Lo-res_1162184637-SWhen at-home cooks seek inspiration, ideas, or new recipes, they go online and put in a few search terms—maybe ingredients they have on hand or a regional cuisine that sparks a craving at that moment. If they are in virtually any country other than the United States, the search results are dominated by a recipe site called Cookpad. But U.S. consumers will have to page farther down to find the Cookpad ideas, a gap that reflects both the site’s targeting efforts and Americans’ food habits.

The idea behind Cookpad, since it first appeared in 1997, was to collect home recipes, offered up by regular users. Rather than single, glossy images of perfectly designed dishes, Cookpad posts usually contain multiple pictures of the entire process of creating the dish and realistic presentations of the end result. The contributors give hints, tricks, and shortcuts, often using informal, chatty descriptions. Their recipes tend to reflect their native cultures, such that users might learn how to make one contributor’s grandfather’s barbacoa, then another’s mother’s korokke.

The company started in Japan, and the Cookpad site designed for Japanese users continues to account for most of its estimated 100 million monthly visitors. Although a majority of women in Japan work outside the home, traditional gender roles still assign them primary responsibility for cooking, and accordingly, an estimated 90 percent of Japanese women in their 20s and 30s rely on the recipe site for ideas and instructions. Those instructions are not limited to the originally posted recipes themselves. In this international community, visitors are encouraged to respond to each recipe they try with improvements, alternatives, and suggestions. If a particular dish seems not to be working, users will collaborate to come up with solutions.

Furthermore, the company has introduced dedicated sites for 76 different countries and cultures around the globe, including various Asian nations, different regions in South America and Africa, and multiple European nations. It also developed and posted a site for the United States, but that version remains one of its poorest performers overall. According to the company’s founder, many Americans prefer eating prepared meals or dining out over cooking. Rather than enjoying the process of cooking themselves, they would rather be entertained by cooking shows.

But there is a notable exception. For immigrants to the United States, Cookpad represents a valuable and treasured source of information and assistance. Because it hosts a diverse range of international dishes, categorized according to highly specific regional traditions, people living away from their native country can use it to remain a sense of connection to their distant family, as well as keep track of emerging trends in the cuisine of their homelands. Still, because it has not gained widespread adoption in the United States, the company has not invested heavily in this version of the site; it is relatively harder to navigate and search than comparable sites available to users in other countries.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Visit Cookpad and search for a recipe, using criteria of your own choice. Did you find the site easy or difficult to use? Would you consider using it more regularly?
  2. How would you assess the characterization of U.S. consumers as less interested in cooking their own foods?

Source: Priya Krishna, “With No Frills or Celebrities, Cookpad Is a Global Go-To for Recipes,” The New York Times, February 28, 2021