Do you have any idea how humans became the swarming, world-straddling species that we are today? Out of so many other reasons you could think of, cooking is one of the biggest reasons for giving a new outlook to the world and will continue to do so in times ahead.
When it comes to innovation in food, not many people find it as an art. Some see it as an aesthetic accomplishment or may be just a basic necessity met. Whatever one thinks, it sure is a scientific innovation. The first ever person who noticed that egg white, when whipped and baked, can also be made into hard shell like thing that can also be consumed, was material science. Small or big, this contribution was very important and led to further scientific steps forward that brought major changes in human development.
Food Digestion Outside Stomach
How many of us are calculative about the food we eat? How many kilograms of food did you ate today? Around 5 kilo or less? The food we eat was cultivated roughly ten thousand years ago with an effort to make it fit for human consumption.
Richard Wrangham is an anthropologist and biologist who calculated that Homo Erectus needed roughly that much food for survival. There wasn’t much of scope but the difference came from the usage of a bunch of hot sticks.
Cooking definitely cuts down the proteins and other nutritious elements if overcooked but yet helps soften fruits and tubers. It also helps food shrink in size so that it could be eaten easily. It is essential that it’s cooked well for proper digestion. During the study of a python’s model of digestion, Wrangham discovered that snake got more energy from cooked food than raw. This discovery put a step ahead to the idea of cooking food by burning wood at ground level about 1.6 million years ago. It also lead to a change in human physiology and behaviour pattern.
The human gut did not needed to process as much food as it did before because of the fact that food got shrunk. On the other hand, brain, which needs nine times as much energy as muscle tissues, enlarged. This resulted into the expansion of cranium, the part enclosing the brain, and contraction of mouth and teeth.
Chimpanzees eat, chew and swallow fibrous fruits and leaves that takes them quite a long time despite having massive teeth. The same food would take humans spending nearly six hours on chewing daily.
The activity of just gathering food has reached a new level by adding on fire and cooking. The proto-humans turned from food gathering machines to species with brain and were great utiliser of time as per their needs. This lead to swarming and invasive species that we have become today.
Our Love for Sour and Bitter
Time is very a valuable possession that each one of us have if utilised in a proper way. When humans have time, they find several ways to fill the space. Ancient species filled time by wandering and travelling around. Heribert Watzke is a food scientist who believes that cooking is our third necessity. He insists that humans are so much bound by cooked food that they should stop being known as ‘omnivores’ and start calling themselves as ‘coctivores’. They are the most dependent species on cooked food.
The ‘coctivores’ came from Africa and moved onto every other continent. Cooking from being the necessity, then opened up as an opportunity to find new ideas and innovations about new varieties, scents and flavours of food – all this coming to life to make it more edible and tasty. Cooking also helped in fighting psychological adjustments for good digestion. New flavours, spices and new variety of tastes were tried out and started to get implemented all over. Cooking improved from being the necessity to the new innovation.
According to Watzke, cooking helped to overcome tastes that were not so appealing to human taste buds like sour and bitter. These tastes were originated to keep living beings away from the poisonous and rotten food. Well cooked food included discovering new tastes and flavours like bitter greens aren’t tasty to eat but if perfectly stewed, they taste good. The variety of plants and animals that were used for cooking expanded the range of variety. The ideas kept on expanding and cooking became very popular, innovative and appealing to mankind.
The real test for any invasive species comes when it tries to displace other species in order to make its own place. Cooking played a crucial role in this test. And then came the need for grain revolution. Though herders transform the landscape, there have always been predators that preyed on herds to kill and feed on them. The grain fields were full of wheat grasses like einkorn, spelt, and emmer which were harvested only once and stored for the entire year. They stored grains and were used whenever they had to consume. Wheat is one of the fibrous tufts that is difficult to digest and is raw even when soaked. Earlier, bread and grains were easily mashed and eaten as porridge, whatever the form did; heating denatured the strands of protein within the grains.
Cooking expanded the idea of cultivation and found ways to transform the landscape. The start of new ways of expansion and innovations started with the idea of cooking. Humans started to transform things the way they wanted in their own way as long as they cooked.