Write A Cookbook Right - Ethical Recipe Writing

Crediting Recipe Sources and Inspirations

For ethical cookbook writing, credit recipe sources
For ethical cookbook writing, recipe sources and inspirations should always be properly credited. Silvia Rico / Getty Images

Ethical cookbook writing requires appropriately crediting recipe sources and inspirations.

Writing cookbook recipes involves a lot of labor — not only putting fingers to the keyboard, but developing and testing original recipes so that they "work." These recipes are intellectual property, just the same as any writing or creative endeavor, subject to copyright laws.

What gets a bit sticky is the fact that the idea for a particular new recipe and the ingredients lists are not subject to copyright.

Add to that the ease of "sharing" on the Internet, blogs and social media, and the result is that the unethical plagiarizing or ripping off of recipes is fairly common.

Professional recipe writers and developers, reputable cookbook authors, and established media outlets such as The New York Times are careful to credit the original sources and even the inspirations for the recipes that they produce or publish.

It's good cookbook karma to ensure that recipe writing credit is given where credit is due. The International Association of Culinary Professionals publishes guidelines on recipe attribution; in the spirit of crediting sources, know that the following material is adapted from the IACP Ethical Guidelines.

Straightforward recipe attribution

When a recipe is obtained from a specific source — whether it's handed down from a relative, given to you by a friend, provided by a restaurant's publicist, or found in someone's cookbook, the source should be given full credit or the recipe named after the source, even if the ingredients have been slightly changed it or the method re-worded.

For example:

  • "The gingerbread cookie recipe is from Cookie Craft by Valerie Peterson and Janice Fryer, published by Storey Publishing / Workman" or
  • "Mrs. Hanif's Guyana Black Cake"

If a part of a recipe or a technique has been inspired by the recipe of another, it's appropriate to give a credit for that portion.

Note that for publicity purposes, many cookbook publishers allow reprinting of a recipe or two — but only with full credit to the cookbook, author, publishing company, etc.

"Adapted from" or "based on" credit

The IACP suggests that when an existing recipe has been changed a bit but the "original essence" still remains, the source recipe should receive an "adapted from" or "based on" attribution. (This credit seems to be frequently used by established cookbook authors who can't help but want to improve / mess with someone else's recipe.)

  • "The recipe for Coq au Vin was adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, by Julia Child, Alfred A. Knopf"

"Loosely adapted from" or "inspired by" credit

When an existing recipe has been changed substantially, the recipe developer should use either the phrase "loosely adapted from" or "inspired by" to credit the original source.

  • "The recipe for Coq au Beer was loosely adapted from Coq au Vin  Mastering the Art of French Cooking, by Julia Child, Alfred A. Knopf"

Credits for traditional recipes

In some instances, a recipe might be traditional to a culture or ethnicity (such as Swedish meatballs) or is a culinary classic (such as gingerbread cookies). If the recipe developer has researched a number of recipes for the same dish (the IACP suggests ten versions) and then developed his or her own, no credit need be given.

If a recipe has been adapted from a historic source, like an old cookbook that is in public domain, the source should be credited — both for ethical reasons and to add "flavor" to your headnotes. (Learn about writing cookbook headnotes here.)

When in doubt about recipe writing credit

The IACP advises "When in doubt, give credit" and if you want to be a responsible cookbook writer, it's good advice to follow.

Read about other hallmarks of a professionally written recipe book — the ingredients for writing a successful cookbook.