Dining & Wine

The Joy Of Cookbooks

May 3, 2024

In a world where meal inspo is just a click away, and AI will happily whip up a recipe for you in seconds, it’s easy to wonder: are hard-copy cookbooks still sizzling? The answer may surprise you.

Despite the shift toward online recipes, cookbook sales have seen growth over the years—particularly during the pandemic, which boosted sales by 16 per cent in the first year. Cookbooks have adapted to changes in consumer preferences and themes, covering everything from veganism to single-pot dishes to ethnic cuisines. For example, vegan cookbooks increased 125 per cent from 2019 to 2020. Publishers and authors are tapping into evolving tastes to continue growing the cookbook market in Canada.

Unlike the process of sifting through food blogs (we hit “jump to recipe” every single time), physical cookbooks still have a way of bringing trusted, tried-and-tested recipes to the kitchen—recipes that can be passed down through generations. Plus, when it’s too easy to constantly be looking at a screen, a cookbook provides an escape from digital overload. Chihoe Ho, category manager of cooking at Indigo, says cookbooks have evolved beyond mere books to sentimental keepsakes you can share with others and revisit in (and on) your own time.

“There is something about a physical book that is so special, especially when it comes to cooking,” he says, nostalgically. “[We find that] customers love to collect, mark up and cook from cookbooks in a way that almost becomes ritualistic.”

Not only that, the process of writing and publishing cookbooks ensures high-quality recipes that tend to be easier to follow (with fewer errors and mishaps), particularly when it comes international cuisines and unique cooking techniques—both of which are growing as diverse authors emerge.

“More and more we are seeing diverse voices and cuisines come to the forefront,” Ho confirms. “These collections of recipes [compiled] in cookbooks are put together with a strong perspective—and a story that you might otherwise miss with a one-off recipe that you find online.”

Murielle Banackissa is the author of Savoring, a vegan recipe cookbook, who draws inspiration from her connections to the Republic of Congo, Ukraine, Russia and Montreal. As someone who loves to dive deep into the cooking process, Banackissa says a cookbook adds unique value that’s different from online food content: it allows the cook to be more present in the process, whereas with Internet recipes, there are distractions to pull you in different directions.

“Whenever I choose to browse cookbooks, I find myself being a lot more conscious about reading the intro pages as well as the headnotes to try and have a clearer picture of the themes … what flavours or textures I will be recreating through the recipes featured, and if the recipes are special in any way to the author,” she says.

Indeed, many retro and modern cookbooks offer personal touches, enabling cooks to be intentional with their culinary adventures and granting them access to exclusive recipes. “I think that, through my cookbook, not only will my community be able to discover new recipes that I have never shared before, but they will also be able to get a better understanding of my story, what brought me to where I am today, what inspires me, what are my food philosophies,” Banackissa says.

Blogger-turned-cookbook-author Carleigh Bodrug is the author of PlantYou: Scrappy Cooking, with 140-plus zero-waste plant-based recipes. Interestingly, with an Instagram following of nearly 5 million followers, she found that creating a cookbook established a more meaningful connection with her audience. And, personally, she says that making notes, marking and using a cookbook in a tactile manner gives you a chance to mindfully make dishes and meals, adding even more value to the overall experience.

“With my first cookbook, PlantYou, I was shocked to see just how many people cook out of the book over my blog or social channels,” Bodrug says. “I think there’s something about having a book in front of you in your kitchen that people prefer to a phone or tablet. I’ve had many people share that the book has influenced their health and eating habits because it makes [things] simpler.”

She takes particular pride in her visual index, which highlights commonly wasted foods and shows readers recipes where the ingredients can be used, emphasizing the distinct benefits of using a cookbook. “I don’t believe I could replicate something like this in a blog or social platform, and it’s really handy at an arm’s length in your kitchen when you think, ‘What can I do with this?’”

In today’s digital age, getting a chance to explore outside of the “box” that is your laptop, tablet or phone, is important. Think about your childhood, when you were more present and mindful with your hobbies—well, the same goes for cooking. By embracing physical cookbooks, you have the chance to reconnect with the intentionality of food-making, allowing for a more enriching culinary experience. —Farah Khan


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