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Energy Theory of Cooking and it’s Origins

Notes/opinions/learnings from: Catching Fire: How cooking Made Us Human by Richard Wrangham. (Part 3/5)

Whether you cook your food or you don’t the energy content(calories) remain the same. But then when you cook food why do animals and humans gain weight and reproduce better than when they have raw food?

In terms of nutritional science, eat raw has more calories than cooked food.  Cooking leads to loss of nutrients and creates Maillard Compounds, reducing the amount of sugar or amino acids for digestion, while burning carbohydrates and lead to changes in texture of the food leading to reduce the foods digestibility. Cooking= reduce the digestibility of proteins. Cooking gelatinises starch, denatures protein, and softens everything which increases the amount of energy we obtain from food.

The most important way cooking achieves increased digestibility is by gelatinisation (which happens whenever starch is cooked, whether in baking of bread or thinking of sauces). Cooked starch yields more energy than raw. An example of this is when testing for blood.Within 30 minutes of a person eating a meal of glucose, the concentration of glucose in his or her blood rises dramatically. If you eat raw starch the same wouldn’t happen.The GI (Glycemic Index) measure the food effect on blood sugar levels and captures the effects of cooking on blood sugar levels.

An experiment by Beaumont, with a patient whose inner workings of a stomach was visible from the outside concluded that soft and finely divided foods are more easily digested which conforms to our preference for such foods. The Genghis Khan army mentioned earlier (the ones who drank horse blood) also put slabs of meat under their sales to tenderise it. Tender meat is popular due to the Beaumont scientific reasoning and and also due to energy saved during digestion.

Archaeologists are unsure of the origins of cooking. Evidence of controlling fire is inconsistent before the last quarter of a million years, however sites in England at Beeches Pit show indication of a toolmaker squatting next to warming fire. In Germany, a sit shows indication of group hunting and meat being dried in fire. However, such sites are always not a good indication of knowing when cooking started because small fires do not always leave traces. Therefore, we an identify the origin of cooking through fossil record. Anthropologists have sometimes suggest that humans could have controlled fire for reasons such as warmth and not cooking. It is possible that our prehuman ancestors probably would have liked cooked food too. Like Chimpanzees in Senegal that only eat cooked beans of Afzelia trees after a forrest fire. Upon asking Koko, a gorilla who can communicate with humans, communicated that she liked cooked food better because it tasted better. Therefore, it is likely that our ancestors like apes surveyed liked eating cook food too. Thus, it is improbable that there was a gap between fire and cooking.

Anatomy can evolve very quickly in response to dietary changes. Galapagos finches. experienced a food shortage in which the birds were able to eat large and hard seeds. The birds with the longest beaks survived. The species as whole developed long beaks within a year. Beak sizes fell again once food supply went back to normal, however it took 15 years for the genetics to change. Therefore, applying this to humans and cooking, the adoption of cooking should be found whenever the human anatomy is suited to softer and energy rich diet. It is possible that this change happened  from Habilines to homo Erectus around 1.9-1.8 million years ago. There was a massive reduction in tooth size (therefore larger brains) and largest increase in body size, they could no longer climb and they were also the ones who travelled beyond Africa. An example of Homo Erectus, was the Tukrana boy preserved specimen from 1.51 million years ago, who could not climb trees. This means they slept on the ground with controlled fire while being safe from animals. This also meant that stopped climbing trees (therefore the inability to) because they no longer needs raw food since they had fire to cook meat. Therefore, it was probably the Habilines and their transition to homo Erectus is when cooking started.

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