Recipes have been around since the dawn of time, and as long as recipes have been around there have been people imagining, developing and cooking recipes. The earliest known recipes date as far back as 1600 and 1730 BC on cuneiform tablets found in Babylonia and Mesopotamia as well as in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs which provide pictorial representations of food preparation. Recipes and cookbooks have been passed down from generation to generation sharing the wonderful wisdom that is cooking. Roman recipes from the 2 nd century BCE have inspired many of the modern Italian cuisines we find today, and a great number of recipes are found throughout Persian and Greek history. The cuisines which have sprouted out of these vast histories are multiple and have created the culinary universe which we know today. What they all have in common though is that they all had to start at some point of inception. A single person at some point must have imagined what they thought a certain dish should look, taste or feel like and from there they must have experimented in order to bring that vision to life. This in essence is the art of recipe development.
Many a passionate foodie would imagine themselves a recipe developer in the less formal sense of the word and in some sense, this can be true however to a limited extent. New recipes are posted daily on websites, Facebook, Instagram and even TikTok with creative individuals finding new and innovative ways to cook food almost daily. The unfortunate truth however is that these recipes are often not fully tested (not in all cases but certainly in some) and that the images which accompany these recipes are often stylized unrealistic versions which consumers will find hard to recreate. Recipe development starts with experimentation however in the more formal sense it is so much more than that. This article provides a very summarized insight of the recipe development process followed by The Food Design Agency team. It explains how our process is unique and how it is not only creative but follows a very specific approach in order to ensure replicability and create brand loyalty from consumers.
Professional recipe development requires a detailed and scientific approach in order to ensure complete continuing success. Creative recipes can allow for an ingredient or equipment brand to stand out, can showcase the versatility of ingredients and equipment and can provide consumers with the exact sensory properties which they are looking for, however this can only occur if the recipe is correct, if it is replicable, well written and clear. To achieve this requires a great variety of skills and knowledge. Culinary skills being the first and foremost required to be able to create a recipe. Understanding the basic principles of food preparation is the first step in recipe creation. This means understanding what will happen when a protein is heated, what will happen when I freeze a certain fat, which substances allow for emulsification of a sauce to name but a few. This skill also boils down to the basic principles of food chemistry and although it does not require a detailed understanding of molecules and their interactions it does require a knowledge of the basic building blocks of all foods namely proteins, carbohydrates and fats. More on this a bit later.
The next skill required is that of sensory perception. Although we are all born with the innate ability to distinguish between flavours such as salty, sweet, umami and and sour, being able to understand a balance in flavour and understand how to adjust for harmony in flavour is a skill which can only be developed by practice. Flavours are however not the only important aspect of sensory perception. Visual appearance is certainly one of the most crucial elements in developing any recipe. Consumers, after all, eat with their eyes first and this has become even more true in the age of social media. A recipe developer thus has to ensure that there is balance in colour and visual texture, that the meal being developed will plate well and that the visual aspect will be appealing to the targeted consumer. Next is the consideration of the textural appeal of the recipe being created. Ingredients in their fresh and cooked form have the ability to transform their texture into what is perceived as soft, smooth, crispy, hard and so on. All aspects which need to be balanced to create the perfect mouthfeel when finally eaten.
At The Food Design Agency, we aim to do exactly this. Our recipe development process is highly structured and scientific to take into account all aspects of the penultimate recipe experience. As a base we consider the consumer. The consumer is certainly one of the most crucial elements of any recipe development process regardless of whether it will be applied in a restaurant, retail or manufacturing environment. The reason for this is that consumers who hail from different cultures, countries, age groups and even regions experience food on a different perceptual level. As such we need to consider who the consumer is and how they make decisions long before the development process actually begins. This process involves studying the influences which affect consumer behaviour such as stage in the life cycle, influences such as level of income, taste preferences, cultural considerations etc. and will eventually culminate in the consumer’s food choice behaviour i.e. what they will choose from a menu, what they will buy from a store shelf etc. A scientific approach to this is crucial in order to design optimally and not create recipes which end up being of no interest to consumers. In most cases this requires our team to create a complete conceptual framework of the intended consumer in order to constantly keep in mind who we are developing for and what they will enjoy.
