Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Kiss the Cook

I was recently wondering why humans cook their food. It seems like something so basic, but, at the same time, curious. Humans are, as far as I know, the only animals that prepare their food by cutting it and applying heat. When did this trend start? And for what reason? I came up with some ideas -- perhaps ancient man discovered that cooking some foods reduced the chances of him getting sick from eating foods that had been kept for some time, or perhaps because it simply tasted better -- but I was never really satisfied with these suppositions.

Jake Young of Pure Pedantry reports on an in interesting hypothesis that cooking allowed for an increase in human brain size. Cooking appears to be a form of pre-digestion, making eating more efficient by reducing the amount of energy it takes to process the food we eat. If a food is already chopped or mashed up, that means less chewing. If a food is heated or boiled, that means that its proteins and enzymes have already begun to break down -- less stomach churning.

Even if it weren't more energy efficient, I'd still want my food to be cooked. Nothing beats a good grilled steak and mashed potatoes.

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