Do you know your onions, or specifically how to write about them in a recipe?
More and more people are writing about food for the web through blogs and on platforms like Instagram, and following a few rules will make you sound like you know what you're talking about (and help your reader avoid a kitchen disaster too!)
We've got some tasty tips about structure, measurements and units, writing authentically, and making sure your recipes are found through good SEO.
How to structure a recipe
The images and writing around a recipe aim to inspire, telling a story about the dish which will lead the reader to get the ingredients and start cooking, while the actual written recipe is there to tell them clearly and simply how to do it.
So try to keep the method as short as possible and don’t waffle. Even if you're making waffles. It's best to be concise.
Timings are very important so if a dish needs time to marinade or dough needs to prove then it is a good idea to mention this in the introduction. If an oven needs to be preheated, mention this at the beginning of the method.
List your ingredients in the order in which they should be used. This saves the reader from jumping around trying to figure out how much of what to use at each stage.
If ingredients need to be prepped it is best to detail that in the list – for example ‘onion, finely diced’ or ‘carrot, grated’.
Try to split the method up into numbered paragraphs, and stick to one or two actions per paragraph.
Adding extra notes at the bottom of the recipe allows the reader to tailor the recipe depending on their preferences. For example, ‘if you can’t find venison try beef instead’ or ‘to make this vegan replace the honey for golden syrup.'
Measurements and units
We’re in a bit of a muddle in the UK with imperial vs metric, so a lot of recipes tend to detail grams and kilos, ounces and pounds, millilitre and fluid ounces side by side. It is up to you whether you want to do both, or stick to one system.
As you can see in the images above, the BBC Good Food website details metric and imperial, whereas the Guardian uses imperial - but does list Celsius and Fahrenheit for ovens. Whatever you do, stick to one style!
For the metric system stick to these conventions:
· 350g (not grams)
· 1 tsp (not teaspoon)
· 200ml (not millilitres)
· 1 onion, finely diced (not 1 x)
· Juice of an orange
· A pinch of salt
· 200C / 450F / gas mark 7
How to write authentically about food
Food is especially prone to cliches, in an attempt to communicate flavours and textures, opinions and the atmosphere of restaurants. So being authentic takes a little practice. Whether you're writing as yourself or on behalf of their brand it is important to stick to a few rules or write a tone of voice guide before you start.
Read other writers work - it will help you find the style that appeals to you or fits the brand. Someone like Nigel Slater writes so emotively about food without being trite, whereas someone like Jamie Oliver (above) has a bright, in-your-face kind of style that does fit his brand and personality.
Think of your audience - what kind of descriptions would appeal to the reader you trying to reach? If you're writing about easy weeknight family meals you will want to keep the language simple and don't daunt the reader - you want them to feel like the recipe is achievable as well as delicious. On the opposite end of the scale, if you are writing copy for a fine-dining restaurant you will need to talk confidently about the food, the chef and the atmosphere without seeming patronising, boastful or unwelcoming.
Don't use moist! Most food writers will share this opinion. To me, it doesn't sound appealing or appetising. Stay away from it if you can! On a similar vein to this, don't use too many gimmicky words it can date your content and can make you appear crass or inexperienced on the topic.
SEO tips for writing about food
I’m sorry to spoil the delicate art of food writing, by talking about SEO – but it is important. I’m going to assume you’re writing for the web so you’ll want your recipes and content to be found.
Keep titles descriptive, try not to be too fluffy – if it is a cinnamon apple cake then call a spade a spade and say it's a cinnamon apple cake. Try to mention the key ingredients in the first paragraph, and make sure you make your photos descriptive and use alt tags. If you’re blogging don’t forget about tags, meta descriptions and keywords.
If you’re on Wordpress there is a handy plugin call EasyRecipe which allows you to put all your ingredients, method and type of dish into a field, which will then convert it to a SEO-friendly format that Google can crawl easily. The basic version is free, and there is a fancier paid version.
Useful resources for food writing include these articles on The Kitchn (American but adaptable), this Bon Appetit article on Recipe Editing and a guide to Metrication on The Guild of Food Writers website.
Bon Appetit article on Recipe Editing