This famous quote by French gastronome Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (1755-1826) may be more pertinent now than it has ever been. Several recent studies have begun to shed light on the subject of our past and how cooking may have been the single biggest development to help Mankind diverge from apes.
Last year from Wired:
"Some have proposed that it was our high-energy, high-protein and cooked diet that enabled us to fuel our big brains during our evolution," said study co-author Mehmet Somel.
More recently, Richard Wrangham of Harvard University, outlined in a meeting for the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) how he believes that it was cooking (and not simply a shift from a plant-based diet to a meat-based diet) that allowed for Homo Erectus to literally feed a larger brain.
I find his logic is sound and it follows like this. The human brain consumes up to 25% of our caloric intake. Ergo, it would require the consumption of either 25% more calories OR for us to more completely digest what we've eaten. He notes three major factors involved with the cooking of food.
- Softens food - In one study, two groups of rats were given different diets: soft pellets and hard pellets. The soft group gained 30% more weight than the hard group after 26 weeks.
- Breaks down starches
- Breaks down and denatures proteins
Quoted from Wired:
"Wrangham cited data showing that cooking increases the body's ability to digest starches (as found, for example, in bread, potatoes and bananas). Only about 50 percent of raw starches are digested, compared to 90 percent of cooked ones. The trend, and the numbers, are similar for protein: from 50 to 65 percent digestibility raw to better than 90 percent cooked."
Referencing the same meeting with Wrangham at the AAAS, the Economist states,
"[Cooking] “denatures” protein molecules, so that their amino-acid chains unfold and digestive enzymes can attack them more easily...That makes it easier to digest, so even though the stuff is no more calorific, the body uses fewer calories dealing with it."
I feel compelled to mention too, that cooking food makes it taste a heck of a lot better! Now get cooking and pass the paprika please...