Recipe sharing has come a long way from hand-me-down cookbooks. Now, you can find out how to make anything from roast beef to ramen with just a quick search online.

CookPad, Japan’s largest recipe-sharing network, now has global headquarters here in the UK in Bristol (where they are rapidly growing a data science team to further augment their app and service). With 60 million monthly unique users in Japan and 40 million global users per month – its hungry user-base is rapidly growing. 

So, what makes it different, and is its app any good? Here are a few key points to appreciate.

The antidote to instagram

The most unique thing about Cookpad is its emphasis on homemade, everyday food. Unlike Instagram - where picture-perfect, chef-style food reigns supreme – much of the food on Cookpad looks decidedly unsophisticated. 

However, that’s exactly the point. Cookpad is purposely designed to be accessible, giving all kinds of people a place to find and share the food they love to eat. This means there’s no professional recipe photos – it’s up to users how slick or polished they want to make their food look.

My overriding impression when first browsing through the app was that it feels refreshing to see photos of recipes that actually look like they’re achievable. 

The company originally started as a way to celebrate the beauty of homemade food, as well as to give those looking after Japanese homesteads the opportunity to connect and integrate with others in society. This feeds in to the chat element of the platform - more on that and other notable features later.

Search and discover  

So, what sets CookPad apart from other recipe-sharing sites like MyDish, or even BBC Good Food? 

It’s clear that there is a strong focus on technology, with CookPad creating a website and app that’s both easy and fun to use. There are no bells and whistles when it comes to branding. In fact, there’s very little instruction or copy involved in the app, meaning it’s hard to gain any sense of the brand’s tone of voice. 

This doesn’t really matter, however, as the focus is very much on slick search and discoverable user-generated content. Users can find recipes by searching via meal type (i.e breakfast) or by specific ingredients. 

There are a few extra touches which make search particularly good, such as recommended searches and the top 10 searches made in the last hour. This adds to the community-feel of the platform, helping users to discover what others are cooking and eating. It also guides users in-the-moment, tackling that ever-so-relatable question of ‘what should I cook for dinner?’

If you don’t want to hunt down a specific recipe, the app is also well-designed to make browsing enjoyable. There’s a ‘trending’ timeline, as well a ‘nearby’ option so that you can discover what people are cooking around you.

Lastly, another feature that significantly enhances search is the ability to look for a recipe containing multiple ingredients. For example, if you already have salmon, garlic, and ginger – you can search for a recipe that is guaranteed to incorporate all three. Handy.

Gamification elements

As well as discovering other people’s recipes, CookPad makes it super-easy for users to share their own. There’s no complicated sign-up process involved – you can log-in via Facebook or Google. The ‘write a recipe’ button is also front and centre, nicely prompting users to click-through to the share.

CookPad makes the process as intuitive as possible, integrating micro-copy into various sections to guide users along.

Unlike a lot of similar platforms, CookPad doesn’t only allow written reviews. Instead, users can leave ‘cooksnaps’, which is a photo of the final meal.

This acts as social proof – giving others an indication of the quality of the recipe and how it might turn out – but it also adds a gamification element. As well as cooksnaps acting as a reward or sense of gratification for the person who has posted it, it also increases their visibility on the platform and the likelihood that they will ‘trend’. 

With each user getting their own ‘stats’ sections, which nicely collates information on how recipes are performing, it’s clear that CookPad is keen to encourage a bit of competition to keep users engaged. 

Image recognition

Another good thing about Cookpad is that users can simply use it for organisational purposes if they wish. By clicking on the top-right menu, you can see a list of all the recipes you have bookmarked, as well as ones you have posted.

The app also automatically scans and syncs all cooking or food photos that are stored in your phone’s camera roll, making it super quick and easy to find and upload pics. 

While this is quite a simple feature, it massively elevates the user experience, taking away the hassle of manually searching through photos to find the right one.   

What about the chat?

Though it’s largely a recipe-sharing app, CookPad does also include social-networking elements found on other platforms like Facebook and Instagram. Users can follow others, as well as message anyone using the app (by simply searching their name).

The latter feature might come in handy if you want to ask a person a question about a recipe, or if friends and family also use the app. However, it’s hard to imagine the chat features are a big draw for many users, providing an added bit of convenience rather improving its core functionality. 

In conclusion…

I didn’t expect too much from CookPad. Being a bit of a lazy cook myself, I often find searching for recipes a bit of a chore. Surprisingly, I found myself browsing tons of recipes on CookPad, instinctively exploring the app with interest. 

This is largely due to its excellent search and navigation features, coupled with the authentic nature of the content. Whether you want to use a specific ingredient or need to find diet-based recipes – it’s quick and easy to find what you’re looking for. This also makes the experience of sharing recipes feel much more natural too. Unlike Instagram, where posts are heavily edited and curated, you can tell that people upload on-the-go after making a particularly delicious meal.

Maybe I'll be inspired to share my own creations...

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Nikki Gilliland

Published 14 March, 2018 by Nikki Gilliland @ Econsultancy

Nikki is a Writer at Econsultancy. You can follow her on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn.

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