|The Marmite cupcake recipe from my book Supper Club|
You may have seen stories in the newspaper about Marmite cupcakes in the last week or so. In 2010 I created a recipe for two types of Marmite cupcake: one with a Marmite caramel centre and topping; the other with a Marmite chocolate ganache centre and topping.
The recipe was also published in my book Supper Club; recipes and notes from the underground restaurant. See the proof above.
The recipe, ostensibly created by an outfit called Lola’s Cupcakes, seemed remarkably similar to mine. They dug out the centre of the cupcake and filled it with Marmite caramel and topped the cupcake with a buttercream version of the same plus Marmite chocolate ganache.
Lola’s cupcakes received an enormous amount of publicity about this, claiming in the press release that they were the first to make Marmite cupcakes.
But I ran my Marmite cupcake recipe text through a plagiarism checking site and the following links came up:
My Daily, 10 June 2014, “Marmite Cake: The Latest Food Fad, But Would You Try It?”
Metro, 9 June 2014, “The Marmite caramel cupcake: You’ll either love it or hate it”
Evening Standard, 9 June 2014, “Marmite cupcakes? Got to give it a try.”
Rather a coincidence, wouldn’t you say?
I tweeted Lola’s cupcakes and got back some very patronising tweets full of kisses attempting to bat me away. I persisted and they eventually sent me this email:
‘Their’ recipe is here in Shortlist magazine. But their recipe makes no sense. The ingredients and the method do not match. (That’s what tends to happen when you copy and paste from someone else’s work, you slip up.) You can see from the comments under the Shortlist article that readers are confused. Words directly copied from my blog post are in red.
In Shortlist magazine:
For the insert (in the cake) their ingredients say:
- Combine the sugar and water in a medium sized saucepan until it dissolves.
- Bring it to the boil, without stirring, until it’s a deep amber colour.
- Brush down the sides of the pan with a brush dipped in water to prevent crystallisation.
But the biggest ‘coincidence’ is that the genius who runs Lola’s Cupcakes came up with this quote which is in all the newspaper stories and is almost verbatim what my blog post says:
So what can I do about this?
They are big, I am small. So Lola’s Cupcakes feel that they can do what they want with impunity. But have they no pride? And to be sooo lazy that they actually steal the words from my blog and pretend that their owner said this? If you are going to nick someone elses idea, cover your tracks a little better.
Let’s discuss the whole matter of recipe copyright. It’s the subject of a talk that I’m giving with Lavender Bakery and Maison Cupcake at the Britmums conference next weekend “How to make a recipe your own”.
Most recipes are not original. Recipes are like Chinese whispers, every time someone cooks them, they turn out slightly differently. You cannot copyright, for instance, a classic recipe such as a Victoria sponge or a recipe for hummus. These dishes are in the canon. All we can do as cooks is slightly tweak them. A Vicky sponge needs certain ingredients in a certain quantity combined and baked in a predetermined order. You can put a different flavour in there, you can add a different fruit, you can make it smaller or bigger, but basically a Victoria sponge is still a Victoria sponge.
Ditto hummus. Hummus needs chickpeas, tahini, salt, lemon, olive oil. You can change the bean. You can change the oil. You can dick around with the recipe but hummus is hummus is hummus.
Now Marmite/caramel has been done before by Signe Johansen in the Marmite Cookbook while Marmite/chocolate ganache has also been done before by Paul A Young.
But neither has put both elements into a cupcake. My recipe is not the same as their recipes either. I started from scratch.
I would argue that Marmite Cupcakes is not a classic recipe, it’s an original idea, even a gimmick. While a cupcake is a basic recipe, adding Marmite is unusual, and digging out the centre or the ‘insert’ is another idea, and combining Marmite/caramel and Marmite/chocolate ganache in that cupcake is too close for comfort. As a unique recipe, Lola’s cupcakes could, at the very least, have credited me. David Lebowitz in this article, talks about recipe attribution, how to give a polite nod to those who came before.
Legally, note that ingredients cannot be copyrighted. The method cannot be copyrighted either. Minor changes and rewriting the method is not illegal, however it is not terribly ethical.
But words can be copyrighted. If you copy the exact same words in the method of a recipe from someone else, that’s a breach of copyright. Using the exact same words in the exact same order from somebody else’s blog post, without crediting them, IS a breach of copyright.
Update: they have also used my recipe on their facebook recipe app without permission or credit.
New update: I had a phone call with Marmite in which they responded with weaselly words and refused to explain how this ‘error’ happened, they then threatened me by saying that Lola’s were going to pursue me for libel. Marmite promised me some work in recompense but never followed through.