Cooking is the preparation of food for eating by means of heat.
Human beings ate their food raw for hundreds of thousands of years. When, how and why did human beings start cooking? These questions can only be answered by theories or educated guesses. No definitive evidence exists to date the earliest cooked meal. Food historians, archaeologists and palaeontologists all agree that the discovery of fire led to the accidental discovery of roasted meat.
Roasting was the earliest form of cooking. Boiling followed later. It was not accidental, but a sophisticated process involving the use of specially crafted tools. Baking possibly followed from roasting as cooking over direct heat involved too much loss of mass.
Whatever the theories regarding the evolution of cooking, it cannot be denied that cooking is one of the attributes that distinguishes humans from the rest of the animal kingdom.
FACT 1: Homo erectus used fire to a limited extent as far back as 300,000 years ago. However the use of fire for cooking did not happen till 40 or 50 thousand years ago.
FACT 2: The discovery of cooking led to the domestication of plant foods like wheat, rice, millet and potatoes. The heat used in cooking breaks down fibre, making inedible plant foods edible.
FACT 3: Cooking also increases the nutritive value of food as the heat releases protein.
FACT 4: The first written recipes come from Ancient Mesopotamia. The study of three tablets in the ancient Cuneiform text reveals the recipes for meat in gravy dishes, served with special breads. These meals were probably meant for the Babylonian god, Marduk, who ate behind a curtain. Leftover food was sent to the King.
FACT 5: Cuisine refers to the food and method of preparation traditional to a region or people. It is affected by many factors including climate, economic conditions and religious laws. In China, due to climatic conditions firewood and charcoal are scarce. Chinese cuisine therefore calls for all ingredients to be finely cut as this reduces fuel requirement.
FACT 6: Economic and class or even caste distinctions do not affect the staple foods of regional cuisine. World cuisine can be divided according to the use of major foodstuffs. In Central and South America corn is the staple. In Northern Europe, wheat, rye and animal fat are the basic ingredients cooked. Pulses and chickpeas are in demand in India where many people are vegetarian. Lamb and rice are eaten in the Middle East.
FACT 7: Both China and Italy have distinct rice and noodle/spaghetti cooking regions. Northern and Southern Italy even use different fats for cooking. It’s butter in the north and olive oil in the south.
FACT 8: In South East Asia, from India to Indonesia, coconuts, sea food and the extensive and intricate use of spices, characterise much of the food cooked.
FACT 9: In most parts of the world home cooking is done by women. Chefs and flying cooks are mostly male. A flying cook flies from house to house or establishment to establishment cooking the required dishes.
FACT 10: Cooking shows are popular all over the world. According to a 2010 poll, 8 in 10 adult Americans watch cooking shows. . The origin of cooking shows can be traced to the fictional Betty Crocker who made her radio debut in 1924 The first televised cooking show was ‘I Love to Eat’ broadcast on NBC in 1946. Established cookbook author demonstrated recipes on this show