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Concept: Cooking


The cultural diversity of culinary practice, as illustrated by the variety of regional cuisines, raises the question of whether there are any general patterns that determine the ingredient combinations used in food today or principles that transcend individual tastes and recipes. We introduce a flavor network that captures the flavor compounds shared by culinary ingredients. Western cuisines show a tendency to use ingredient pairs that share many flavor compounds, supporting the so-called food pairing hypothesis. By contrast, East Asian cuisines tend to avoid compound sharing ingredients. Given the increasing availability of information on food preparation, our data-driven investigation opens new avenues towards a systematic understanding of culinary practice.

Concepts: Taste, Asia, Flavor, Cooking, Tendency


Here we present evidence of phytoliths preserved in carbonised food deposits on prehistoric pottery from the western Baltic dating from 6,100 cal BP to 5750 cal BP. Based on comparisons to over 120 European and Asian species, our observations are consistent with phytolith morphologies observed in modern garlic mustard seed (Alliaria petiolata (M. Bieb) Cavara & Grande). As this seed has a strong flavour, little nutritional value, and the phytoliths are found in pots along with terrestrial and marine animal residues, these findings are the first direct evidence for the spicing of food in European prehistoric cuisine. Our evidence suggests a much greater antiquity to the spicing of foods than is evident from the macrofossil record, and challenges the view that plants were exploited by hunter-gatherers and early agriculturalists solely for energy requirements, rather than taste.

Concepts: Plant, Food, Taste, Flavor, Plant morphology, Cooking, Circumstantial evidence, Spices


A novel way of cooking rice to maximize the removal of the carcinogen inorganic arsenic (Asi) is presented here. In conventional rice cooking water and grain are in continuous contact, and it is known that the larger the water:rice cooking ratio, the more Asi removed by cooking, suggesting that the Asi in the grain is mobile in water. Experiments were designed where rice is cooked in a continual stream of percolating near boiling water, either low in Asi, or Asi free. This has the advantage of not only exposing grain to large volumes of cooking water, but also physically removes any Asi leached from the grain into the water receiving vessel. The relationship between cooking water volume and Asi removal in conventional rice cooking was demonstrated for the rice types under study. At a water-to-rice cooking ratio of 12:1, 57±5% of Asi could be removed, average of 6 wholegrain and 6 polished rice samples. Two types of percolating technology were tested, one where the cooking water was recycled through condensing boiling water steam and passing the freshly distilled hot water through the grain in a laboratory setting, and one where tap water was used to cook the rice held in an off-the-shelf coffee percolator in a domestic setting. Both approaches proved highly effective in removing Asi from the cooking rice, with up to 85% of Asi removed from individual rice types. For the recycled water experiment 59±8% and 69±10% of Asi was removed, on average, compared to uncooked rice for polished (n=27) and wholegrain (n=13) rice, respectively. For coffee percolation there was no difference between wholegrain and polished rice, and the effectiveness of Asi removal was 49±7% across 6 wholegrain and 6 polished rice samples. The manuscript explores the potential applications and further optimization of this percolating cooking water, high Asi removal, discovery.

Concepts: Water, Coffee, Rice, Cooking, Coffeemaker, Boiling, Coffee percolator, French press


Awareness of federal nutrition programs and use of the nutrition facts label are associated with reduced risk for obesity and increased intake of fruits and vegetables. Relationships between nutrition programs, use of food labels and risk for overweight and obesity have rarely been evaluated in adolescents.

Concepts: Health, Nutrition, Obesity, Malnutrition, Vegetable, Dieting, Healthy diet, Cooking


Fire is a powerful natural force that can change landscapes extremely quickly. Hominins have harnessed this resource for their own purposes, with mechanistic and developmental physiological consequences. In addition, the use of fire has niche constructive effects, altering selective environments for genetic and cultural evolution. We review the record for hominin fire use in the Plio-Pleistocene, before considering the various functions for its use, and the resultant mechanistic and developmental consequences. We also adopt the niche construction framework to consider how the use of fire can modify selective environments, and thus have evolutionary consequences at genetic and cultural levels. The light that fire produces may influence photoperiodicity and alter hormonally-controlled bodily rhythms. Fire used for cooking could have extended the range of foods hominins were able to consume, and reduced digestion costs. This may have contributed to the expansion of the hominin brain and facial anatomy, influenced by a higher quality cooked diet. Fire may also have allowed dispersal into northern areas with much cooler climates than the hominin African origin, posing novel problems that affected diet and social behaviour.

