Chimps Prefer Cooked Food
A Neanderthal Family.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

When early humans mastered the use of fire, their immediate rewards were warmth, light, and protection from nocturnal predators.

Investigators have assumed that our ancestors also quickly realized the advantages of flame-cooked food — easy chewing and digestion — though clear evidence has been hard to find. A new study bolsters that idea, showing that we share our fondness for cooked grub with our wild cousins, the great apes.

Victoria Wobber and her graduate advisor at Harvard University, Richard Wrangham, along with a third colleague, gave a choice between cooked and raw food to a number of captive apes.

Chimpanzees clearly preferred cooked carrots, sweet potatoes, and beef over the raw alternatives. They did not express any preference in the case of white potatoes and apples — perhaps, the scientists say, because both remain relatively unchanged by cooking. A few bonobos, gorillas, and orangutans were also tested, and except for a penchant for cooked beef, not many expressed a preference, but those that did agreed with the chimps.

The findings concur with research showing that cats favor cooked meat and rats opt for cooked starch.

If animals with no regular access to cooked food nevertheless prefer it, it is plausible that our ancestors would have readily roasted their own victuals once they got the chance — a fine story to tell your guests around the barbecue this evening.

The findings were detailed in the Journal of Human Evolution.