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BBC – Capital – What makes a recipe viral?

You may not know the name of Alison Roman, but if you're someone who imports food and spends time on the internet, you've no doubt seen examples of his work.

Roman, a recipe developer and writer who was a senior publisher of Bon Appetit and Buzzfeed, published his first cookbook, Dining In, in 2017. Of the 125 recipes he published in his book, one in particular received so so much attention, and it has become so ubiquitous on Instagram, that it has gained a viral hashtag of its own: #Cookies.

On Instagram, #TheCookies has 4,355 posts, most of them home cooks share their version of the Chocolate shortbread cookie recipe that Roman has in his book. From December 2017 to January 2018, it seems that he can't escape the food enthusiast's posts that try and share his recipe.

Then, in November 2018, Roman's column in the New York Times produced another recipe with a cult following, this time a stew of chickpeas and coconut milk and turmeric that quickly became known on Instagram as #TheStew.

Roman, for his part, does not know which underlying factor made chickpea stew and shortbread cookies so popular; otherwise, she says, she would do it all the time. "Chickpea recipes have always been around and will be available forever. What happened was successful, I'm not even sure why," he says.

Usability, cooking

Part of what is different about Roman's success is that people actually try his recipes. Powers in the world of viral food videos like Buzzfeed Tasty vertical (and its many offshoots, included Tasty Japan and tasty vegetarian) collect millions of views through video "hands and pans" – accelerated head shots of hands making a dish.

These videos are fun and are meant to be shared. But as recipes, they are not always so useful

These videos are fun and are meant to be shared. But as recipes, they are not always so useful. Not all manufacturers perform tests to ensure that the recipes they are promoting actually work when they are repeated multiple times in multiple kitchens. They are also mostly anonymous.

Roman's recipes, however, are supported by his links with prestigious and written publications for an audience of unknown culinary abilities, with unknown equipment. It is not just an undertaking of technical writing, it is an art form that, like many forms of art, people who excel at making the look easier than it is.

One thing that many recipes that become popular on the Internet have in common, like bread without dough or Butter with instant pot butter, is that they have an accessibility that invites people to try them.

"I want it to be easy for everyone," says Romano. "I don't care where you live or how big your kitchen is or what equipment you have, I want you to be able to perform this recipe."

"For me, viral recipes are things that only exist on the Internet. And actually, this is something that exists in people's homes," he adds. "Even though they may never be as popular as a cheese-making video, for me it's much more meaningful that they were successful because people are actually cooking them."

Social success

Much of the success of the very popular recipes in 2019 are, of course, social media. Roman's expert as a recipe developer is amplified by his fluidity with Instagram, where he has almost 200,000 followers.

He often answers the questions about the recipes he has published and shares his followers' attempts in his recipes about his stories, helping to make #TheStew and #TheCookies both a community and a way to prepare a dinner or a dessert. It helps to tie his name and his presence to the recipe, rather than being purchased anonymously from the internet.

"We are certainly living in a time when food is having a moment, yet I think most recipe developers remain quite unknown outside the food media space," said Rebecca Firkser, a recipe developer and food writer from New York.

"So when someone with a larger social following, like Alison Roman, publishes a recipe, people are more likely to see it while they are browsing online and have to actually make the dish."

When an influencer makes a recipe, others want to emulate them for cultural relevance – Rebecca Firkser

"The publication also contributes to the virality of the recipes. A recipe published on a lesser-known blog or website is far less likely to become viral than the one published in the New York Times or on Bon Appetitsimply because of the wider public," notes Firkser.

And one element is simply keeping up with the news. "When an influencer makes a recipe, others want to emulate them for cultural relevance."

In knowledge

In this way, Roman's recipes are only the latest in a long series of recipes that have become very popular through sharing. It's just that before the Internet came, the way recipes were passed was through newspapers and word of mouth, rather than on Twitter and Instagram.

"The recipes were" trendy "even long before the Internet," explains Dr. Kimberly Voss, associate professor at the University of Central Florida and author of The Food Section: Newspaper Woman and the Culinary Community.

"It's a certain point in time that it was about showing off, like many of Julia Child's first things. It was a sort of prestige for a home cook to create something that required a lot of skill or imaginative ingredients, which I think still exists, "says Voss.

And, just like in 2019, some of what earned a recipe for popularity was being part of the club of people who did it. "It was also this idea to keep up with the people of fresh food, and that kind of pressure – if everyone does this particular dish, you should do it too."


And they have often been driven by food brands, as well as by food editors and recipe developers. Take the German chocolate cake, a recipe that has nothing to do with Germany, but rather born as a "German chocolate cake", after the German sweet chocolate cake, produced by the Baker pastry shop.

Recipes are a form of communication, and part of it is in knowledge – Kimberly Voss

The recipe was published in the Dallas Morning News in June 1957 by George Clay and was thus requested by Baker & # 39; s Chocolate who started distributing it to other newspapers, with a consequent increase in sales of baked chocolate.

With the advent of social media, documenting your efforts at home cooking is a way to signal that you are on top of current trends. "Now it's even if you can't take a good picture, have you really done it? Recipes are a form of communication and some of it is in the know," says Voss.

What is the next one?

But in terms of what becomes viral, not much has changed. Yes, now the home cook has access to many ingredients that were not so widely available in the 50's and 60's. But from his studies, Voss notes that the model of what becomes popular usually has to do with a push and push between large food companies and food media.

The model of what becomes popular usually has to do with pushing and pushing between large food companies and food media

"After the Second World War, every two years we fall in and out of love to make our bread," says Voss. Much of what becomes popular is dictated by the attitude of the era towards wellness and health, or the gadget that is thrilling every home cook this time. This is one reason there are so many Instant Pot recipes these days.

There is no way to predict in particular what will be the next German or #TheStew chocolate cake, since tastes and food trends fluctuate. The only constant? "The only thing I found that had remained popular was bacon," says Voss. Recipe developers, take note.

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