Upon this greater understanding of the consumer we are able to narrow done what needs there are in the market and how to best serve these needs. The next phase would be to create something which is competitive in the market. This can only be done once the trends of the specific country or region involved are fully understood. We purposefully investigate and keep up to date will all the food and beverage trends in the countries in which we have clients in order to make sure that our developments do not become stale and outdated. We aim to create freshness and innovation which attracts and retains a loyal consumer base.
This background research allows us then to create a mood board with broad based concepts. Each concept is specifically tailored to take into account, the consumer, global and local trends and most importantly the brand identity of the customer we are working with. Creating recipes in line with brand identity of our clients allows our clients to showcase their products in the case of manufacturing and retailers and create consistently good meals in the case of full service and quick service restaurants. This is essential as quality in development avoids consumers being disappointed in a product which does not perform, or which does not taste as expected, thereby creating
expectancy disconfirmation with the consumer and detracting from brand loyalty.
This background research allows us then to create a mood board with broad based concepts. Each concept is specifically tailored to take into account, the consumer, global and local trends and most importantly the brand identity of the customer we are working with. Creating recipes in line with brand identity of our clients allows our clients to showcase their products in the case of manufacturing and retailers and create consistently good meals in the case of full service and quick service restaurants. This is essential as quality in development avoids consumers being disappointed in a product which does not perform, or which does not taste as expected, thereby creating expectancy disconfirmation with the consumer and detracting from brand loyalty.
After concepts have been created, they are presented to the client along with the motivation behind each concept. The client along with their decision makers which may be marketing teams, operations management and high-level executives then choose from among these concepts which they would like to continue with and then inform our team which concepts to take into the following phase.
It would seem that at this point most of the work has been completed but in fact the recipe development process has only actually begun. Once the concepts are selected, we enter the testing and tasting phase. Each recipe is developed from scratch, not from previously done recipes found on a website, but from the knowledge about ingredient interactions which our team has acquired over the last 15 years of doing development and culinary work. This means that our teams need to have a profound understanding of the scientific principles of food preparations such as browning reactions(maillard reaction, enzymatic browning etc.), how carbohydrates interact when exposed to moisture i.e. will they absorb liquid, swell, gelatinize etc., how flavours interact and how to counteract certain flavour profiles. Although this can be done by trial and error, as is the case in many home kitchens, a knowledge of this basic chemistry allows our team to conduct very effective and efficient development procedures.
The base recipe is written and once the developer is convinced that it has potential it is put into trial phase where it is prepared in a test kitchen environment. The prepared recipe is tasted by trained sensory analysts in order to ascertain whether it adheres to the expectations set out for the meal or product. The recipe needs to first and foremost have the best sensory properties possible, the flavours need to be balanced and the overall recipe needs to be appealing from an objective perspective. Consumer’s flavour preferences do differ based on many of the aspects discussed previously however a professional recipe developer is able to develop a recipe which appeals to a broad range of consumers.
In most cases the development and preparation steps are repeated a number of times until the flavour profile, textural appeal and visual appearance is perfected. Once the team is in agreement that the recipe is ready it is placed in a standardised format which is easily replicable. If the client prefers the recipe is then tested on a consumer panel who is allowed to provide their input into the sensory properties of the recipe so that the developers can also take individual consumer preference into account. It is essential that this panel is selected from the correct consumer base in order to reflect the target market and that this panel does not consist of individuals who have any type of bias.
In most cases the recipe is also linked to a Standard Operating Procedure or SOP which allows for other aspects to be considered in addition to mainly creating a food item. Aspects such as health and safety, cooking and holding temperatures, equipment usage and mise en place are just some of the considerations which need to be included here. The Food Design Agency prides itself on creating extensive and easy to follow Standard Operating Procedures.
Once the recipes and the standard operating procedures are complete and approved, they are handed over the client. In situations where the recipes will be applied to a food service operation such as a full service or quick service restaurant training is also provided so that staff members can familiarize themselves with the new recipes and be instructed on plating and presentation.
As can be seen by the summary of the recipe development process created in this article it is evident that the recipe development is much more than the simple action of cooking a dish. Recipes, especially those which will be applied in formal establishments, often by staff members with limited training, require a scientific approach to development and a range of expertise in order to make them effective. This does not diminish what home cooks, bloggers and social media aficionados are doing but this article does illustrate the importance of a step by step approach targeted at a client’s specific brand, focused at a specific consumer and which can be replicated with as few mistakes and inconsistencies as possible.