Nobody knows who the first cook was, but at some point in the distant past, early humans conquered fire and started using it to prepare food. Researchers have found what appear to be the remains of campfires made 1.5 million years ago by Homo erectus, one of the early human species.

Harvard University anthropologist Richard Wrangham argues that cooking wasn’t just a nicety; it played an essential role in human evolution. Cooking foods makes them more digestible, so the calories and some of the nutrients in them are easier to absorb. Thus, cooking allowed early humans to tap a wider variety of food sources and gain more nutrition from them.

The first cooks didn’t do much to their food in the way of preparation or technique. We don’t have any recipes from prehistory, but we do have archaeological evidence of food preparation, backed up by our knowledge of how modern-day hunter-gatherers prepare their food. Meat is either roasted over a fire or boiled to make it tender; fruit is gathered and peeled; nuts are shelled.

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