Are Any Recipes Really "Original"?

As I look at all the cookbooks I have accumulated, think about the cooking magazines I have, and watch the numerous cooking shows I like, I have to wonder. Is there really an original recipe?

If you think about it the recipes from hundreds of years ago were the ancestors of today's recipes. Our great grandmothers and fathers, and people before them, all had recipes, and what we have now are distant cousins and half brothers of the originals. So then, the idea of putting together a particular list of ingredients and instructions create a recipe. Who can call it their own? Can you publish it?

Is there really such a thing as an "original" recipe? I think the answer is no. I like what this contributor to, Jonas M. Luster, has to say on this. He says that, "Any and all recipes are simply derivatives of 27 basic preparations. The only part of a recipe that is original are the instructions." The instructions are considered "creative work" and are protected by copyright laws. The list of ingredients are not protected. Luster also states, "Every time someone claims that a recipes can be protected I challenge them to the same: show me an original recipe. Anything that has not been done for centuries or, in case of the so-called "modernists" or "molecular" cuisine, since the 80's by fast food, freezer isle, or candy makers."

"Copyright law does not protect recipes that are mere listings of ingredients. Nor does it protect other mere listings of ingredients such as those found in formulas, compounds, or prescriptions. Copyright protection may, however, extend to substantial literary expression—a description, explanation, or illustration, for example—that accompanies a recipe or formula or to a combination of recipes, as in a cookbook."
"Only original works of authorship are protected by copyright. “Original” means that an author produced a work by his or her own intellectual effort instead of copying it from an existing work."(

Why isn't the list of ingredients protected by copyright laws? My guess is that anyone could come up with any combination of ingredients. Take for example the day I had the genius idea of making a Nutella milk shake. For two whole minutes I thought I had an original idea, but then a friend who lives in Brazil saw my post and said her kids have them all the time there.

I am certainly NOT a lawyer, and I am sure there are many more points to this subject, but MY main point is about originality. I understand the "rules" to be this. If you are a blogger, for example, and use an already published recipe, you may use the list of ingredients, but you can not use the authors word for word instructions of how to prepare the dish. To quote Luster again, "It stands to reason that anyone who can't describe the process of making a dish in their own words (again, ingredients and ratios can't be copyrighted to begin with) has no business publishing recipes, but the vast number of "foodie blogs" out there who do precisely that tells me there's a market for that stuff. And it's totally legal."

So, these cookbooks, magazines, and now food bloggers entering the arena, are essentially "copying" recipes? I came across a question that was asked on, back in January of 2008, that had some interesting comments. The question header says "Recipe Plagiarism" and Roland Parker asked, "

"Is using a recipe published in a cookbook for a business venture a form of plagiarism Are recipes protected by copyright laws? So, I'm asking all the chefs and caterers and store owners out there: do you routinely borrow other people's recipes or do you establish your own recipes (even if it's only changing one ingredient out of a long list, does that alone make it "your" recipe?"

Sisterfunkhaus responded to the string of comments, "If they are, then there are a lot of Food Network stars including Ina Garten, RR, and Paula Deen, as well as The Pioneer Woman who would be in big trouble. I regularly recognize their recipes from The Joy of Cooking, The Betty Crocker Cookbook, and exact recipes my mom has made for years and got from who knows where. Sometimes I will even go look something up because I know I have seen or eaten the recipe before. They will often adjust the amount of salt or one other ingredient so it will seem like it's theirs. Now, I know many of the recipes are theirs, but many are not."

Take these two recipes for example. The first one is for Raspberry Tea Squares. I have shared this recipe before in a previous blog post and gave credit to the book where it came from, which was "Make It Easy In Your Kitchen" by Laurie Burrows Grad. The second recipe, from Ina Garten's new cookbook "Foolproof", and one I have shared on my Facebook page and gave credit to Ina, is for Raspberry Crumble Bars. Both of these recipes when cooked look very similar, and taste the same. The difference in the recipes are in ratios of some of the exact same ingredients, and one has salt, and the other doesn't, and one has all spice, and the other doesn't, and Ina's recipe adds granola. If you don't add the granola, you've got Laurie Burrow Grad's recipe.

So, can you alter a previously published recipe and call it your own, with instructions in your own words? Yes. Can you use a published recipe, not make any changes to it and call it your own, even if you describe the instruction in your own words? You probably shouldn't. You should make reference to where you got it from. Among cooks I feel you should give credit when credit is due. If I choose to share a recipe from another source I will say where it came from. If I have altered a recipe from another source I will say "adapted from" next to the recipe title. All recipes are adapted from one another in some way. The "original" however, may be very hard to find.

** These may be the 27 basic food preparations Mr. Luster may have been thinking.  There are in fact many more: baking, frying, grilling, stewing, boiling, steaming, roasting, slow cooking, microwaving, simmering, leeching, soaking, salting, preserving, canning, straining, mincing, dicing, slicing, cutting, grating, grinding, pulverizing, drying, hydrating, dehydrating, freeze drying


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