How to Write an Original Recipe, According to An Expert

Turns out, you're just a few tweaks away from creating the cookbook of your dreams.

Dedicated hostess making notes in her cookbookPhoto: Shutterstock / Dmytro Zinkevych
Photo: Shutterstock / Dmytro Zinkevych

In today’s world, cooking, cookbooks and food blogging can mean big business. And you don’t necessarily need an expensive culinary degree to do it! (Though, our Test Kitchen experts would agree that it helps.) In fact, many celebrity chefs didn’t start their career in a culinary school; they began in their home kitchen. Take Rachael Ray or Ree Drummond of The Pioneer Woman, for example. But how do you start your cooking empire? The best place to begin is by learning how to create a recipe that’s uniquely your own.

Getting Started

Though you may have heard, “No one owns a recipe; they’re meant to be handed down and passed around,” that’s not entirely true. You can’t claim those recipes on the back of the box (or in a cookbook) to be of your own design. Folks get mighty upset if you take credit for their work. And you wouldn’t want to irk off Mamaw Emily, would you?

Of course, an alternative to copying someone else’s recipe is to spend long hours in the kitchen mixing and matching ingredients until you get something you’d like. This is definitely a fun option—but if you have little experience (or budget), you may find yourself with a few more #recipefails than you’d like. Luckily, there’s a shortcut I recommend to all of our recipe contributors.

The Easy Way to Write an Original Recipe

According to the U.S. Copyright Office, a “description, explanation, or illustration” that accompanies a recipe is protected by law. This means you cannot simply copy and paste the recipe instructions and use them as your own. You can, however, use a pre-existing recipe for inspiration. You just need to make a few changes that are of your own imagination. Love a recipe enough to expand on it? I recommend looking at tweaking one of these areas before you can call it your own.

Pro tip: Always make sure you write the recipe directions in your own words along with your other changes.

Modify the Ingredient List

By law, a list of ingredients alone cannot be copyrighted. For instance, the ingredient list on the back of your Haagen Dazs Vanilla Ice Cream is free game for you to experiment with. (Psst! Did you know it only calls for five ingredients?) Start by changing a single ingredient. Test it, then see if you can change another. An easy place to start is by looking at the main protein or vegetables in the dish. Can the ground beef be swapped for ground turkey? Could you use kale instead of spinach? On the same note, adding or removing ingredients in a dramatic way would help make the recipe your own.

Pro tip: When it comes to herbs and seasoning, simply increasing or decreasing the amount you use doesn’t make the recipe an original. But trading cinnamon sugar for Old Bay definitely would be a unique twist.

Change the Cooking Method

Could you turn that oven-baked recipe into a slow-cooker dish? (Tips here!) Or how about give that cast-iron pizza some char marks on the grill? Consider a new cooking method when it comes to creating an original recipe. This is especially practical when creating a healthy dish makeover. Think: grilled instead of fried! Here are a few more common cooking methods for you to consider:

  • Baking
  • Poaching
  • Simmering
  • Sauteeing
  • Grilling
  • Pan-frying
  • Deep-frying

Follow these tips and you’re sure to craft a recipe that’s all your own. Still worried? If you have any doubt about whether your changes truly create a new recipe, add an “inspired by” message and show some love to the original source.

Once you’ve created your masterpiece, be sure to share it with Taste of Home. Think your recipe is the cream of the crop? Compete in one of our recipe contests and you could win a big cash prize.

Sue Stetzel
Sue has been working with Taste of Home since 2011. When she isn’t writing, she’s answering your burning cooking questions and working with our team of Community Cooks. She spends her free time cooking, crafting, and volunteering for various organizations in her home town.