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Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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Revision as of 23:07, 7 August 2012

Welcome to the explain xkcd wiki! We currently have 11 comic explanations. Come and add yours!

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To Taste
Look, recipe, if I knew how much was gonna taste good, I wouldn't need you.
Title text: Look, recipe, if I knew how much was gonna taste good, I wouldn't need you.


The imprecision of recipes is often a sources of frustration to culinary novices, especially the more analytically-minded. Cueball expects a recipe to provide instructions precise enough that by following them carefully, a cook can create a dish exactly as the recipe author intended. Unfortunately, exact replication is impossible in cooking because of the natural variation of ingredients as well as differences in equipment. In addition, most home cooks lack the tools needed to make precise measurements, such as scales and thermometers. Thus, a recipe for strawberry smoothies might read "add sugar to taste" because the recipe-writer can't specify precisely how ripe the strawberries are to begin with. In addition, a smoothie recipe would typically specify imprecise quantities of fruit such as "1 banana" or "1 cup of strawberries" (much less precise than specifying the weight). Thus, it is impossible for the cook to determine the correct amount of sugar without actually tasting the drink.

The instruction "to taste" can also be used for ingredients that alter a simple aspect of the food's flavor, such as sweetness, sourness, saltiness or bitterness without affecting the quality of the overall dish. Individual preferences can vary wildly and it's not possible for a recipe's author to predict how much the reader will want. Specifying any exact amount in these cases will inevitably lead to the food being too bland for some, while being too strong for others.

In this comic, Cueball is shown as having no idea how to cook (or having a ridiculously sweet tooth), and the suggestion that he is going to add large crates of sugar to a small pot is of course silly. This would definitely ruin the dish as what ever was in the pot would be drowned out by the sugar. Alternatively, he could simply bring in enough sugar to make sure he will not run out of this particular ingredient before it reaches the correct level of sweetness for his taste. This would display a complete lack of idea about what it is too cook.

The title text is Randall's (and Cueball's) personal comment on what he think a recipe should do to fulfill his needs. If he knew how much of each ingredient that would be appropriate for a given dish, then he would not need the recipe in the first place. the title text actually scolds the recipe for being imprecise. In his view, mixing in imprecise or "use your own judgment" language makes it less of a "recipe" for the dish, and thus less suitable for those looking for the specific instructions to make the dish because they either have no cooking experience, feel they don't have the expertise to make their own decisions, or simply want to follow clearly defined steps without any decision making required.

This is the second comic this week that concerns one of the basic condiments for food, and also regards one of the five basic tastes. The first one, about salt, was 1637: Salt Mine. Lately Randall has made several food related comics.


[Cueball is standing near a stove holding a pot just above it. He is looking away from the stove, reading the recipe from a piece of paper he is holding in the other hand.]
Recipe: ...And add sugar to taste.
[Cueball has placed the pot on the stove looking at it while holding the paper down along his side.]
Cueball: ??
[Cueball leaves the pot and stove to walks off-panel left with the recipe.]
[Cuball returns backing up to the stove with a dolly loaded with three crates with labels. The bottom crate is still not fully inside the panel and the first letter cannot be seen.]
Top crate: Sugar
Middle crate: Sugar
Bottom crate: ugar

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