New research shows that chimps prefer cooked food. Yes, that's actually a big deal — here's why.
People LOVE to cook. A lot.
Like, a lot a lot.
No, but really. We love to cook so much that we'll spend money to watch other people cook.
"Iron Chef." "Chopped." "Cupcake Wars." "Hell's Kitchen." A bajillion other shows.
Maybe right now you're thinking, "OMG that is soooo true! Cooking is my favorite thing ever!" Or maybe you're more along the lines of, "What no no no get that thing away from me."
But despite your personal feelings (and abilities), you've gotta admit it: Cooking is a huge part of human culture.
So when did our love affair with cooking actually start?
There's some debate among experts as to when humans first started using fire for cooking. But a new study of chimpanzees may suggest that this development came a bit sooner than we'd previously thought — like, maybe a million years sooner.
As reported by The New York Times, Harvard and Yale scientists have been researching whether or not chimps have the necessary cognitive skill to cook.
Turns out they do.
Not only do chimps prefer the taste of cooked food, they also have the patience and forethought required to forgo raw food.
In a series of experiments, researchers found that not only do chimps prefer the taste of cooked food, they also have the patience and forethought required to forgo raw food to allow someone to cook it for them.
Here's what the scientists did.
They presented the chimps with a slice of raw potato. The chimps would place the potato into the "cooking device" (which was actually just hiding a piece of cooked potato), and the scientists would "cook" it and return the piece of cooked potato to the chimps to eat.
Step 1: Put raw potato in cooking device.
Step 2: Scientist cooks the potato for you. (Or really just unveils a hidden cooked potato.)
Step 3: Eat delicious cooked potato.
Turns out, the chimp study may tell us quite a bit about our own cooking history.
The fact that chimps could maybe cook — if they had the ability to manage fire — could be a sign that our human ancestors were developing the cognitive ability to cook quite a while before we previously thought they were.
See, experts of human origin believe that the big shift in human brain capacity came when we started using tools about 2.6 million to 3.3 million years ago. More nutrients, more energy, bigger brains.
But some scientists, including British primatologist Richard Wrangham, believe that we also started cooking shortly after that and that cooking food was actually a bigger deal for our development. Cooked food is advantageous because it's softer (which means less time chewing and smaller teeth) and gives us more energy (which means longer lives, more babies, more travel, and bigger brains).
Cooked food is advantageous because it's softer and gives us more energy.
The problem with Wrangham's theory has been that scientists simply haven't yet found physical evidence to support it. The earliest evidence of using fire for cooking dates back only about 1 million years, long after the use of tools began.
But that's part of why the chimpanzee study is so awesome: It's a mark in favor of Wrangham's theory. It shows that early humans, who would've been cognitively similar to modern-day chimps, just might have had the skills to start cooking many years (like, maybe over a million years) sooner than we thought.
Pretty darn cool, right?