So You Are Thinking of Formulating a Recipe…

The following are some of my thoughts regarding recipe formulation and the sharing and selling of recipes. This is fairly long winded, sorry not sorry lol.

So You Are Thinking Of Formulating A Recipe…

Are you actually formulating it?
Weird question, I know, but are you?
Or have you taken someone else’s recipe and are tweaking it to be “your own”?
The reason I ask this is because, personally, I see tweaking and formulating as two entirely separate things. Formulating is starting from scratch or with a very basic starting point. It’s spending copious hours online and at the workbench researching and experimenting with ingredients to see how they perform alone and with other ingredients. It’s making test batch upon test batch and pulling out your hair because you can’t seem to find that one ingredient that will solve all your issues. It’s ending up with a finalised recipe that you can honestly say you created yourself.
Tweaking, on the other hand, is basically taking a short-cut. It’s taking an established recipe on the net or a recipe you’ve purchased and changing it up to suit your needs. Perhaps you don’t have a particular oil, or perhaps an ingredient is hard to source in your location. In this case you would take that recipe and change a few things so that you can make it. It’s cutting out the hard part of formulating. It’s cutting out the need for overly extensive research and experimentation, the countless hours and money spent. This is tweaking. This, however, doesn’t technically make the recipe or formula yours, it simply makes it your version of someone else’s recipe.

This is where it gets complicated. Well, complicated for some. I know that not everyone holds the same opinion as I do in regards to tweaking and formulating. I once had someone tell me that that’s what formulating is – taking someone else’s recipe and changing it and selling it – that everyone does it so who cares, right? Needless to say I disagreed. Now, don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with tweaking a recipe – the complication comes from what you do with that recipe once you’ve tweaked it. Which brings me to my next question:

When you tweak someone else’s recipe, should you then share it or sell it?
The answer depends on a couple of things:
1. Was the recipe you tweaked a purchased one?
If you answered “yes” to this, then the answer is an unequivocal NO. You should not be sharing or selling a recipe based on someone else’s that’s available for purchase. I can’t stress this enough. If you have taken a recipe you’ve purchased, or a recipe a friend has purchased and shown you – yes this happens more often than you probably realise – do not sell or share any recipes you come up with using that recipe! I shouldn’t have to explain why.
The only circumstance in which this would be okay is if you’ve started tweaking someone’s recipe and have ended up creating a recipe that is entirely unrecognisable from theirs.

2. Was the recipe you tweaked a free one?
If you answered “yes” to this, then sharing freely is not generally a problem – as long as you credit the original formulator. Add a link back to their site so people can go read, send them some web-traffic-love. Don’t pass the recipe off as your own, you will look like a total asshat.
Selling in this instance, however, is a no-no. Say, for example, someone has devised and posted ingredient percentages online to make it easy for you to create a certain product, DON’T take those percentages, plonk your ingredients in, add an extra ingredient just to make it appear slightly different and then put your name on it and sell it as your own. Not only will this make you look like a total asshat, it’s also incredibly poor form.

How can I avoid plagiarism issues when formulating a recipe and what do I do if I see a plagiarised recipe?
We’ve all seen issues crop up where someone will release a recipe for sale or for free and uh-oh it’s incredibly similar to one that is already available. Oy. What’s a person to do? Well, that’s entirely up to you. I’ve been in the dubious position myself regarding my own recipes and I have mostly held my tongue. The way I see it is, the backlash you will cop for expressing suspicions is not worth it. It doesn’t matter if you are right, it’s generally a no-win situation.
When it comes to other people’s recipes, well if I was 100% sure someone had copied another person’s recipe I would say something, though saying something would likely end up with me getting my head bitten off. Why would you get your head bitten off for pointing out something like that, you ask? Well because generally speaking when a person is sharing a recipe, whether it be free or paid, they tend to get a bit of a following. They get a fanclub of people who adore them because they love their recipe or they love that they are getting free stuff from the person. That sounds pretty cynical, I know, but it is what it is. Everyone loves getting stuff, when people give you stuff you appreciate it and them. So if someone comes along and says “Hey, X totes copied Y’s recipe!” you end up with this crazy brouhaha. On one side will be X and their loyal supporters, on the other side will be Y and their loyal supporters, all arguing over whether or not the recipe was a copy, who was working on it first, and all these other ridiculous factors that make no difference if the recipe is a literal copy. But noone cares about what is right in front of them or the facts. It becomes this huge thing and occasionally people play the victim and other people get real nasty because they feel bad for the person and then the person who brought it up is all “jesus wept, what the fuck have I done” and they just slowly back away behind a big ikea flowerpot and pray for the earth to swallow them up. Or they sit back with popcorn and have a good chuckle over what they started. It depends on the person really. Lol.
So, anyway, what you do is up to you. I like to think that if someone ever saw one of my recipes being tweaked and shared or sold or a recipe that was very similar to mine, they would say something, but I totally understand people’s hesitation when it comes to sticking their head on the chopping block.

