At the beginning of human time, we didn’t know how to cook; however, our ancestors learned the skill approximately 1,8 million years ago, which has been and is a major thing in all human life. The question is why we humans cook, and how does it affect us. Let’s start learning!
Humans cook because we have mastered the art of fire. Cooking food helps break down tough proteins, kill bacteria, prevent food poisoning, and make it easier for us to digest our food. Also, cooked food is more enjoyable to eat, it tastes better, and cooked meats last longer.
In addition, many scientists and researchers believe that cooking food has had a major impact on our evolution by becoming more advanced and complex human beings with more intelligence and capabilities. This subject truly is interesting, so let’s dive more in-depth into why we cook food so you can learn more.
Why do we cook food
Now, let’s take a look at the 5 main reasons why humans cook food and then you can understand the importance of it.
1. Humans have mastered the fire
The first reason why we cook is that we can. The controlled use of fire was discovered somewhere between 1.7-2million years ago by Homo erectus, and scientists have found microscopic traces of wood ash that were evidence of controlled use of fire. Therefore humans have been using fire ever since.
However, ancient humans have seen fire for more than 2million years because of natural causes. For example, lightning strikes were the most common cause of fire in the ancient world where the fire wasn’t yet in controlled use; therefore, early humans had seen fires regularly for at least 7 million years in the savannas of Africa.
How did our ancestors discover cooking is completely another story which isn’t fully known to historians and scientist; however, the first ”proper” cooking usages such as ancient hearths, earth ovens, flint, and other specific methods and tools of cooking have been found around the world dating back to 300,000 years.
Next lets take a look to the real reasons why humans cook food.
2. Health reasons
The second reason considers health. Cooked food has many health benefits; for example, cooking food breaks down some fibers, plant cell walls, and tough proteins; therefore, the human body can absorb the nutrients far easier than raw foods.
This is beneficial even when cooking can lower the nutritional value of food. Usual nutrients that are reduced can be water-soluble vitamins such as vitamin C and B, fat-soluble vitamins such as A, D, E, and K. Also, some minerals can be reduced, such as potassium, magnesium, sodium, and calcium.
All in all, there are both pros and cons to cooking food when it comes to nutrition. Fruits and vegetables are safe to consume raw; however, the story is different when it comes to meat.
It’s essential to cook meats properly except for a few ones, such as certain fishes used for sushi. Cooking meat is essential because it kills harmful bacteria and germs, preventing the risk of food poisoning, salmonella, and other harmful diseases.
3. Digesting reasons
The third reason why humans cook is that our intestine system can handle cooked food better, especially when talking about meats.
The intestine length of carnivorous animals is 3-6 times their body length, whereas herbivores have intestinal tracts 10-12 times their body length. Humans’ intestinal tract is the same as herbivores; therefore, digesting raw meat isn’t definitely good and easy.
However, in hundreds of thousands of years, humans’ intestinal tract has adapted to digest cooked meats because the cooking process breaks through proteins and makes them easier to digest. This is one of the reasons why humans cook meat.
In addition, humans need to cook meats because of our stomach acidity. Carnivorous animals have almost 20 times more acidic stomach as us, humans; therefore it is natural that lions, for example, can devour all the raw meat they need but us humans need to cook it to digest it without becoming ill or feeling bad.
4. Cooked meat lasts longer
The fourth reason is the shelf life of cooked food. In general, cooked meat lasts longer than raw meat. For example, raw ground meats and poultry should be cooked in 2 days, whereas roasts, steaks, and chops should be cooked in five. When comparing these numbers to their cooked counterparts, cooked ground meats lasts for 3-4 days, where cooked steaks and roasts can last up to 7 but no more!
This is because cooking kills most bacteria, so they can last longer considering that the cooked meats are stored at proper temperatures. Cooked meat should always be kept at 40°F(4.4°C) in the refrigerator, or below 0°F(-18°C) when frozen.
When it comes to cooked vegetables, the same principles hold as well. Raw vegetables don’t have an as long shelf life as cooked because they dehydrate and get limp rather quickly. However, when we examine cooked vegetables, most of the bacteria have been killed, and the shelf life is long.
There are exceptions for this with vegetables; for example, carrots, potatoes, and other hard texture vegetables do last longer when they are uncooked.
5. Enjoyment reasons
And the last but not least is enjoyment. Think about it; you have a well-seasoned steak cooked to perfection next to a bloody and shredded steak that is raw and hardy. Which one do you choose? If you aren’t following a raw meat diet, I suspect you decided the cooked one like 99% of the population.
With vegetables as well, you would probably much rather have delicious fries, boiled potatoes instead of raw, hard, and tasteless potato.
With cooking, seasoning comes into the picture as well. The usage of salt, pepper, garlic, ginger, and other popular spices make the dish taste far more enjoyable than a cooked food that doesn’t have any flavor other than its own.
All in all, humans don’t have to cook to survive. For example, many people eat only raw veggies and fruits, raw meats such as sushi or tartar. There are even people that are following raw meat diet, which means the consumption of only raw animal products and meats. Whether that is beneficial to humans or not is a discussion for another day.
Why did humans start cooking
Humans started to cook because they discovered fire, and they noticed the benefits of it. The first benefits that humans noticed in cooking were that they are more delicious and easy to eat. Later in time, we noticed that cooking has some health and nutritional benefits as well.
Cooking in evolution
There are many theories about whether cooking has affected human evolution or not. But the most supported study theory is that cooking food has a huge impact on our brain growth because cooking allowed human ancestors to spend less time foraging, chewing, and digesting; therefore, we developed a smaller and more effective digestive tract that gave our brain more energy.
Did humans eat meat or plants first
As one might suspect, humans ate plants first for many reasonable reasons. First, we don’t have any natural tools for hunting animals; however, fruits and vegetables grow on trees, ground, and bushes. Therefore it was far easier to eat plants before even considering that eating meat was an option.
Why can’t humans eat raw meat
Eating raw meats isn’t advised because we don’t have strong enough digesting systems for raw meats that carnivorous animals do. Also, our teeth and jaws aren’t made for eating raw meat. Lastly, eating raw meat presents various health concerns such as salmonella, E.coli, and several worm diseases.
Even when cooking causes meat to lose calories and certain nutritions because the fat from the meat is melting out, it is far more enjoyable, healthy, and safe to eat cooked meat instead of raw. Also, the nutrition will absorb much better when eating cooked meat.
Did cavemen eat raw meat
Ancient humans ancestors did eat raw meat regularly, dating back to 2.5 million years. Therefore cavemen did eat raw meat far before cooking, and even fire was discovered.
What makes this interesting is that our ancient ancestors that lived 2.5 million years ago did have nearly similar teeth as we do today. If you have ever eaten raw meat, it is like chewing gum and nearly impossible to chew properly. At least, says Paleoanthropologist Daniel Lieberman.
What kind of food did they eat in the Stone Age
Stone age people were hunters, gatherers, and fishers. There are various foods that people ate in the stone age but you can quess that pizza and burgers wasn’t one of them. Let’s take a look what they actually ate.
- Raw meat, later cooked meat
Above, you can see just some of the foods eaten at stone age. Also, the varieties between areas were huge because our stone-age ancestors ate anything they could get their hands on.
In addition, the time period of the stone age is huge, and many things happened during it; therefore, eating habits changed with it. The time period of the stone age was 2.6 million years ago – 3300BC.
To what temperature should meats be cooked
Various meats require different temperatures to be safe to eat. I have gathered some helpful information below so you can check the different temperatures. The best way to know whether the meat is cooked well enough is to use a proper thermometer and taking the temperature from the thickest part of the meat.
|Fresh Meats (Non-poultry)||160°F (71.1°C)|
|Poultry & Other Birds||165°F (73.8°C)|
|Fish & Shellfish||145°F (62.7°C)|
|Ham (Fresh)||160°F (71.1°C)|
|Eggs||Cook until firm|
As humans, we are lucky that someone in our history invented fire and cooking so we can rejoice at their invention. Remember that there are 5 main reasons why humans cook, and each of them carries specific benefits that are important to us.
I hope that this article gave you real value and knowledge, and you now know why we cook our food and the benefits of it. Happy cooking!