The evolution of eating

 tandoori chicken

Those who subscribe to a Paleo diet are often convinced it is better for us because it mimics how our ancestors ate. They argue that evolution hasn’t caught up to our modern, starch-heavy diets. Until recently, it has been difficult to determine if this is true, but new technology has provided researchers with more insight on the diets of ancient humans

Using a technique called starch grain analysis – a method of examining starch granules stored within plants under the microscope – scientists can determine the contents of prehistoric cooking vessels and even human teeth. The technique has shown that pre-Colombian cultures in Mexico grew at least seven kinds of chile peppers over 6,000 years ago, and that tandoori chicken has been eaten in India for thousands of years. 

The analyses also show that starches have been part of the human diet for millenia. Roti and millet have been traced to different parts of the Indian subcontinent back to 5,000 BC. Some of researchers investigating archeaological sites have attempted to recreate the dishes that they have discovered, using traditional cooking methods. They sometimes have to guess on how the food was prepared, but by using the clues provided they can usually determine the methods. Charring on seeds, for example, indicates that the food was roasted. 

These findings takes us on a journey through the evolution of food habits. Many of the things we take for granted in any food culture are actually quite modern additions. Fruits and vegetables have quickly moved from one country to another in modern times, becoming part of the established culture once adopted.   

Photo of BBQ tandoori-style chicken from BBC Good Food Magazine by Anjum Anand

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