Never fear, though, there are plenty of ways to avoid the plagiarism issue all together if you are a formulator! The most obvious being;

  • Don’t intentionally plagiarise people’s recipes. Duh. But then if you are the type to intentionally plagiarise a recipe I doubt you even care about this list. :lol:
  • Don’t tweak people’s recipes if you plan on selling/sharing. You may think you’ve changed it enough to be “your own” but believe me, the original creator will notice. They’ve shed tears and sprouted grey hairs over their recipes, they know them by heart. They will recognise a tweaked version from a mile away.
  • If you do tweak a free recipe make sure you credit the original formulator!
  • If you tweak a purchased recipe don’t sell it or share it. Tweak it for yourself only!
  • Formulate your recipes alone. Don’t involve anyone else in your recipe formulation unless you are explicit about the fact you are formulating a recipe to be shared or sold. Don’t message friends asking for help formulating recipes then sell the recipe they formulated during the conversation with you as your own unless they are aware this is what you plan on doing from the beginning. That’s not your recipe you are selling, it’s theirs, and if they decide to sell or share it later well boo-hoo to you. You should have been upfront about your intentions in the first place.
  • Don’t purchase other people’s recipes if you plan on formulating a similar product. Seriously this is a no-brainer imo. If someone sees you publish a recipe and you’ve previously purchased theirs, they will automatically assume you’ve copied or borrowed ideas from theirs – and rightly so. Any information you absorb will help you in formulating – don’t let that information be from someone else’s recipe.
  • Don’t refer to other people’s recipes for ingredient ideas for perfecting your own if you plan on selling. If you need to look at someone else’s recipe to figure out how to make your own then you probably shouldn’t be formulating a recipe for sale to begin with and, besides, your recipe is just going to end up looking like a pale imitation of the one you copied anyway. If everyone did this every recipe for sale would be incredibly similar.

Basically if you are pondering formulating a recipe, make sure you do it properly. Don’t take shortcuts and use someone else’s recipe as a basis for yours. You will avoid a whole lot of future problems.

In saying this, I should also note that occasionally recipes do end up similar through no fault of your own or anyone else’s. There are only so many ingredients that do certain things so it stands to reason that once in a blue moon someone is gonna formulate, say, a bath bomb that is really similar to another person’s bath bomb. And considering a lot of formulas tend to be based on large company recipes it stands to reason that certain products will be more likely to be similar than others. If a recipe is almost identical in measurements to another one, however, then chances are it wasn’t a coincidence.

Try and make your recipe stand out.
If you are selling it, make it unique in some way. When I formulated my bubble dough there were a handful of people also working on a similar product, this is why I went with extended-play and opted to try and make mine less prone to dissolving in the tub or drying out when left in open air. I used a wax blend in my dough, which was unique to my recipe. It helped with keeping it from dissolving and made it a little different to the others available. It took me freaking ages to get a blend that worked well, Tanya Becker put a lot of work in helping me test out waxes I didn’t have on hand, too.

With my Bubblecream Icing, well, at the time I created it there weren’t really many options at all for icing the tops of your cupcakes that didn’t involve sugar. At least not that I was aware of. There were truffle type toppings but nothing along the lines of what I wanted – a solid bubble bath topping that was easy to pipe. I very quickly learned why this was the case when I started formulating – it was very, very difficult to formulate an icing that ticked all the boxes I wanted to tick. So in that respect it was somewhat unique.

Another way to set your recipe apart from others is by using unique ingredients, like I did with the dough. I mean obviously the ingredients you use need to serve a purpose. Don’t just go shoving them in for no other reason than to set your recipe apart. That would be strange. ;)

I use Glucosides in my recipes partly for this reason, they serve a specific function, they are wonderfully mild surfactants but they also set my recipes apart. At the time I first published my recipes glucosides were uncommon in the groups I frequented and, as it turned out, pretty hard to source. I didn’t realise this at the time so it kinda backfired in a way because I copped a fair amount of complaint over them. Despite this I still use them all the time because they are one of my favourite set of surfactants and they have become much easier to source lately, which is great because they are so lovely and I like having an ingredient unique to my recipes. Obviously this is going to change over time as they become more popular but I like to think that I had a hand in boosting their popularity. *flicks hair* :lol:

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