How has cooking influenced evolution?


Many leading anthropologists from around the world believe that cooking has played a key role in the rate of evolution of mankind.

One common theory is that an increase in human brain size was correlated to our species moving away from the consumption of nuts and fruits and on to the consumption of cooked foods around 250,000 years ago. The rationale behind this theory is that cooking food breaks down its cells, meaning that our stomachs need to do less work to liberate the nutrients our bodies need and therefore there was more free energy available to power a larger brain - in fact without cooking, it is thought that an average human being would have to consume around 5 kilos of raw foods, which would take 6 hours per day to chew.

This is a question that has generated a lot of publicity in recent times, with Horizon airing a show entitled “Did cooking make us human?” on the BBC on the 2nd of March 2010 which focuses on the origins of cooking food and what effects it has had on the evolution of species within the homo genus.

On the back of this, a well known Korean TV company wanted to film their own programme posing a similar question, and they filmed some experimental work at the Leatherhead Food Research facility in Surrey, UK.  

Project Manager Kathy Groves and Microscopist Jill Webb were filmed carrying out an experiment to show the effects of heating food on the cell structure by using our THMS600 stage to warm a potato sample up to normal cooking temperature and viewing the cells under a microscope.

I would like to thank Kathy and Jill for inviting me to the filming of the programme, and wish everyone at Leatherhead food research well for the studies that they are carrying out that will hopefully help shed more light on how cooking has influenced evolution.  

Posted by Ricky Patel

Linkam On TV: So Did Cooking Make Us Human?

Keen Linkam Blog readers will recall us talking about the BBC filming a documentary on whether cooking food is what enabled us to evolve faster than the apes.

Well the show aired last week, so I apologise for not giving prior warning to set your DVR.  Fear not; those of you in the UK can watch it online on the BBC iplayer by clicking here. Those of you overseas will just have to take our word that it was....well....quite interesting.  We'll see if we can get a clip or something and put it on our youtube channel.

Linkam hotstage enthusiasts may well find themselves eager to fast forward to the brief glimpse of the Linkam THMS600 heating and freezing stage, in which case, you will need to drag the slider all the way to 42min and 10seconds to see Kathy Groves at the controls.

BBC documentary made at Leatherhead Food Research features Linkam Hot Stage

Kathy Groves and her team at Leatherhead Food Research have just spent the morning filming with the BBC as part of a documentary to be aired in March.

The documentary discusses the role of diet in evolution. Comparing the raw food simian diet with modern human's diet.

Our simian ancestors evolved a digestive tract to cope with a super high fibre diet, but it required a lot more energy to digest all that woody stuff.

I'm thinking of one of those massive silverback gorillas, just sitting there half asleep gnawing on some branch he's yanked off a nearby tree. The only activity being a bit of chest beating and hollering every now and then to ensure everyone knows who's boss. This is probably completely inaccurate, but you get the idea.

Apparently, cooked food requires a lot less energy to digest and hence modern humans as we know them had more available for other activities like designing, building, and getting all sorts of stuff done, although a bit of chest beating and hollering still exists today.

I may have got this all wrong as I'm working from snippets of conversation and you'll have to watch the documentary to see just how wrong....I'll post a link of course.

Our THMS600 stage was used on an Olympus microscope to show how the starch granules break down with temperature. I'm guessing, it's this breakdown that enabled us to eat and digest starchy foods that were otherwise unavailable as an energy source.

Thanks so much to Kathy Groves and Leatherhead food for letting us get in the way.