Ever wondered why we have the urge to cut down our food into small pieces? Well, according to a recent study, this seemingly simple gesture goes much deeper than utility.
According to a team of scientists from Harvard University, even before the invention of cooking techniques, the prehistoric man came up with several ways to gulp down his food.
But before we delve into the specifics, let’s squeeze in a few words about how food shaped humanity. According to the latest scientific discoveries, the oldest surviving cooking utensil dates from 1 million years ago.
But, approximately 2.5 million years ago, the hominin family, a large genus which includes even the modern man, underwent a massive physical change. The reconstructions of the earliest human being showed that hominin had big teeth, massive jaws and strong facial muscles.
Using this “equipment” the first generations of hominins would lick clean the meat off the bone, without bothering to slice it or to mash it.
But, according to recent research, something happened 2.5 million years ago. Our teeth got smaller, thanks to the inhibitory cascade phenomenon and the jaws and chewing muscles conformed to the teeth’s dimensions.
Now, as out teeth, jaws and chewing muscles decreased in size, our head’s cubic capacity increased. Subsequently, increased cerebral activity meant that man needed more nutrients from food.
How did they manage? Daniel Lieberman and Katherine Zink, the senior authors of the study led to answer this mind-boggling question. The prehistoric man managed to increase its intake of nutrients by slicing, carving and mashing its food.
That way, man focused more on chit-chatting and developing language skills than chewing away the food.
To see whether this evolutionary mechanism encouraged man’s evolution, the two scientists from Harvard asked the help of several volunteers.
All the volunteers who enrolled in this study were invited to a dinner party, where prehistoric dishes were served: beets, yams, carrots and goat meat.
Now, the team had only to ascertain the efficiency of several eating methods. And so, the team had to serve their dishes raw, whole, cooked or mashed using wooden or stone tools.
When the participants were asked to eat an entire rack of lamb, the scientists saw that modern man had difficulties chewing down meat. But after the meat was cut into small pieces and cooked over a stove, the chewing efficiency increased by 17 percent.
Lieberman said that he observed a similar phenomenon in chimps. Generally, chimpanzees are veggie lovers, but, once in a while, they manage to bag one or two colobus monkeys. According to the researcher, it takes the chimp nearly 11 hours to chew down an entire colobus monkey, which is roughly the size of an adult cat.