Concepts: Genetics, Natural selection, Evolution, Nutrition, Biology, Anatomy, Human evolution, Cooking


BACKGROUND: It has been well-documented that Americans have shifted towards eating out more and cooking at home less. However, little is known about whether these trends have continued into the 21st century, and whether these trends are consistent amongst low-income individuals, who are increasingly the target of public health programs that promote home cooking. The objective of this study is to examine how patterns of home cooking and home food consumption have changed from 1965 to 2008 by socio-demographic groups. METHODS: This is a cross-sectional analysis of data from 6 nationally representative US dietary surveys and 6 US time-use studies conducted between 1965 and 2008. Subjects are adults aged 19 to 60 years (n= 38,565 for dietary surveys and n=55,424 for time-use surveys). Weighted means of daily energy intake by food source, proportion who cooked, and time spent cooking were analyzed for trends from 1965–1966 to 2007–2008 by gender and income. T-tests were conducted to determine statistical differences over time. RESULTS: The percentage of daily energy consumed from home food sources and time spent in food preparation decreased significantly for all socioeconomic groups between 1965–1966 and 2007–2008 (p <= 0.001), with the largest declines occurring between 1965 and 1992. In 2007--2008, foods from the home supply accounted for 65 to 72% of total daily energy, with 54 to 57% reporting cooking activities. The low income group showed the greatest decline in the proportion cooking, but consumed more daily energy from home sources and spent more time cooking than high income individuals in 2008--2008 (p <= 0.001). CONCLUSIONS: US adults have decreased consumption of foods from the home supply and reduced time spent cooking since 1965, but this trend appears to have leveled off, with no substantial decrease occurring after the mid-1990's. Across socioeconomic groups, people consume the majority of daily energy from the home food supply, yet only slightly more than half spend any time cooking on a given day. Efforts to boost the healthfulness of the US diet should focus on promoting the preparation of healthy foods at home while incorporating limits on time available for cooking.

Concepts: Time, Nutrition, Poverty, Food, Malnutrition, Flavor, Food security, Cooking


Recent progresses in data-driven analysis methods, including network-based approaches, are revolutionizing many classical disciplines. These techniques can also be applied to food and nutrition, which must be studied to design healthy diets. Using nutritional information from over 1,000 raw foods, we systematically evaluated the nutrient composition of each food in regards to satisfying daily nutritional requirements. The nutrient balance of a food was quantified and termed nutritional fitness; this measure was based on the food’s frequency of occurrence in nutritionally adequate food combinations. Nutritional fitness offers a way to prioritize recommendable foods within a global network of foods, in which foods are connected based on the similarities of their nutrient compositions. We identified a number of key nutrients, such as choline and α-linolenic acid, whose levels in foods can critically affect the nutritional fitness of the foods. Analogously, pairs of nutrients can have the same effect. In fact, two nutrients can synergistically affect the nutritional fitness, although the individual nutrients alone may not have an impact. This result, involving the tendency among nutrients to exhibit correlations in their abundances across foods, implies a hidden layer of complexity when exploring for foods whose balance of nutrients within pairs holistically helps meet nutritional requirements. Interestingly, foods with high nutritional fitness successfully maintain this nutrient balance. This effect expands our scope to a diverse repertoire of nutrient-nutrient correlations, which are integrated under a common network framework that yields unexpected yet coherent associations between nutrients. Our nutrient-profiling approach combined with a network-based analysis provides a more unbiased, global view of the relationships between foods and nutrients, and can be extended towards nutritional policies, food marketing, and personalized nutrition.

Concepts: Nutrition, Vitamin, Essential nutrient, Healthy diet, Cooking


Cooking at home is associated with better diet quality. This study examined the frequency of home-cooked dinners versus eating out in relation to the Healthy Eating Index (HEI), and food expenditures.

Concepts: Health, Nutrition, Food, Flavor, Food science, Cooking, Raw foodism, Home economics


Image-based dietary assessment (IBDA) may improve the accuracy of dietary assessments, but no formalized training currently exists for skills relating to IBDA. This study investigated nutrition and dietetics students' and interns' IBDA abilities, the training and experience factors that may contribute to food identification and quantification accuracy, and the perceived challenges to performing IBDA. An online survey containing images of known foods and serving sizes representing common American foods was used to assess the ability to identify foods and serving sizes. Nutrition and dietetics students and interns from the United States and Australia (n = 114) accurately identified foods 79.5% of the time. Quantification accuracy was lower, with only 38% of estimates within ±10% of the actual weight. Foods of amorphous shape or higher energy density had the highest percent error. Students expressed general difficulty with perceiving serving sizes, making IBDA food quantification more difficult. Experience cooking at home from a recipe, frequent measuring of portions, and having a food preparation or cooking laboratory class were associated with enhanced accuracy in IBDA. Future training of dietetics students should incorporate more food-based serving size training to improve quantification accuracy while performing IBDA, while advances in IBDA technology are also needed.

Concepts: Nutrition, Evaluation, United States, Food, Assessment, Psychometrics, Seafood, Cooking


The transition to a cooked diet represents an important shift in human ecology and evolution. Cooking requires a set of sophisticated cognitive abilities, including causal reasoning, self-control and anticipatory planning. Do humans uniquely possess the cognitive capacities needed to cook food? We address whether one of humans' closest relatives, chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes), possess the domain-general cognitive skills needed to cook. Across nine studies, we show that chimpanzees: (i) prefer cooked foods; (ii) comprehend the transformation of raw food that occurs when cooking, and generalize this causal understanding to new contexts; (iii) will pay temporal costs to acquire cooked foods; (iv) are willing to actively give up possession of raw foods in order to transform them; and (v) can transport raw food as well as save their raw food in anticipation of future opportunities to cook. Together, our results indicate that several of the fundamental psychological abilities necessary to engage in cooking may have been shared with the last common ancestor of apes and humans, predating the control of fire.

Concepts: Human, Nutrition, Food, Cognition, Hominidae, Chimpanzee, Cooking, Raw foodism