Recipes are so much more than just formulas that we blindly follow. Although for some they might be just a set of instructions, for many others recipes are transportive, whether to an exotic locale with a set of new, exciting ingredients or back to the kitchen with renewed enthusiasm for the same old ingredients they’ve used time and again. For many home cooks, recipes are also a portal into the past, helping to recreate a dish that lingers in the memory. It is probably that sense of nostalgia that accounts for many of the top 25 most popular recipe searches.
A fair share of classic comfort foods like meatloaf, chili, chocolate chip cookies, and apple pie made it on to the list. Across the country, people are searching for that one ultimate recipe for these basic favorites. But perfection is truly a matter of taste. Chefs and cookbook authors often say that their recipes are merely guidelines, and that it’s ultimately up to the cook to determine how much salt they want to add or how spicy they’d like the dish to be, or to give it that twist that makes the dish their own.
Is there a single "best recipe" for apple pie? That depends on what your idea of an apple pie is. Consider the options: layered with a double crust and lattice top, single-crusted with sour cream and apple filling, topped with a luscious crumbly crust and hints of cinnamon…. The list goes on. Recipes for favorite foods, like us, are always evolving.
Recipes act as reflections of the society and culture during the time period they were recorded, giving insight into the cooking habits of the era and the influences that affected those habits. During the Depression, for example, recipes focused on stretching ingredients and making the most of what was available during that time. During both World Wars, Victory gardens sprouted up around the country and people were encouraged to grow herbs on window sills. Soldiers returning to America after World War II brought with them a taste for pizza and other Italian specialties, which is likely one of the reasons that lasagna and pasta show up on this present-day list.
With exposure to new flavors, techniques, and products, our hit list of favorites continues to change. The list of the 25 most sought-after recipes acts as a barometer of current tastes and trends. For instance, the influence of Middle Eastern, Mexican, and Asian cultures shows up in the form of hummus, guacamole, salsa, and fried rice. Along with that is evidence of a turn toward healthier dishes and foods, perhaps indicating a change in Americans' eating habits: chicken was the most popular term on a list that also includes tilapia and salmon.
In order to come up with the list, we tracked internet recipe searches over the past year with Google Analytics and other sources, considering both generic ingredient searches ("chicken recipes") and searches for specific dishes ("Rice Krispie treat recipes"). We ranked the results from highest to lowest, based on approximations of average monthly searches over a one-year period, rounded by our search tools. While these rankings offer a glimpse of only one brief period, they offer a lot of insight into the past, present, and future of American eating habits.