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I have an ingredient that I'm not sure what to do with, can I ask how to use it? Can I ask for recipes including it?

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A question asking how to use a specific ingredient is obviously about cooking, but it may not always be appropriate for a question and answer site.

In particular, when the ingredient in question is something commonly found and there are many possible uses involving it, then it will probably solicit a lot of answers, and questions which have lots of answers are not very useful (see this answer for why that is).

There are also an unlimited number of 'Uses of X' questions about common ingredients. We have to consider what would happen if we started to allow 'What are some uses for onions?' and 'What are some uses for chicken?'. Where would it end? These questions are recipe swap questions in disguise. And those are not allowed.

When the ingredient in question is rare or unusual then it will probably get fewer answers, which is generally preferable, and which will probably be more informative to people.

This implies that we will have to make a decision about which 'Uses for X' questions should be allowed and which should be considered Off Topic.

There are some guidelines both for asking and answering these sorts of questions.

When asking a question of this sort we should try and restrict the ingredients to:

  • Things which normally would be considered waste. Questions about stale bread and apple peel are existing examples of this.

  • Things which are not usually associated with cooking but are edible. Questions about hops and lavender are existing examples of this.

  • Things which are extremely rare in most regions and thus not easy to find recipes for. This is obviously the most subjective, but we could consider things which are not available in a supermarket as the yardstick. This is not perfect, and any other suggestions are welcome. A question about sumac is an existing example of this. Please do your own homework and try the recipe search engines first.

When answering questions of this form we should consider:

  • Classes of uses are best. eg:

    • Used for flavouring cakes is preferable to a cake recipe

    • Flavour pairings in preference to a specific recipe

  • Your favourite recipe containing the ingredient is not generally going to be useful

So if you have a question of this form, go through this check list before asking it or it is likely to be closed.

  • This seems like a pretty good overview of all the points. I hope you don't mind me making a few formatting tweaks - thought it would make this a little easier to read. – Aaronut Sep 7 '10 at 23:31
  • Don't mind at all. It's what I'd want. Should we make these questions community wiki? – Sam Holder Sep 8 '10 at 18:05
  • I don't think they should be CW necessarily. There is no rep gained, and we don't really need users with low rep to edit these. – hobodave Sep 8 '10 at 21:41
  • @hobodave: FAQs are traditionally Community Wiki, although that may be an artifact of having real rep on MSO. Most likely, if it's truly a FAQ, it will evolve over time and become CW anyway due to the amount of editing. – Aaronut Sep 9 '10 at 14:22
  • Why do you wish to limit the kinds of questions that can be asked? If you don't want to answer a question on a particular topic, ignore it. If questions don't get answered those people will go elsewhere. But when you say "I don't want anybody to answer a question here about cilantro" well, that just seems like your priorities are misplaced. If I want to ask about the possible uses of flour and hundred people want to tell me their favorite cake or bread recipe are we wasting your harddrive space? – Cos Callis May 29 '11 at 22:16
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Additional advice for people who have had a question closed and been referred to these guidelines:

If you are looking for information on how to use a common ingredient, please see the following question:

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I would like to point out something which is not explicitely mentioned in this answer, but which has been the way we have used this policy over the past years.

Sam Holder's answer mentions that we don't cover ingredients which are so common that you can easily find recipes for them. We define this as being common somewhere in the world, as opposed to "in your country". So, examples like cornel cherries or whelks would fall under the "so common that they should be closed" policy even though I suspect most users of this site don't know that they exist, much less than they are edible.

This may strike you as unfair or defeating the point, but the alternatives are worse. First, we could define it as "so uncommon that the asker has never heard of them". This means that we have to accept questions on a lot of stuff which is a staple in our kitchens but not present somewhere else, bringing us back to square one with all the big list questions we are trying to avoid with this policy. We could alternatively define it as "uncommon in the US", which would cover the experience of the majority of our users, but that would be opposed to our policy of doing our best to be more international and make users from all countries feel welcome, so I'd rather not go there.

This leaves us with the policy of closing questions which many people here would consider interesting and would be sad to see go. I agree that this feels unpleasant on the first glance, but consider that we don't have to be everything for everybody. If a search of "X uses" or "X recipes" or "how to eat X" brings you enough search results, there is no need to rehash them on our own just because it is novel to us.

  • And very roughly, our standard for "common somewhere in the world" is in practice mostly just going to be whether you can easily use Google to find recipes (in English - don't worry, we're not expecting people to learn Chinese to go search for a specific ingredient). – Cascabel May 19 '17 at 20:08

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