Learning to cook may have helped man’s evolution

Posted on August 24, 2011


Bad manners are one of my pet hates and that also includes table manners. It drives me potty when people chew food with their mouth open. Not only is it unsightly but it sounds bloody awful.

Fire and cooking may have helped man's evolution

Thankfully through the art of cooking, food is softened up which means it takes us less time to chew it and less time for us to chow down. Compared to our non cooking primate cousins, who spend around 48 per cent of their day eating raw food; we only spend around 5 per cent. So when our ancestors invented the spit roast it also provided them with a major survival advantage.

New research says that the evolution of smaller molars, smaller jaws and smaller guts must have come about via cooking.

Looking at molars and body sizes of extinct hominids with modern humans and other primates; researchers found that Homo erectus; Neanderthal man and modern humans have molars that are smaller than would be predicted by looking at general primate evolution. The physical changes could not have evolved without the introduction of food processing, say the scientists.

One of the authors, Dr Chris Organ, from Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, wrote: “Food processing would have provided higher caloric intake in the ancestors of modern humans, which likely bestowed significant advantages on reproductive success and survival.

“Malnutrition resulting from a committed raw food diet strongly suggests that eating cooked and processed food is necessary for long-term survival of wild foods in Homo sapiens.

‘This hypothesis explains the small teeth, jaws and guts of modern humans and the universal importance that cooking has played in cultures throughout recorded history.”

There is little direct evidence that Homo habilis, which pre-dated Homo erectus, or any of its predecessors cooked or processed food.

The findings which are published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences says that cooking with fire may date back two million years, far earlier than originally thought. Up until now the earliest date that man was first believed to ‘control’ fire was 1.5million years ago.

So next time you asking your other half “what’s for dinner?” (tea, if you’re like The Northerner!!! That’s a debate in itself) spare a thought for the significance of having cooked not raw food on your plate.

Posted in: Branching out