Cooking or cookery is the art, technology, and craft of preparing food for consumption with or without the use of heat. Cooking techniques and ingredients vary widely across the world, from grilling food over an open fire to using electric stoves, to baking in various types of ovens, reflecting unique environmental, economic, and cultural traditions and trends. The ways or types of cooking also depend on the skill and type of training an individual cook has. Cooking is done both by people in their own dwellings and by professional cooks and chefs in restaurants and other food establishments. Cooking can also occur through chemical reactions without the presence of heat, such as in ceviche, a traditional South American dish where fish is cooked with the acids in lemon or lime juice.
Preparing food with heat or fire is an activity unique to humans. It may have started around 2 million years ago, though archaeological evidence for it reaches no more than 1 million years ago.
The expansion of agriculture, commerce, trade, and transportation between civilizations in different regions offered cooks many new ingredients. New inventions and technologies, such as the invention of pottery for holding and boiling water, expanded cooking techniques. Some modern cooks apply advanced scientific techniques to food preparation to further enhance the flavor of the dish served.
Phylogenetic analysis suggests that human ancestors may have invented cooking as far back as 1.8 million to 2.3 million years ago. Re-analysis of burnt bone fragments and plant ashes from the Wonderwerk Cave, South Africa, has provided evidence supporting human control of fire there by 1 million years ago. There is evidence that Homo erectus was cooking their food as early as 500,000 years ago. Evidence for the controlled use of fire by Homo erectus beginning some 400,000 years ago has wide scholarly support. Archeological evidence, from 300,000 years ago, in the form of ancient hearths, earth ovens, burnt animal bones, and flint, are found across Europe and the Middle East. Anthropologists think that widespread cooking fires began about 250,000 years ago when hearths started appearing. More recently, the earliest hearths have been reported to be at least 790,000 years old.
Historical oven baking, in a painting by Jean-François Millet, 1854
In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, food was a classic marker of identity in Europe. In the nineteenth-century "Age of Nationalism" cuisine became a defining symbol of national identity.
Communication between the Old World and the New World in the Colombian exchange influenced the history of cooking. The movement of foods across the Atlantic, from the New World, such as potatoes, tomatoes, corn, yams, beans, bell pepper, chili pepper, vanilla, pumpkin, cassava, avocado, peanut, pecan, cashew, pineapple, blueberry, sunflower, chocolate, gourds, and squash, had a profound effect on Old World cooking. The movement of foods across the Atlantic, from the Old World, such as cattle, sheep, pigs, wheat, oats, barley, rice, apples, pears, peas, chickpeas, green beans, mustard, and carrots, similarly changed New World cooking.
The Industrial Revolution brought mass-production, mass-marketing, and standardization of food. Factories processed, preserved, canned, and packaged a wide variety of foods, and processed cereals quickly became a defining feature of the American breakfast. In the 1920s, freezing methods, cafeterias, and fast-food establishments emerged.
Along with changes in food, starting early in the 20th century, governments have issued nutrition guidelines, leading to the food pyramid (introduced in Sweden in 1974). The 1916 "Food For Young Children" became the first USDA guide to give specific dietary guidelines. Updated in the 1920s, these guides gave shopping suggestions for different-sized families along with a Depression Era revision which included four cost levels. In 1943, the USDA created the "Basic Seven" chart to make sure that people got the recommended nutrients. It included the first-ever Recommended Daily Allowances from the National Academy of Sciences. In 1956, the "Essentials of an Adequate Diet" brought recommendations which cut the number of groups that American school children would learn about down to four. In 1979, a guide called "Food" addressed the link between too much of certain foods and chronic diseases, but added "fats, oils, and sweets" to the four basic food groups.