The evolution of cookware is things we do not give a second thought to. How did our cookware evolve from stone and turtle shells to beautiful enamelware, cast iron, stainless steel pots, and pans?
Many prefer to cook with cast iron despite the cookware material dating back thousands of years. However, others like to use pots and pans with modern cooking surfaces such as enamelware, ceramics, and stainless steel. At the same time, others prefer using chemically bonded cookware such as Teflon and ceramic coatings.
The article looks at the changes in cookware material and design. And the moment in human evolution that led to these changes.
How Has Our Cookware Changed Throughout History?
Table Of Contents
- When did humans first use fire to cook food?
- Why was it necessary to cook food?
- The primitive method of boiling water led to the discovery of early pottery.
- Pottery advances lead to earthen ovens and pots.
- The development of earthen pots widens our cooking methods.
- Metal cookware, copper, cast iron, and steel.
- Repairing cookware in early America (Coppersmiths and tinkers).
- The invention of wood ranges and gas cookers led to modern cookware designs
- 19th century and the mass production of stoneware and cast iron.
- Final thoughts on the evolution and history of cookware.
In The History Of Cookware, How Has Our Cookware Changed?
First, Humans Needed To Discover Fire.
Discovering how to make fire was a giant leap forward in human evolution. Undoubtedly, humans made fires to keep warm as their main priority. And also to keep predators away.
However, discarding food waste may have inadvertently been why humans first discovered cooked meat, as archaeologists worldwide have unearthed animal bones in firepits.
Undoubtedly, everything combustible went on the fire to prevent the fire from going out, including food scraps.
When Did Humans First Use Fire To Cook Food?
Why is a permanent fire pit important? It tells us the inhabitants most likely were not nomadic hunters and gatherers. However, a cave in South Africa suggests that the ancestors of humans used fire 2 million years ago.
So, When Did Primitive Humans First Cook Food?
Possibly 1.9 million years ago, however, this is debatable. Unfortunately, fires do not leave much for archaeologists to sift through, making dating difficult.
Why Did Primitive Humans Cook Food?
Not only does meat taste better when cooked, but it also kills bacteria. Importantly, meat would have been hard to come by. Hunting animals with very primitive tools would have been extremely dangerous and come with the risk of injury. But Humans knew cooking extended the storage life of food.
Cooking food also breaks down protein and plant cells, making food more accessible to cut, chew, and digest. Eating raw meat burns calories, so cooking meat provides more survival calories than raw meat. There are even theories that cooking food was instrumental in developing the human brain and leading to human evolution.
History Of Cookware
When Did Humans First Boil Water?
Humans probably started boiling liquids at a much later date than cooking meat. However, some think Neanderthals were able to boil liquids using birch bark.
How Did Early Humans Boil Water? By Using A Method Called Stone Boiling.
How did early humans boil water? They probably used a method called stone boiling. Evidence shows stones used in fire pits, which was most likely how early humans boiled water.
Stone boiling is a method by which stones are made hot in a fire. Then, the hot rocks go into a vessel containing water. And this subsequently raises the temperature of the water. The video demonstrates how early man may have boiled water.
Stone Boiling Was A Huge Discovery.
Stone boiling gave humans clean drinking because boiled water killed bacteria and purified stagnant water. It was a huge discovery, and the stone-boiling method provided a new cooking method. And humans were able to boil vegetables and meat.
How Safe Drinking Water Influences Our Kitchenware.
Stone boiling made water safe for humans to drink. However, humans needed containers to store their water, which led to the development of early pottery, such as clay bowls and vessels.
Humans could cook and boil water using these clay pots on open fires. This early form of pottery was our first purpose-made cookware. This development would later lead to fired clay to strengthen the pottery to create earthenware. And we still use earthenware pots and vases to this day.
Some people will call a glazed earthen pot stoneware. Stoneware was a popular way to store and preserve food before the invention of canning.
With Earthenware, Humans Found New Ways To Cook Food.
Early earthenware could separate food from ash and contain food. Clay pots also have insulation properties that make the cooking process quicker. Humans created a self-contained oven.
We still use self-contained today, but we have different names depending on the style and material used for the pot. These include.
- Dutch ovens
- Casserole dishes
With These Developments In Cookware Came New Cooking Methods, Such As:
Now Able To Boil, Humans Could Cook High-Energy Starchy Food That Required Boiling, Such As:
When Was Earthenware First Used?
The earliest examples of pottery show it was first used in China and spread throughout the region before knowledge traveled West. Who knows when humans invented pottery? But it was a long time ago.
Archaeologists have unearthed ceremonial pottery dating back to 25000-29000 BCE, the earliest known pottery in China, Japan, and the world. It is most likely that early pottery techniques moved from the East to the West.
To this day, Japanese and Chinese make some of the most beautiful handcrafted pottery. Some sort-after examples often have imperfections that make each vessel uniquely beautiful.
In The Neolithic Age, Humans Cultivated Early Cereals.
Archaeologists found millet, one of the earliest grains humans grew, in some of the earliest pottery discovered in China. The grain was an important food source during the time.
Earthenware vessels would also be helpful for millet storage for soups in Asia and Africa.
