Translating Cooking Recipes

Food is celebrated in every culture across the globe; not only is it necessary for human existence, but it brings people together. From ordinary fare to culinary masterpieces, food can be prepared in many ways. And because a large part of everyday life centers around food and eating, there are countless cookbooks and recipes being published in papers, selling in bookstores, and appearing on the internet at any given moment. As with any translation project, translating cooking recipes comes with its challenges, but here are a few tips to help make the experience more enjoyable.


The first hurdle you must overcome when translating a cookbook or recipe is the ingredients list. Not all items are available in all countries – or sometimes they are, but at exorbitant costs. In this case, the best solution is to include the original ingredients along with a list of possible substitutes. I must also point out that it is not enough for a translator to simply think, “This recipe calls for lobster, but that is too expensive and not so easily available, so I’ll write shrimp instead.” The translator needs to stick to the original as closely as possible, and if substitutions are being offered, the translator must explain why.


There are different measurement systems around the world. Luckily, online converters have made it easy to perform simple conversions. But when translating a recipe, it is not enough to go to a conversion website, type in the numbers from the source text, and write down what the website has offered you. Yes, 2 cups is 4.7317 deciliters – but when have you ever seen a recipe that calls for 4.7317 dl flour? How do you know whether you should convert to cups or grams?  Tablespoons or ounces?  A good best practice is for the publisher to retain the measurements as originally written and then offer a conversion table at the back of the book. This can be irritating for the reader, who has to keep flipping from the recipe to the table in the back of the book, so the other alternative is for the translator (or another expert) to actually test the recipes. Above all, the translator should ensure that all the new translations make sense in the context of the recipe and that all measurements have been converted.

Kitchen Tools, Gadgets, Cookware

As with ingredients, many cultures have their own tools for cooking, or they may use drastically different words for a similar tool. For example, in the Swedish language you have the word “potatissticka,” which means potato stick. The potatissticka is used to check when boiled potatoes are ready. In the English language you cannot find an equivalent for this term. So what the translator must do is find an adequate replacement, in this case “fork.” You can also consult with a native cooking expert (although you might want to read this first!), or simply ask at a local cooking store.