History of Prehistoric Cooking

The cooking techniques that were implemented during prehistoric times shaped how humans prepare and eat foods today. Without these significant prehistoric cooking methods, we would still be hunting and gathering for food, which is considered inefficient compared to farming crops.

But how did humans evolve from hunting for food to taking care of plants until they are edible? Here is a brief history of prehistoric cooking that is divided into two parts. One part will be discussing the cooking methods during the Paleolithic era, while the other part will be focusing on the techniques invented during the Neolithic era.

Paleolithic Era

Historians suggest that it was a million years ago that humans discovered fire. It is currently unknown how humans were able to produce fire, but humans back then tried placing the food that they got from hunting and gathering on top of the fire, and the rest is history.

By cooking raw food, it is much easier for Paleolithic humans to consume what they are easting, as fire enables the raw meat to become soft and tender. It is believed that humans evolved to have much smaller jaws due to eating cooked meat, and in turn, it allowed their skull’s cranium to grow larger, which helped them develop bigger brains.

After the creation of fire, hunting for food became much more prevalent than gathering plants, as humans have grown fond of softened meat that is much more appetizing to eat than herbs. These humans were often called hunter-gatherers, with males usually hunting for meat while women and children would stay within the area of the tribe’s home and pick up edible plants.

Humans became more knowledgeable about the animals that they are hunting, and they were able to memorize the patterns and behaviors of animals so that it will be easier for them to attack their prey quickly and stealthily.

It is essential to note that the animals they hunted during the Paleolithic era are now extinct, such as the wooly mammoth, hornless rhinos, and flightless birds. Some of these animals are significantly larger than a regular-sized human, and they were only able to hunt thee large animals down in groups.

Once they have hunted enough meat for the day, they would go home and start cooking it with fire that is placed on a pit. Those who stayed at the village would dig a hole in a nearby location where the soil is soft enough to make a pit. They usually place fire on a shallow pit to prevent it from going out due to wind, and they would often place leaves on top of it so that the fire would somehow keep burning whenever there is rain. Hot stone would sometimes be added to the fire to prolong its life.

Most meats during the Paleolithic era were roasted, but hard pieces of meat are usually boiled using a specially created pit that is filled with hot water.

When the Paleolithic humans began living in shores, they started hunting for fish, which is considered back then as a difficult food to cook because it can easily get burnt while on a pit. The challenging fish meat prompted then to invent new ways to cook food, and one of them is the method of covering the fish with clay to better control the cooking temperature. They would first cover the fish with wet clay, and the fish would then be placed on the pit. The wet clay will harden while on the pit, and once the fish is cooked for a certain amount of time, they would start breaking the hardened clay to get the fish inside.

Clay would eventually be used to make pots and other cookware during the Neolithic era, where farming is much more prominent than hunting and gathering.

Neolithic Era

It was during the Neolithic era that farming was implemented in the village, as it is an easier and safer way to get food as opposed to hunting that would require a lot of time to get food and would often cause casualties in the tribes.

The edible plants that were picked up in trees and bushes during the Paleolithic era were replaced by grains such as barley and wheat, and there are also vegetables that are successfully cultivated in that era, including onions, spinach, and cabbages.

Some hunted animals were turned into domestic ones, like goats and pigs, and domesticating them allowed humans to not hunt for food anymore. The era of the hunter-gatherers was officially over once agriculture was developed further during the Neolithic era.

ancient Egyptian ploughing with cattle

Clay cookware was eventually replaced with ones that are made of iron, which was discovered around 1000 BC. Iron cauldrons and pots enabled humans to cook food that has are mostly made of liquid, such as stews and porridges.

Alcoholic drinks were also invented in the Neolithic period, as humans are constantly finding ways of drinking liquids that are much safer than the water found in rivers and seas, which are said to contain a lot of bacteria due to pollution caused by humans living near those bodies of water for a long time. Drinks like ale and wine were considered valuable items for tribes since they are difficult to make, and they somehow bring joy to the people of the village.

Despite all of the advancement in cooking during the Neolithic era, humans were still plagued with problems when it comes to cultivating plants and domesticating animals. One of these problems was famine, as there are certain periods were tribes were unable to grow vegetables due to drought, which in turn prevented them from providing food for the domesticated animals that will die due to starvation.

As hunting and gathering were long forgotten in that era, humans were struggling to find food, but it forced them to think of methods to store and prevent foods from spoiling during a famine. The famine prompted humans to invented food storing techniques to prolong the shelf life of foods and pesticides to stop insects from eating their crops.

A lot has happened in the prehistoric times in terms of cooking, and all of these changes on how humans cook and eat food are important to how we evolved as an intelligent species today. Interestingly, the methods and cooking items invented during the prehistoric era is still being used today, such as roasting, boiling, and iron cookware.