Tasty little recipe app one-ups Google

Rafe Recommends: Edamam, a refreshingly modern recipe finder that's showed off its wares today at Demo.

Rafe Needleman
Rafe Needleman Former Editor at Large
Rafe Needleman reviews mobile apps and products for fun, and picks startups apart when he gets bored. He has evaluated thousands of new companies, most of which have since gone out of business.
2 min read
Edamam has a strong recipe search engine, but it's doubly useful for cooks since... Screenshot by Rafe Needleman/CNET

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- When Victor Penev, CEO of Edamam, took the stage here at Demo today and told the audience he was going to show off a recipe finder iPhone app, I was dubious. His statement, "This is so not 2001," didn't help.

App stores are lousy with recipe apps. Many are quite good. I use Epicurious, which I love, and when it doesn't give me what I want, there's Google. I didn't think there could be an opportunity for a new recipe search product.

Edamam is a meta recipe finder, but there's more to it than that, and it's important.

Just as with Google, you can find a recipe in Edamam by searching on ingredients you have or like. The app then gives you a visual display of recipes from around the Web that use them. Then things get clever. As you flick through recipes, you see calorie count and the number of ingredients in it. Zoom in to these data points and Edamam goes to work: the calorie display page gets a nutritional breakdown. The ingredients page pops up a checklist you can shop from. Clicking on the recipe itself takes you to the Web page where the recipe was found.

...it lets you compare useful things like nutritional data and ingredient counts. Screenshot by Rafe Needleman/CNET

It's the way that Edamam extracts this data from relatively unstructured Web articles that makes it so valuable. Edamam does natural language processing (Penev says) on recipe pages, and puts all the information into its own database. It's doing Google one better in food search, by digging into the meaning of the content. (See also my recent writeup on Wavii, which does this for news stories.)

The data that Edamam has on recipes means that you can do more than just search on ingredients. If you have a restricted diet (dairy-free for example; although gluten-free is missing) or just want dishes under a certain number of calories per service, you can easily filter.

Sadly, the app can't sort yet by tastiness or on social factors. There's no excuse for a search on Macaroni and Cheese not returning the Martha Stewart recipe first, for example. But I'll give Edamam a pass on this for the time being; I suspect it will be able to layer in social and other signals into their search results.

Edaman is highly visual and highly useful. If you cook, I recommend giving it a shot.