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Cookery: Why do we cook food rather than just eat it raw?

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Why do we cook, and not just eat raw food like all other animals? Jo Fidgen hears that our ancestors first started to cook about two million years ago, and the advent of cookery coincides with our developing bigger brains, and smaller guts. Harvard primatologist Richard Wrangham argues that it was cooking that led to both these developments, as cooked food is easier to digest, and allows the body to absorb more calories from the food, thus making it possible to fuel a bigger brain. So cooking made us human.

Historian Felipe Fernandez-Armesto adds another dimension to this argument. He says cooking led to communal mealtimes and the move from solitary scavengers to organised groups - and thus the start of human society. Nowadays we also cook because we enjoy it, or to show our affection for those we cook for. But there are other, more basic reasons for cooking, such as making food safe to eat.

Jo Fidgen talks to primatologist Richard Wrangham, food historian Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, nutritionist Daniel Commane, and Itamar Srulovich and Sarit Packer, a couple who run a Middle-Eastern restaurant.

(Image: A chef prepares food at a wine and food festival, New York. Credit: Noam Galai/Getty Images for NYCWFF)

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