Cooking as a biological trait

  • Wrangham R
  • Conklin-Brittain N
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No human foragers have been recorded as living without cooking, and people who choose a 'raw-foodist' life-style experience low energy and impaired reproductive function. This suggests that cooking may be obligatory for humans. The possibility that cooking is obligatory is supported by calculations suggesting that a diet of raw food could not supply sufficient calories for a normal hunter-gatherer lifestyle. In particular, many plant foods are too fiber-rich when raw, while most raw meat appears too tough to allow easy chewing. If cooking is indeed obligatory for humans but not for other apes, this means that human biology must have adapted to the ingestion of cooked food (i.e. food that is tender and low in fiber) in ways that no longer allow efficient processing of raw foods. Cooking has been practiced for ample time to allow the evolution of such adaptations. Digestive adaptations have not been investigated in detail but may include small teeth, small hind-guts, large small intestines, a fast gut passage rate, and possibly reduced ability to detoxify. The adoption of cooking can also be expected to have had far-reaching effects on such aspects of human biology as life-history, social behavior, and evolutionary psychology. Since dietary adaptations are central to understanding species evolution, cooking appears to have been a key feature of the environment of human evolutionary adaptedness. Further investigation is therefore needed of the ways in which human digestive physiology is constrained by the need for food of relatively high caloric density compared to other great apes. © 2003 Elsevier Science Inc. All rights reserved.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Adaptation
  • Cooking
  • Fiber
  • Ingestion rates
  • Meat
  • Plant food
  • Raw-foodist diets
  • Speciation event

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  • Richard Wrangham

  • Nancy Lou Conklin-Brittain

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