Histories Behind The World’s Favorite Foods
Do you know where your food came from? We don’t think much about the food we eat every day, but many of the delicious treats we shove down our throats have fascinating histories.From a Michelin Star-worthy Mesolithic caviar, to Caucasian wine that warmed Neolithic people after the Ice Age, to an acquired taste that shaped evolution, these global favorites share amazing origins.
Mesolithic People Ate Fancy Steamed Caviar
Ancient dishes could be sophisticated, too, like a 6,000-year-old caviar soup from a site near Berlin. The soup, found in a ceramic bowl dating to 4300 BC, was like an ancient version of Korean or Thai and could probably be served up at tablecloth restaurants today.The freshwater carp roe was cooked in a fish broth that was covered with leaves to hold in all the fishy goodness while also imparting some fresh green flavors from the plants. Pork rib remains uncovered in another bowl suggest that Mesolithic people were eating fancier, daintier portions instead of Flintstones-like chunks of charred meat.
Vanilla Was An Offering For Dead Royal Canaanites
Vanilla use supposedly started in South America. But newer (as in, older) evidence recovered from a 3,600-year-old tomb in Israel fixes vanilla’s origin several thousand years prior and 21,000 kilometers (13,000 mi) away. Vanillin compounds were found in three small jugs at a Bronze Age burial chamber at Megiddo, an afterlife offering for the three gold-and-silver-adorned skeletons interred in the tomb.
Researchers say the vanilla orchid reached the Levant via trade routes with Southeast Asia. Vanilla, now the second-most-expensive spice behind saffron, was even more prized and valued during the Bronze Age. So the tomb belonged to a big shot, like a royal Canaanite.
A Yellow River Artifact Ends The Noodle Debate
The origin of noodles has been highly debated. Some say they’re a Chinese invention, but others contend Italian or even Arabic roots. Before 2005, the earliest known noodles belonged to the East Han Dynasty circa AD 25–220, but a much older find suggested that the noodle’s birthplace does indeed lie in China.
Archaeologists at the Lajia site on the Yellow River recovered a 4,000-year-old bowl of noodles, fortuitously (for science and noodle history purposes) preserved by a catastrophic flood. The pot contained a bunch of 50-centimeter-long (20 in) yellow strands which, unlike modern variants made of flour, were made of grains from millet grass.
Wine Is From Europe, But Not Italy
The world of 8,000 years ago was in the process of awakening from an ice age. And as temperatures warmed, the Neolithic people of Georgia figured out how to make wine. It might be the oldest wine-wine in the world, because while the Chinese did brew alcoholic grape-based drinks 1,000 years prior, it wasn’t a pure grape wine. But the Georgian stock, dated between 6000 and 5800 BC, is like the stuff enjoyed today.
And it was an excellent new invention to store in another great recent(ish) invention, jars from the pottery-making trade that began around 9,000 years ago. Unfortunately, the ancient vintners didn’t include tree resin, a known preservative that started showing up in wines several hundred years later.
The First People To Use Chocolate
The Central American Olmec and Aztec civilizations “invented chocolate” when they made spicy, bitter cacao-based beverages as early as 1900 BC.
Or so scientists thought, but some newly publicized 5,300-year-old pottery moves cocoa’s birthplace to Ecuador. It’s here that the first Theobroma cacao trees graced planet Earth and here that humans exploited their seeds for culinary and ceremonial purposes.
The discovery was chanced upon when researchers noted that vessels from the Amazon-dwelling Mayo-Chinchipe people looked suspiciously like Maya cocoa pots and then looked inside and realized that they were also used to store cocoa.
These vessels were found both in homes and in tombs, so cocoa was utilized as a ritualistic offering for the dead as well as a powdered foodstuff, possibly to make a hot cacao drink.