A recipe is a set of instructions that show how to prepare or make something, especially a culinary dish.

Modern culinary recipes normally consist of several components:

  • The name (and often the locale or provenance) of the dish,
  • How much time it will take to prepare the dish
  • The required ingredients along with their quantities or proportions
  • Equipment and environment needed to prepare the dish
  • An ordered list of preparation steps
  • The number of servings that the recipe will provide

Some recipes will note how long the dish will keep and its suitability for freezing.

Earlier recipes often included much less information, serving more as a reminder of ingredients and proportions for someone who already knew how to prepare the dish.

Recipe writers sometimes also list variations of a traditional dish.


"Recipe" comes from the Latin word recipe 'take (imperative)', that is, an instruction to have the ingredients ready, originally used in doctors' orders to pharmacists.

History of the recipe

The earliest known recipes date from approximately 1600 BCE and come from an Akkadian tablet from southern Babylonia.

The ancient Egyptians painted hieroglyphics depicting the preparation of food.

Many ancient Greek recipes are known. Mithaecus's cookbook was an early one, but most of it has been lost; Athenaeus quotes one short recipe in his Deipnosophistae. Athenaeus mentions many other cookbooks, all of them lost.

Roman recipes are known starting in the 2nd century BCE with Cato the Elder's De Agri Cultura. Many other authors of this period described eastern Mediterranean cooking in Greek and in Latin.

Some Punic recipes are known in Greek and Latin translation.

Much later, in the 4th or 5th century CE, appears the large collection of recipes conventionally entitled 'Apicius', the only more or less complete surviving cookbook from the classical world. It chronicles the courses served which are usually referred to as Gustatio (appetizer), Primae Mensae (main course) and Secundae Mensae (dessert). The Romans introduced many herbs and spices into western cuisine, Renfrew states that thyme, bay, basil, fennel, rue, mint, parsley and dill were all common in Roman cooking.

Arabic recipes are documented starting in the 10th century; see al-Warraq and al-Baghdadi.

King Richard II of England commissioned a recipe book called ‘Forme of Cury’ in 1390, around the same time another book was published entitled ‘Curye on Inglish’. Both books give an impression of how food was prepared and served in the noble classes of England at that time. The revival of the European class system at this time brought entertainment back to the palaces and homes of the nobility and along with it the start of what can be called the modern recipe book. By the 1400s, numerous manuscripts were appearing, detailing the recipes of the day. Many of these such as the Harleian MS 279, Harleian MS 4016, Ashmole MS 1429, Laud MS 553 and Dure MS 55 give very good information and record the re-discovery of many herbs and spices including coriander, parsley, basil and rosemary, many of which had been brought back from the Crusades.

During the 1500s and 1600s competition between the large houses became common place and numerous books were written on how to manage households and prepare food. In Hollandand England competition grew between the noble families as to who could prepare the most lavish banquet. By the 1660s cookery had progressed to an art form and good cooks were in demand. Many of them published their own books detailing their recipes in competition with their rivals. Many of these books have now been translated and are available online.

By the 1800s, cooking had become a passion throughout the world. Using the latest technology and using a new concept in publishing, Mrs Beeton (Isabella Mary Beeton 1836 – 1865) published her famous ‘Book of Household Management’, in the new format of 24 monthly parts between 1857 and 1861. Around the same time the American cook Fannie Farmer (Fannie Merritt Farmer 1857 – 1915) was born and having devoted herself to cooking published in 1896 her famous work ‘The Boston Cooking School Cookbook’ which contained some 1849 recipes.

By the mid 1900s, there were literally thousands of cookery and recipe books available. The next revolution came with introduction of the TV cooks. The first TV cook in England was Fanny Craddock who had her show on the BBC, later followed by chefs such as Graham Kerr (known as the Galloping Gourmet). These TV cookery programs brought the recipes of these cooks to a new audience who were keen to try out new ways of cooking. In the early days, the recipes were available by post from the BBC and later with the introduction of the CEEFAX text on screen system, they became available on the television. The new companies of Channel 4 and S4C also brought recipes to the television with their own text system called ORACLE. Today the television is still a major source of recipe information, with international cooks and chefs such as Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsey, Nigella Lawson and Rachael Ray having prime time shows and backing them up with Internet websites giving the details of all their recipes. Today, despite the Internet, cookery books are as popular if not more so than they have ever been.

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