We've had a few of these questions recently which are now closed. The latest one, which is actually one of our oldest questions but just resurfaced, was about mayonnaise, and - this is no surprise to me - the top-voted answer essentially begins with the red-flag words, "my personal favorites are..."

This is in direct contradiction to the "what should I not ask" section of the FAQ and the same reason we don't allow recipe requests. Questions phrased in that way invite people to post and vote on their favourites - opinions rather than facts - and by definition have no wrong answers.

I'm looking at these as a group and thinking that they are basically a special case of culinary uses questions, for which we have specific guidelines that have served us (reasonably) well. It seems to me that we ought to have a similar one for what-can-I-add-to-X questions.

Specifically, the policy I think we should have is this:

Requests for help with modifying a recipe must make a reasonable effort to describe the specific goal.

In other words, these would be closed:

  • What can I add to X to make it better?
  • What are some uncommon ingredients to add to X?
  • How can I improve the flavour/texture of X?

But these would be totally OK:

  • What can I add to a roast to give it a smoky flavour?
  • What can I add to ice cream to prevent ice crystals?
  • How can I stabilize a vinaigrette (prevent it from separating)?
  • How can I get more "crunch" in my homemade salsa (without changing the taste)?
  • How can I make my chili hotter (without changing the taste)?

Hopefully I'm making the intent clear here - my goal is definitively not to block recipe-modification questions, only to prevent them from turning into recipe polls themselves.

Any thoughts on this? Is it a good policy? Bad? Any recommended additions or alterations that would make it more clear or easier to follow/enforce?

1 Answer 1


I think that what makes a question like "What can I add to X to make it better?" (or "How can I improve the flavour/texture of X?") a possible good question is the quantity of provided details; if the question is too generic, and it doesn't describe a specific situation, then every users will report what they did in completely different situations, and the question will soon turn in a pool, where users would vote, as you said, the answer that better express what they did in a similar situation.
There are many questions that could have such title, but the question being asked is different every time. For example, the question could be:

I was preparing X, but when I went to buy the necessary ingredients, I have been given Y instead of Z. I didn't notice the cut of meat was not what I was supposed to use, and I am worried the taste will be different. What can I add to make the recipe better, and to obtain the same result I would have obtained with Z?

I was cooking X and my son, when I was away for a minute, added Y in the cooking pot; now the taste is sour. What I can add to make the taste better?

(The examples are not the best examples I could think of.)

Both the questions are asking what to add to make X better, but they describe two different situations. What I think makes the difference is the quantity of details provided, and that makes the question specific enough, but not too specific to make it interesting for few users.

Differently, questions like "What are some uncommon ingredients to add to X?" could be interesting as CW, but as questions should not be asked just for the purpose to ask questions, such questions should be avoided. Apart curiosity, what should be the reason to ask about uncommon ingredients?
I also imagine that it could be possible to ask many variants of that question; it is enough to replace X with pizza, cake, salad, and you get thousand of questions that would probably interest few users.

  • 1
    I think both of your examples fit the criteria above - both specify the desired end result. The first wants to achieve the same result as the original recipe with a different cut of meat; the second wants to reduce sourness. I think you're basically agreeing with me up until the last paragraph where there is a reference to community wiki - note that it is our official position (now enforced across much of the network) that Community Wiki is not for polls. Apart from that... looks like we're on the same page.
    – Aaronut
    Apr 27, 2011 at 13:42
  • @Aaronut The examples I made are relatively poor examples; what I was trying to say is that, despite the questions are both "What can I add to X to make it better?" questions, they have different backgrounds. I agree with you, but I think it should be taken in consideration if the question is describing in details the situation the OP is trying to resolve/achieve. In a site like cooking.SE, I would not consider an abstract question (e.g. a question about the uncommon ingredients used to make Y) a good question.
    – apaderno
    Apr 27, 2011 at 14:02
  • If the question is not an abstract one, then the OPs should be able to give details about what they are trying to resolve/achieve. Giving more details helps who answers to give a more useful answer, and not give a "try this" answer. I would not welcome a question like the following, though: "I have a meat cut that I kept in the refrigerator for too long, and it is not the better cut I could use for the recipe I am going to prepare. I am too tired, and I don't want to go to the food stores. How can I add to make my recipe better?"
    – apaderno
    Apr 27, 2011 at 14:08
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    Right, I think we're getting at the same thing here. You're calling it details, I'm calling it a specific outcome. ("Better" is an outcome but it's not a specific one.) I can't personally think of any examples where the outcome is not specified but there are still sufficient details to distinguish it from a recipe request; if you can think of any, that might help me to improve the wording.
    – Aaronut
    Apr 27, 2011 at 15:03

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