Eat Your Books is an online search engine for your offline cookbooks
How many of your cookbooks do you use? Not artfully arrange on a shelf, or leaf through once a year — but actually cook from?
According to a 2018 Nielsen survey, the answer for most of us is ‘not many.’ While COVID has sparked a cooking surge — 54% of people cook more now than pre-pandemic — cookbooks come in fourth as a recipe source (41%) behind websites (66%), social media (58%) and friends and family (52%).
That is tragic! Cookbooks are dope, for many reasons. You’re buying books written by people you trust, so you know they’re credible. The recipes are beautifully photographed, so you’ve got a roadmap for your dish. Cookbooks have editors, so you don’t have to scroll through rambling intros and 15 pop-up ads to get a recipe. Most of all, cookbooks have the power to take you places — whether it’s a city you visited in The Before Times or a restaurant on your bucket list — and everyone needs that now.
But I get why we don’t use them: the recipe-finding process is backward. If you have fresh, seasonal ingredients, randomly picking a book off a shelf and scanning the index to find “fennel” or “oyster mushrooms” or “ambercup squash” is slow, antiquated and no fun. Enter Eat Your Books.
Eat Your Books 101
Eat Your Books is an online search engine for your offline cookbooks. Start by creating an account and logging your books. Their database contains more than 100,000, which means most of yours will be there.
Once you’ve built your bookshelf, search by ingredient, recipe, author or book. Filter by course (drink, dessert, side dish), occasion, nutrition and ethnicity. Because EYB doesn’t give you the full recipe — only the title and ingredients — it’s all above board. People can’t steal recipes, but you can find recipes you already own.
For example, if you score sunchokes at the market, you have options — 37 if we use my library for reference. Do you want Roasted Sunchokes with Leeks and Shiitakes? Page 465 of Steven Satterfield’s Root to Leaf. Sunchoke Soup with Olives and Grapefruit? Page 64 of Girl in the Kitchen by Stephanie Izard. With one search, you can sift through your recipes, peruse ingredients and read reviews written by people who’ve actually cooked this stuff — all before you get a book off a shelf.
Make it your own
Organize your library however you like. Label recipes “want to cook,” “no good,” or “kid-friendly”; save your favorites; add notes for next time (more lime, less cilantro). You can even index your favorite blogs or magazines and EYB will pull in new issues and posts automatically—all for $3 a month.
Full disclosure: Eat Your Books is a little rough around the edges. There’s no app (yet), and the interface is dated, but it works. Plus, they’re consistently improving, with innovations like a link that will let you add any online recipe to the EYB index. Bottom line: Eat Your Books isn’t the prettiest girl at the dance, but she is the smartest.
Use what you have
It’s not hyperbole to say Eat Your Books can change your life — for all cooks, but especially for cookbook owners who’ve broken a bookshelf (or three) because we own so many.
As a food writer who’s married to a chef, new books magically appear on our shelves every other week. That influx of recipes brings me joy — but also anxiety. I need things to be organized; but more importantly, I need them to be useful. Nothing inspires dread more than a purposeless thing. Our 75-plus cookbooks used to fall into that category; not anymore.
If you’re unsure whether Eat Your Books is worth it, you can try a free account, which will index 5 of your books alongside 300,000-plus online recipes. But seriously? Don’t. A month costs $3, or you can buy a year all at once for $30. That means you can unlock every recipe you own for what you paid for one of your lovely, dust-gathering books.