MANNA | Curated Cuisine
If you've ever used a cookbook that doesn’t match your diet, you’ll know the pain:
You select your recipe and plan your shopping list, you may even go to the store and begin cooking, when suddenly: “add two eggs to the mixture”.
Whether it’s by allergy, choice or ethical necessity, many of us have ingredients that we simply can’t or won’t touch. You may be gluten-intolerant, you might wish to drop sugar from your diet or, if you’re reading this, you’ll likely avoid all animal products. From Arancini balls to Zuppa Toscana, there are many recipes that require the things that we don’t eat, erasing them from any potential meal plan forever more…
When Guy Greenstein walked into his mother’s kitchen to see her elbow-deep in flour with two cooking books, a tablet, a laptop and copious scribbled recipe notes cluttering the kitchen bench, he knew there must be a better solution.
The tech-head figured that surely there was an app that could eliminate three-quarters of the reading material his mom required, but a thorough browse of app stores and internet came up dry.
And so the concept of Manna Cooking was born.
“There’s tons of recipe apps out there,” says Manna co-founder, Rachel Abady from her Brooklyn home, “but they are all very prescriptive. There’s no customization or personalization.” Rachel knows about the need for change. In her own diet, she was finding that the cheeses and meats she had such a taste for resulted in lower energy, lethargy and feeling far from the best version of herself. Added to that, shortly prior to Manna’s inception in late 2018, her brother Josh was diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and found numerous ingredients causing him significant discomfort. Rachel and Josh realized that they needed a dietary shift, but rather than simply quitting the foods they loved, they wanted to be able to adapt recipes to suit their needs. When Guy brought his mother’s quandary to the table, the trio knew they had a winning formula.
Manna Cooking isn’t a recipe app. It is - it contains hundreds of recipes for its thousands of users - but it’s also fundamentally very different. The app allows you to adapt recipes, swapping out those undesired ingredients for either recommended alternatives or your very own customizations. Once you have quickly and simply refined your recipe, you are then able to save it into your personal recipe book for future reference.
“Food should be easy, but it’s not,” Rachel points out. “I wanted to change my diet, Josh had to change his diet and Guy saw a real-life problem for the people in his life, so we decided to build something that was all about customization and community.”
And there is the other defining difference of Manna over other foodie apps: community.
“When you think about it, the best and most useful part of most recipe apps is the comments section, where people tell you where the magic is, like ‘hey I’m allergic to this’, or ‘I’m vegan so I swapped out this ingredient’” say Rachel.
Community is a strong part of the food journey. We cook for those we love, share our mealtimes together and educate each other on tips and hacks. This is especially true of people new to a specific diet, such as those transitioning to plant-based. Many of our adult cooking learnings and habits are instilled through our childhood, absorbed osmotically from parents, but when shifting to something completely new it is to community that we turn.
Likewise, it is community that has inspired the progressive evolution of Manna Cooking.
“We were building a community-based app, so what better way to develop it than getting the community involved,” Rachel reflects of early development.
Releasing a beta version, the team shared the app with 2,000 of their closest friends to test out. Once a user has uploaded, adapted and saved their recipe, they are then able to share it with the wider Manna population. Fellow users can then adapt and save the recipe for themselves, building their own recipe library, but also helping to create numerous iterations of essentially the same dish. This means that you can have one item reinterpreted for numerous dietary requirements.
But in its first rendition, Manna surprised even the creators.
“It was really fascinating. We realized that there were all these micro-communities developing within the app,” says Rachel. “It makes sense because everyone has different preferences, but the ones we really noticed, because to the utility of being able to customize recipes and swap out ingredients, were people with dietary requirements, so low FODMAP, keto, gluten-free, vegan, kosher, and so on. That really clicked with us.”
In some regards, this unforeseen aspect has converted Manna from purely a cooking resource to a social app, crowdsourcing the information users need and enabling them to share the information they have discovered themselves. Just like any social feed, once you have selected your preferences and begun to build your library and network, Manna will then grow to understand your requirements even more, feeding you the useful information and eliminating recipes that don’t suit your requirements.
When COVID struck, it was a blessing in disguise for the Manna team. The loss and suffering of thousands of fellow New Yorkers was, of course, a tragic period, but it also forced people inside and into the kitchen, necessity dictating that they cook for themselves.
Pushing through their first release, Rachel, Josh and Guy were able to bring a library of recipes to the masses, recipes that could be adapted but, once users stipulated their preferences, recipes that also had the ability to flag those ingredients not suited to the user.
The plant-based and vegan communities have been particularly influential. Dairy is an easy swap, with a dizzying array of plant-based alternatives now on the market. Meat, too, can be easily swapped out for vegan alternatives. But some things are trickier. Eggs, for example. Obviously, if you have a boiled egg, you can’t swap it out too easily, but with other dishes, the egg serves more purpose than simply flavor and substance. Fried rice becomes a far more substantial meal when an egg is scrambled through it; cakes bind together far better when an egg or two are added. These more functional requirements often take more than just a simple swap.
At this stage, that is where the community can provide, sharing their already adapted recipes for others to follow or learn from. In the next release of Manna, however, the app will not just flag the ingredient, it will offer alternatives based on your dietary needs.
“Speaking for myself, I love dairy, but I know I definitely ate way too much of it,” Rachel says of the inspiration the app has brought her. “I was trying to reduce my overall meat and dairy intake and so the app really helped me discover ways to achieve that. I looked at a recipe for chicken parmigiana and found one for eggplant parm; instead of using regular cheese, I’d use cashew cheese. For financial reasons, environmental reasons and for my own body, this was a great way to find people to ask and to inspire me.”
Though the community is still in its formative stages, it is growing rapidly. Every user can create a profile, allowing them to share their own recipes and grow the community exponentially. But they are also able to share their social profiles, websites and other details, enabling the community they have supported to support them back. It’s a circular economy of information.
Removing animal products from your diet can be hard, especially when you have lived a life to date indoctrinated in a meat and dairy-consuming mindset. A close friend or mentor can be the greatest help through your transition, but these are not always accessible. Manna Cooking is your very own, personalized culinary community in the palm of your hand, ready to help you create your favorite dish exactly the way you want.
In Exodus 16 of the Bible, Moses asks God to provide for the starving Israelites. The next morning, and for every proceeding dawn, the ground was covered with manna, a miraculous food source that provided everything they needed to survive their escape from Caanan.
Though it may have been downloaded from the cloud rather than fallen from heaven, Manna Cooking does just that: it provides the community with everything they need to create delicious meals, whatever their medical, cultural or ethical dietary requirements.
With every user comes a stronger community, more recipes and an ever-expanding pool of information, continuing to build and support everyone, whatever their needs.
Manna Cooking’s latest version will launch this Fall, bringing with it a wide collection of resources to support everyone from the one-pot 10-minute cook to the most passionate culinary creator.
Download Manna on the App Store today, start cooking and start sharing: