Did Cooking Make Us Human?

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Originally, our primate ancestors ate their food raw and survived just fine, but many say we could not have evolved to our current state without the ability to cook.

Nobody knows exactly when cooking was invented or discovered. Early primitive humans or hominids might have come across animals burnt by lightning strikes or wild fires and ate them.

Or perhaps they accidentally dropped a piece of meat in a fire and ate it, finding that it seemed tastier than eating meat raw.

As far as we are concerned, cooking is now an essential activity for humans. In fact, we are the only known species that prepares its food in this way, one of several factors that set us apart from other life forms.

Cooked food is a lot more easily digested than raw food. The human body absorbs the nutrients of cooked food much more readily compared to raw food.

Indeed, the consumption of cooked food reduces the energy required for digestion by about a quarter. This freed up energy for our bodies to use for other more important activities, such as reproduction, thereby allowing us to better survive.

In this sense, cooking proved to be an evolutionary breakthrough for humans. Our bodies evolved according to new circumstances and functions. Constantly eating cooked food actually allowed human guts to become smaller.

Smaller organs and access to ready energy not needed for digestion also helped develop the human brain, further differentiating humans from animals. Our brains use at least 20% of the energy our bodies produce compared to other primates, which only use around 10%.

Researchers believe that this shift in energy use allowed the human brain to grow larger and perform higher level functions. In this sense, cooking may have had a direct impact on our evolution to a higher species.

It is easy to see, then, why many say cooking made us human. It is certainly not the only factor, but it did have an impact on the path our evolutionary development took.

So the next time you whip something up in the kitchen, say a little thank you to those cavemen who first learned to cook. We are what we eat, and cooking made us what we are today.

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