get their content discovered through SEO. But the recipe experience, with long narratives, pop-up ads, mailing list invitations, and cookie permission requests, is frustrating for the person actually cooking the recipe.

Between Google-optimized exposition, auto-playing videos, mobile scrolling, and data-tracking warnings, finding the recipe you need online requires more than a little patience. The perfect digital recipe combines the convenience of accessing limitless choice, with the clutter-free experience of a physical recipe book.

When you’d like the recipe to have increased utility, like the ability to see which of your appliances are compatible with the recipe you want, automatic timers, and the option to scale up or down ingredients, you’re looking for an actionable recipe.

Actionable Recipes for Stress-Free Cooking

An actionable recipe is one that has been adapted to suit contemporary appliances and is now in a guided cooking format. Hosted in a digital, interactive medium such as a cooking app, it provides detailed information for the person following it, and adapts to local context (such as whether the flour amount is shown in grams or pounds, or your baba ghanoush is made with eggplant or aubergine) and can send and receive instructions from connected appliances.

An illustration of a kitchen, representing a digital cookbook containing actionable recipes.

A common barrier-to-entry, and the reason many smart appliances remain unused, is how difficult it is to simply get started. Recipes have undergone many changes since they were first recorded, but in order to adapt them to modern appliances, we need to tackle them in a whole new way. Actionable recipes shorten the learning curve for people cooking with a newly purchased appliance, saving time and helping them get perfect results.

There are an estimated 175 million smart homes in the world, with the worldwide connected home market projected to grow 25% year on year from 2020 to 2025. As connectivity becomes ubiquitous in the home, actionable recipes are more than a convenient luxury for their users, they are an essential component of the smart cooking experience for appliance brands.

The Future of Digital Recipes

When recipes moved online, browser bookmarks and screenshots replaced the book of tattered magazine pull-outs that resided on your mom’s kitchen counter. As home cooks create their own digital collections, they organically discover the complicated nature of recipe taxonomy and discuss the best methods of doing so on cooking blogs and forums.

For apps to become the default home for these digital collections, cooks will need confidence that these new virtual recipe books will have the simplicity and longevity of their analog counterparts. Will their children and grandchildren be able to benefit from the lifetime of experience and cooking that such collections represent? Or will they be lost as cooks upgrade phones and change apps? This is a real problem that may remain unsolved until app developers and recipe creators work together to agree on a standardized, future-proof model for recipe storage.

As for other possibilities, voice-controlled recipes are something that many smart appliances now support. However, the utility of a “screen-less” guided cooking experience is questionable. Visual cues, combined with the ability to scan ingredients and recipe steps quickly, are less frustrating and time-consuming than having to ask your smart speaker to read instructions back to you.

Right now, the real value of voice in a connected cooking experience is likely to be as augmentation rather than a replacement for your smartphone, helping reduce screen interactions when your fingers are covered in flour and oil. The future of recipes will be dictated by the needs of the people using them — and that means actionable recipes that allow home cooks to leverage the full power of the modern kitchen.

Drop has spent years honing in on how we can get people using their new appliances quickly, without friction, and frequently. To learn more about Drop’s Kitchen OS, the neutral, cross-brand platform for the smart kitchen, and how we help our partners deliver the best actionable recipes to their customers, please contact Cynthia West, VP of Global Sales.

Mark Wheatley

Mark Wheatley

A strong advocate of user-centered and data-driven design, Mark has 20 years of experience managing large-scale technology projects at a global level. As Head of Product at Drop, he brings his passion for making great products to the Drop platform.