Chef's Blog

April 10, 2016

Cooking to Sustain Life

from Chef Christopher Britton

While toasting marshmallows over a fire during a recent snow storm, I was reminded of an amazing lecture I saw online by Suzana Herculano-Houzel, a neuroscientist in Rio de Janeiro, a few years ago. She described how fire, and more importantly, cooking with fire, has allowed the human brain to evolve over any other species in the animal world.

Although our ancestors were not cooking the same gelatin, corn syrup and starch based concoction I was, the premise is the same: we are the ONLY species that cooks its food.

Some main bullet points from Suzana’s lecture are:
1. The human brain has the largest # of neurons: 86 billion vs. our closest cousins, the orangutan, 30 billion.
2. Humans require the greatest amount of energy to sustain our brain function: 25% of caloric intake per day – thus driving the need to consume more energy.
3. We take in our calories in less time per day than any other animal. By comparison primates feed up to 9 hours per day. Why? Because we cook our food allowing it to be pre-digested outside of the human body converting to more calories (in less time) for the same amount of raw food. This affords us more time to hunt, gather and eventually prepare food.

If you have 15 minutes to spare, I highly recommend you make a cup of Nestle hot cocoa, bundle up in front of the fire and watch her fascinating seminar titled “What is So Special About the Human Brain”? See the video here:

While you’re at it, enjoy it with a couple of marshmallows – toasted over an open fire of course.

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