One Invention That Changed The Course Of Human Evolution

How cooking led to the genus Homo, and later Homo sapiens, the most creative species on earth

“Did you eat a hot meal today? It’s a smart thing to do, as our ancestors learned. According to a new study, a surge in human brain size that occurred roughly 1.8 million years ago can be directly linked to the innovation of cooking.”

Little did we know, Prometheus is the reason we are who we are today. Fire, and in extension cooking, is widely becoming one of the most popular theoretical turning points for the evolution of Homo sapiens.

“Heating our food unlocked nutrition: 100 percent of a cooked meal is metabolized by the body, whereas raw foods yield just 30 or 40 percent of their nutrients.” Heating makes the food more digestible and helps rid the food of dangerous parasites.

Chewing abrasive foods takes a lot of energy, that otherwise would be sent to the brain. Furthermore, the less time spent digesting, more time spent innovating.

“We could now spend time thinking of better ways to hunt, to live, to develop culture, art, and early technologies — all the things that made us who we are now.”
“Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human (2009) is a book by British primatologist Richard Wrangham. It argues the hypothesis that cooking food was an essential element in the physiological evolution of human beings.”

Under this narrative, cooking is the invention that allowed all subsequent inventions to blossom. Cooking exemplified the power that single innovations possess. On a micro-level, cooking brought families together around a hearth. On a macro-level, cooking created the genus Homo.

“So what is the next step? And is there still room for us to evolve?” Herculano-Houzel says that we are still evolving because of cooking in the modern age. For instance, better nutrition has increased our body size. “She added that we could continue to evolve bigger and bigger brains — with the right diet. What exactly that is, however, is still a matter of taste.”


Cooking created culture, but new inventions continue to shape what our culture is. Find out how the internet has changed our romantic lifestyles in the next installment of “8 Stories That Will Make You Rethink Innovation.”