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In fact, in a raw state, many plants contain toxic or indigestible substances or antinutrients.
But after cooking, many of these undesirable substances are deactivated, neutralized, reduced, or released; and starch and other nutrients in the plants are rendered absorbable by the digestive tract.
Bones and walnut or hazelnut shells have been found on excavated sites, but there is no means of knowing whether they are the remains of cooked meals, the debris of fires lit for heat, or even the remnants of incincerated raw waste matter...[researchers] are inclined to think the meat was roasted, from the evidence of Mousterain sites in Spain and the Dordogne..." ---History of Food, Maguelonne Toussaint-Samat [Barnes & Noble: New York] 1992 (p.
90) "Food has long been baked in coals or under heated rocks, steamed inside animal stomachs and leaves, boiled in rockpots by heated stones, and so forth.
Based on this evidence, they presume foods were selected or rejected based on observation (they were avoided by the other animals in the area) in conjuction with basic trial and error (if it made the taster sick, it was unlikely others partook).
Improved health must certainly have been one result of the discovery of cooking, and it has even been argued, by the late Carleton Coon, that cooking was the decisive factor in leading man from a primarily animal existence into one that was more fully human'.
Whatever the case, by all the laws of probability roasting must have been the first method used, its discovery accidental.
Explorers throughout history employed similar techniques when foraging edibles in new environments.
"Considering how few plants are used by the great apes..food, in comparison with the very great number eaten by primitive peoples in recent times, the experimental consumption of an ever-increasing variety of food-stuffs may be regarded as one of the important conquests of human evolution.