Moreover, Europeans also used glazed clay bowls to boil cereal crops. Emmer wheat, Einkorn wheat, and barley are other early cereals.
The Evolution Of Cookware Enters A New Age: Metalware.
Early Copper Cookware
Humans fashioned copper into tools around 9000 BCE. The Mesopotamians perfected copper metal, working around 4500 BCE. Copper was the first metal used on a large scale. Historians do not know when exactly people started to use copper in cookware. It has been well-documented that the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans all utilized copper.
The metal was also easy to work with as workers could roll it into sheet metal. Iron, on the other hand, had to be forged into shape while hot. On the other hand, copper can be beaten into shape while cooled by merchants. Copper also happens to be an excellent conductor of heat.
These Great Civilizations Utilized Copper Cookware For:
- Cooking tools
- Cooking pots
Households May Use Large Copper Cauldrons For:
- Boiling water
- Cooking food
Coppersmiths, Tinsmiths, And Tinkers.
Copper cookware was a popular choice for centuries. Copper cookware was used in colonial America, although it would have been more expensive than cast iron. Major cities would have coppersmiths or tinsmiths to work copper into cookware. They also re-tined old copper cookware.
Another profession was repairing copper cookware in towns too small for a full-time coppersmith, and they were known as tinkers. Tinkers were skilled travelers and made a living by traveling from one place to another. They repaired pots and pans and probably sold metalware if they had a horse and cart.
Enter our beloved cast iron, which dates back to the 5th century BCE in China. Cast iron is cheaper than steel, and foundry workers first used cast iron for pots, pans, and farming equipment. In the 1st century, China developed a simple blast furnace. However, until the 15th century, Europeans adopted cast iron technology. Americans started molding cast iron for cauldrons during European migration.
If you want to know more, here is an interesting article on the benefits of cast iron. However, Europeans did not use cast iron until the 15th century. Before this, cast iron was brittle and only utilized when technology advanced. The casting process improved the quality and strength.
Instead, early Europeans used smelting techniques and iron hammered into bowls and cookware. Cast iron, on the other hand, was poured into a mold. However, cooking techniques remained similar in Europe and Asia. And people in different continents cooked on a hearth over an open flame.
People Used Sturdy Iron Cookware On An Open Fire Right Up To The Invention Of The Wood Range.
Since early households used metal cookware on an open flame, designs have become popular.
- Handles so users can hang cookware on a pole over the direct heat but not in it.
- Ring on the base to disperse heat and lift it out of the direct heat.
- Longer handles to slow heat from quickly transferring to the handle.
- Feet to lift the cookware out of the hot coals.
What Was The Cookware Of Choice In The 18th-19th Century?
- Dutch ovens
- Scotch bowls
Although people did fry their food, any meat was a luxury until the advent of mass farming and refrigeration. Many families raised livestock and preserved meat, and many urban households kept backyard chickens.
The Dutch Oven was the cookware of choice. The Dutch Oven was the perfect cookware. People ate more porridge, stews, and soups than we eat today. And it was an ideal pot for simmering all day over the fire or on the wood range.
The New World Provided A Manufacturing And Agricultural Powerhouse.
The industrial revolution would change the world forever. Rapid urbanization in England saw the increase of the wealthy, middle class, and, unfortunately, the poor. Massive achievements in technology and scientists and inventors were the day’s celebrities.
Meanwhile, in the South Pacific, New Zealand, Australia, and South Africa specialized in agriculture, supplying food to the increasing population of England.
How Did Cookware Change?
People still cooked on fire, and many used Dutch ovens. However, as people became wealthier, many changed how they cooked—from open-fire cooking to wood ranges, which Benjamin Franklin first invented. In 1826, an English inventor called James Sharp received a patent for the gas oven. In 1892, Thomas Ahearn first developed the electric range.
Soon, the long handles on cookware became shorter. And bail wire handles on Dutch ovens become side handles on pots. To make it easier to carry in and out of the range. Also, with a ready supply of meat, our diets slowly changed, and frying became more popular. By the 20th century, skillets replaced the Dutch Oven as the go-to pan in the kitchen.
The Evolution Of Cookware Continues With Many Modern Developments And Metal Alloys.
Of course, humans have experimented over the years with different materials, such as:
- Stainless steel
- Carbon steel
I grew up in a house using aluminum and later Teflon. In hindsight, neither material may have provided safe cooking surfaces.
We certainly have progressed in the development of our cookware. However, ceramic dishes and cast iron remain popular because of their durability. Stainless steel is a great option too. And it is now the go-to cookware in commercial kitchens and many households.
Evolution and history of cookware, from simple bowls to modern cookware
Over the last couple of centuries, the introduction of metal cookware like iron, copper, and aluminum has entered the marketplace. Stainless steel is now a favorite cookware material for many because it is non-reactive to acidic foods and hard-wearing.
Each metal or ceramic product has its advantages and disadvantages. Some pans heat up quicker than others, and some distribute the heat more evenly. Whatever your need, there is cookware for everyone. And we can thank our ancestors for this.
If you are interested http://www.visual-arts-cork.com/pottery.htm has a fascinating timeline on ancient pottery.