It’s 7.30 on a Monday night. You open the fridge to find some carrots, zucchini and cheese. In the pantry, you find tinned tuna, pasta and diced tomatoes. What are you going to cook for dinner?
Thumbing through scrapbooks of recipe clippings to find a suitable dish can be an enjoyable task but when the kids are hungry, you need to act fast. Switch on the computer and launch your recipe software. Key-in your main ingredients and let the software reveal the possibilities.
This is one scenario in which recipe software would be beneficial. It can also be useful if you’re hosting a dinner party for six and one of your guests has special dietary needs, you like to share recipes with friends, or you want to quickly plan the week’s meals and write a shopping list. Perhaps you just want a safe, permanent record of your favourite recipes.
We tested six recipe software programs to find out how easy they are to use and what sort of features they offer. We also gave each program to the CHOICE home economist, an intermediate computer user, to get an idea of how each program could help in a practical situation.
Note: The software in this test is only compatible with Windows.
What is recipe software?
Most recipe software is a huge, searchable database of recipes and meal ideas. You can use it to store your favourite recipes, download new recipes, search and find recipes, create your own cookbooks or cooking web pages, find nutritional information, and share recipes with other people. Most programs have a directory of recipes but the idea is that you also use the software to store and organise your existing recipes instead of keeping scrapbooks of clippings and handwritten notes.
You probably won’t find much recipe software in computer stores but lots of programs are available from shareware sites such as www.tucows.com. We chose software that cost less than $50 and rated highly on shareware sites. Recipe software is also called recipe management software, cooking software or meal management software.
Things to be aware of
Time and effort
- Recipe software can help you create a permanent record of your favourite recipe clippings but it’s a time-consuming process. You must key in (or copy and paste) all the data yourself. However, once your recipes are stored in the database you can categorise them into chapters for easier access.
- Each program has its own look and feel. BigOven and Living Cookbook use multiple panes (like a web page) and navigation menus. The other programs use single windows with a menu bar. You’ll probably need to get used to the interface and learn how to use the symbols and menu options.
- All the programs we tested use American measurements by default. Look for a program that allows you to switch to metric measurements.
TIP: Check whether the UK or Australian metric system is used. A UK tablespoon is 15 mL, for example, while an Australian tablespoon is 20 mL
- Watch out for American or British names of fruit and vegetables. For example, American programs may refer to coriander as cilantro. An inbuilt glossary is a good feature if your gastronomic knowledge is limited.
- Most recipe software provides tools to help you easily share your favourite recipes. You may be able to print and email recipes, or create your own web page. Most of the tested software also allows you to import recipes that you already have in electronic format. Some publishers also run an online forum where customers can swap ideas and compare notes.
Shopping list generator
- All the tested programs have a tool that automatically generates a shopping list of ingredients (and amounts). Some programs also have a cost generator but you need to enter the price of items before you can use it — another time-consuming task.
TIP: You don't need to buy software if you're only after inspiration. There are hundreds of cooking websites dedicated to providing free recipes and meal ideas.