(Approx. reading time 5 mins 34 secs, last updated 02/June/2021)
With the recent trend of foodie culture, there is an incredible number of food-related tools popping up all over the place. Some are fantastic, some… not so much. While most have their strong points, not all of them are all that useful when faced with a bunch of ingredients that don’t seem to inspire any kind of meal ideas, no matter how long you stare at them.
Some of these links are very popular and most homecooks will have used them at some point, but some might surprise you: ever thought of using wikipedia for food inspiration? Probably not.
- all recipes
- Supercook and My Fridge Food
- BBC food ingredients
- things I don’t recommend
Yummly is, in my opinion, the best search engine for recipes. It doesn’t include all recipes, as people need to add links manually, but it’s as close as you can get outside of doing a Google search. You need to create an account to use it, but if you have a Google or Facebook account, it takes just two clicks.
You can customise your preferences so that only relevant recipes will appear. You can choose from a range of diets, allergies, disliked ingredients, and favourite cuisines (which is not comprehensive, but it’s pretty good). And you can change your preferences whenever you want.
The search bar itself can be used for meals or ingredients (the website is better than the app if searching by ingredients), and results can be further filtered by ingredients (included or excluded), diet, allergies, flavours you’re after, nutritional values, cooking time, cuisine, and even cooking method.
You can read the ingredients without leaving Yummly, but for directions you are usually sent to the original website. You can ‘yum’ (like or favourite recipes) to send them to your recipe box for future access, and even create collections of recipes.
The app allows you to create and manage a shopping list (just click on the + next to each ingredient) and plan when you want to eat so that you’ll get reminders using your phone’s calendar. You can even change the number of servings from 1 to 25. And you can download a browser extension that allows you to add any recipe to your recipe box, and once it’s been processed everyone else is also able to see it.
If you haven’t used it before, go and get started now. I won’t even get mad if you don’t finish reading the rest of the page now (just make sure you come back later). And remember to add your favourite recipes so that the whole community can find them.
I think most people know about allrecipes. It is a massive company with branches all over the world. However, not many people know of its best feature: ingredient search.
Right on the main page of the US version, to the bottom of the search bar, there’s a little button that says ‘search by ingredient’. Clicking there will open a pop up with three sections: keywords (for example: cookies or soup), include ingredients, and exclude ingredients.
With just a few clicks you can find a recipe for a stew with chicken and spinach but no carrots. The search is limited to 4 ingredients in each category, but that’s usually more than enough. June/2021 update: there seems to have been an update with the search engine, and the ingredient search isn’t working properly as of now, hopefully it’s just a temporary issue.
Sadly the main website can’t be used fully by those outside of the US and Canada anymore (profiles have been disabled and all the info deleted), and the local versions don’t seem to have this option. You can get around it by manually forcing the .com ending on your browser. I hear from American friends that the app Dinner Spinner is also very good, but I haven’t had a chance to try it as I live in the UK.
Two different websites that work in a similar way: you select all the ingredients you have from a list and then you get a number of recipes you can prepare with them.
The databases are not perfect, mostly due to the different ways people can write ingredient lists, but they’re good enough that the odd glitch is not too annoying. Just keep in mind that when you add ingredients, you might have to be a bit creative (for example if you have basil you should add basil, herbs, and mixed herbs to get all possible results).
MyFridgeFood is more basic with less options to customise and a shorter list of possible ingredients, but it does offer detailed nutritional information. A fun option is the decider. A nifty little tool that offers suggestions for recipes you can cook after you answer a few simple questions about how much time you have, how many people you’re feeding, and how much actual cooking you want to do.
Supercook allows you to select from a much larger list of ingredients, the results can be customised by key ingredient and even cuisine, and it suggests ingredients you might want to buy to be able to cook even more things (quite possibly my favourite feature!).
For those searching for ideas for particular ingredients, the food ingredients section is a gold mine. The list includes a ridiculous amount of ingredients, from everyday staples to weird foodie ingredients you’ve never even heard of before.
Each entry has information about the ingredient, usually easy ideas for preparing, buying and storing tips, and links to all the recipes that feature that ingredient within the website.
Most recipes are somewhat complicated and have long lists of ingredients as they are created by chefs rather than homecooks or bloggers, but if you check the comments section you can usually find ideas to simplify them. Or you can use the website for inspiration and then do a general web search for simpler versions. Searches like ‘easy xxx’ or ‘quick xxx’ will usually give you a few dozen options (just replace the xxx for the recipe name or you will end up in some very NSFW websites!).
Most food articles have a section dedicated to how the ingredient is commonly used and many feature either a list of dishes or a collection of photographs of recipes. Sometimes dishes are even linked to a wikibooks cookbook recipe.
Once you have an idea, you can go from wikipedia to Yummly, allrecipes, or Google to find a recipe you like through their search engines.
reddit has a fantastic user base willing to share their knowledge (and there are some extremely knowledgeable people there).
There are many subreddits dedicated to food and cooking, but your starting points should be r/food, r/askculinary, r/cooking, and r/recipes. Each subreddit has its own tone and you will probably feel more comfortable in some than others.
If you’re vegetarian go to r/vegetarianrecipes, and if vegan go to r/veganrecipes. Those on a gluten free diet should check r/glutenfreerecipes. Two other useful subreddits are r/onepotmeals and r/eatcheapandhealthy.
There are thousands of recipes already posted there that you can find using the search function (which is not great but it’s not too bad either), or you can post a question yourself. Just remember that reddit is all about community, so share your knowledge and experiences too!
Things I don’t recommend using when faced with random ingredients
In two words: Instagram and Pinterest.
I love Instagram, I really do, it’s my prefered platform when working with my clients. But when it comes to looking for quick ideas, it’s just not the best place to go. Many people misuse hashtags (I’ve seen #vegan on a fish dish and #budget on a truffle one) and not very many recipes are actually posted there. Plus the search function is terrible.
Pinterest has similar issues to Instagram. The search feature cannot really be customised and you always end up with the same popular recipes over and over, even if they are not particularly relevant. Some recipes are linked but not all, and quite a few lead to dodgy websites.
Leave Instagram and Pinterest for browsing when you have some free time. Both are great for inspiration and coming up with ideas for future use, as well as seeing what people are cooking. But they are not very useful when your stomach is asking for food 20 minutes ago.
Pinterest is fantastic for organising recipes, especially now that it offers sub boards (remember that you can add your own pins from any website, you’re not limited to those already in Pinterest). And Instagram has a great community. You might feel a bit alone at first, but if you’re active and post relevant content you will soon have followers and create your own little group of online friends.