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Online Extras: News to Note

June 20, 2012

Slate: The future of cookbooks


The appeal of a tangible gift — one that can be wrapped and physically handed to another person — is deeply ingrained in some people. But over time, our present-exchanging customs will adapt to our increasingly online world. Cooking applications for tablets and smartphones will likely join Netflix subscriptions, Amazon gift cards and iTunes playlists as popular digital presents, effectively wiping out the gift-cookbook phenomenon.

Of course, not all cookbooks are given as gifts: Some people — a minority of people — buy them for themselves, too. The value of a cookbook qua cookbook is threefold. First, there's the quality of its recipes: how easy and reliable they are, and especially how good they taste. Second, there's the readability of its recipes: clarity, style, consistency of language. Finally, there's its aesthetic value. By this, I refer both to visuals and prose (witty or thoughtful chapter introductions and recipe headnotes) — the qualities that make people enjoy cookbooks not just as how-to manuals but for their entertainment value.

The Internet is far superior to cookbooks for helping readers suss out recipe quality (and, to a lesser extent, so are apps that allow users to rate recipes). Before the Internet, if you wanted to find out how good a recipe was, you had to make it yourself or trust a friend.

Now, you can Google the type of recipe you're looking for, browse several versions (and readers' comments on them), and choose the one with the highest user rating. Reader reviews can even help you make a recipe better (by suggesting that you add more salt or a pinch of cayenne to your stuffed peppers) or tailor it to your dietary restrictions (by substituting crumbled tofu for that ground pork if you're vegan or kosher). For people who are interested primarily in cooking recipes that taste good, the Internet is a better resource than any cookbook ever was.

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