Are recipes copyrightable? The basic ingredients in a recipe, as well as the method of preparation that the recipe involves, are not copyrightable. If you don’t want to take my word for it, the U.S. Copyright Office has an entire page devoted to recipes, which is available here. Having said that, almost all recipes that are released as part of commercial books contain a larger amount of copyrightable elements. A description for how to prepare the recipe most likely is copyrightable, as the means of expression are an original work. One cannot plagiarize original works of authorship, including those found in cookbooks. A basic principle of copyright law is that ideas (such as a new method to prepare a fish) are not copyrightable but the means used to convey the ideas are (so that the exact words you use in a written explanation for how to prepare the fish is copyrightable). The pictures in a cookbook will also be protected by copyright law.
A Washington Post article that touches on the subject of the copyrightability of recipes notes that even though the ideas in the recipes are not copyrightable, the International Association of Culinary Professionals recommends that either “adapted from,” “based on,” or “inspired by” be used to provide proper attribution for the source of a recipe. Under copyright law, a copy need not be an exact replica to constitute infringement; rather, an infringing work is one that is “substantially similar.” Thus, merely changing a few of the ingredients in a recipe, and then copying wholesale copyrightable descriptions from cookbooks is likely to be found to be copyright infringement.