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Beth Underwood: Sunday meal-planning attempt sidelined by plethora of recipe review personalities

Am I the only one who finds online recipe reviews more intriguing than the recipes themselves? From bubbly socialite to resident party-pooper, if you want to decipher a plethora of personalities, all you have to do is read online reviews.

I bring this up because I spent far too much time last Sunday trying to come up with a few new meals. In the beginning, I casually glanced through the first few reviews on each recipe. Next thing I knew, I was reading more reviews than recipes, and within 10 minutes, I’d forgotten all about meal planning.

As I scrolled from one comment to the next, I scrutinized each review, making an educated guess as to the writer’s personality.

The over-achievers are obvious. These are the people who post their own photos of the recipe to illustrate their success or failure. The unsolicited photos often look nothing like the recipes posted by the original source and can be so unappetizing that I skipped both recipe and review. Assuming I made it further, the review was typically not a review as much as a step-by-step recap of the recipe, noting exact knife used for chopping and paring, the bowl — clear, stainless or ceramic — used for mixing and the brand of sheet pan used for baking. Boring.

Up next are the cheerleaders. These are the lollipops-and-sunshine reviewers. The recipe could taste like shoe leather, but these people will be loyal to the end, supporting both the recipe and its author at all costs.

In some cases, the reviewer has made the recipe. Most of the time, however, their reviews are based on the appeal of the original photo and “ooh, doesn’t that sound good.” These are the people who leave five-star reviews characterized by capital letters, exclamation points, and emojis.

“Loved it!! Def adding to the weekly rotation!!”

“Making this tonight! Five stars!😍😍😍”

“OMG!!! The family will LOVE THIS!!

Take their reviews with a grain of salt. You may need it if the recipe ends up tasting like shoe leather.

Our third group of reviewers aren’t reviewers as much as clarifiers and questioners. They are unsure of themselves and, consequently, their cooking skills. They can be detected by their three-star reviews — and the fact that they ask questions instead of leaving a true review. Here’s what their queries look like:

“What if I don’t have any real butter at home? Is there anything else I can substitute?”

“Can this be made ahead of time and reheated?”

And we’ve all seen this classic: “This recipe calls for flour and I’m on a gluten-free diet. What should I do?”

You may be tempted to answer their question. Don’t do it, though. You’ll only encourage them.

Next up are the well-meaning reviewers. These are the people who want to make the recipe, have nothing on hand with which to pull it off, yet feel compelled to review, anyway. They typically leave two-and three-star reviews.

“I didn’t have kale on hand, so I substituted cucumbers since they both have that hard ‘k’ sound. I didn’t have Worcestershire sauce, either, so I used some soy sauce. Also, I used mini-muffin pans and baked individual servings instead of sautéing.”

After listing their arms-length list of substitutions, they finish the review by complaining about how the recipe seemed to be missing something. “That’s why I gave it two stars,” they conclude.

Bless their hearts.

Last up is the scornful reviewer. This is the person who tacks up a one-star review because of something unrelated to the recipe. I like to call them the chip-on-the-shoulder reviews.

“I forgot to spray the pan first. Everything stuck to the bottom and I had to throw out the pan.”

“Forgot to set the timer and burned the bottoms on every cookie. Will not be making again.”

Sometimes, these reviews come off overly angry: “Because of this recipe, I’m never eating chocolate-covered raisins again.”

And this is one of my favorites: “Make sure you follow the recipe as written, otherwise it won’t turn out right. One star.”

Granted, reading all these reviews didn’t get me any closer to a weekly meal plan. But if you need help categorizing personality traits, just give me a call.

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Beth Underwood is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in numerous newspapers and magazines. She shares stories of everyday life that entertain, inspire, and encourage others. Her books include Gravity, a narrative nonfiction account of a small group of Tennessee National Guardsmen, and Talk Bourbon to Me, a lighthearted look at Kentucky’s native spirit. Drop her a line at beth@bethwrightunderwood.com, or visit her website at bethwrightunderwood.com.

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