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Cuisine (from French 'kitchen') refers to the manner or style of preparing food before its consumption. This includes raw preparations, cooking, fermentation, and the addition of spices. While many species can and will eat cooked foods, no species in the hominid line prepares food in natural settings (though chimpanzees are known to combine fresh green leaves with fat rich animal food such as brain and bone marrow). There is widespread evidence of food preparation dating to 250k BP, but some evidence that it may be as old as the evidence for the use of fire by Homo ergaster (1,900k BP). There is evidence for both anatomical and physiological adaptations in humans to the altered diets that food preparation allowed. These adaptations include changes in tooth size and masticatory muscle mass, most likely due to the consumption of cooked foods.
Food preparation has been reported for all known human societies; the ways in which food is combined to form meals defines the cuisine of each culture. Most humans strongly identify with the cuisine from their native culture and often develop limited openness towards cuisines of very different cultures if not exposed to different cuisines early in life. The choice of food items plays a very important role as other cuisines may use plants or especially animal species or parts that are taboo in given cultures. Many cuisines are tightly linked to religious traditions and are key in distinguishing different human cultures. There are no clear adaptive values to food taboos in many cultures.
In modern human populations, cuisines are often associated with the use or lack of use of different spices, giving rise to distinct flavor profiles. The use of spices in particular regions of the world likely originated to enhance flavor as well as possibly to combat or inhibit food-spoilage microorganisms. Many spice plants have secondary compounds that are powerful antimicrobacterial or antifungal agents. It has been shown that cuisines from around the world have spice combinations in recipes that correlate with indicators of relative spoilage rates (higher mean annual temperatures) and that it is likely that spices help cleanse foods of pathogens. Chillies, (fruit and seeds from the genus Capsicum) the principal ingredient in hot/spicy food have only been introduced around the world after Europeans discovered central America where chillies originate.
Additional hypotheses about the use of spices have been considered, such as that spices provide macronutrients, disguise taste and smell of spoiled foods, increase perspiration to contribute to evaporative cooling. It is possible that the flavor profiles we today identify with particular cuisines are rooted in evolutionary ways to contribute to health as human populations began to move into regions with increased pathogen loads that contributed to food-spoilage. Additional evidence for the use of spices to combat food-spoilage comes from the comparison of spice use in meat versus vegetable based dishes. Plants are more resistant against bacteria and fungi compared to meat, so fewer spices would be needed in hotter climates to make vegetables safe for consumption. Researchers found that while spices are used in vegetable dishes, there are significantly less spices called for in vegetable dishes for cuisines that originate in hotter climates.
[Specifics on cooking:]
Cooking food is one of the ancient and highly significant uses of fire. Cooking makes a wide variety of foodstuffs more edible and digestible. The heat can inactivate antinutrients such as lectins in animal seeds and tubers and render both starch and meat more digestible.
In modern societies, many individuals do not cook but rather rely on others for preparing cooked food. Some individuals avoid cooked foods (as part of a modern fad diet in rich industrial societies).
Various lines of evidence suggest adaptation of human teeth and digestive systems to cooked foods. Richard Wrangham argues that cooked foods led to the enlargement of the human brain.
Why vegetable recipes are not very spicy., , Evol Hum Behav, 2001 May, Volume 22, Issue 3, p.147-163, (2001)
Antimicrobial functions of spices: why some like it hot., , Q Rev Biol, 1998 Mar, Volume 73, Issue 1, p.3-49, (1998)