The Deliciousness Drive

The Deliciousness Drive
Daderot, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Our Long Road from "Cooking Apes" to Dorito Crunchers

I believe the quest for delicious foods was a driving force in not only human history, but also in human evolution. With the exception of a few writers (notably Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, author of The Physiology of Taste), and a handful of anthropologists, the role of Homo sapiens' pursuit of flavor has been pretty much ignored. There are reasons for that, and none of them are good.

Hear me out. Our species is descended from fructivorous, tree-dwelling mammals (like Purgatorius, below). The ability to sniff out ripe fruit (as well as edible insects) was key to our ancestors' survival; unlike felines, for whom sugary tastes don't register, we have abundant receptors for sweet tastes. Gorillas, chimpanzees, and humans also love sour tastes: fruit that has begun to rot sours, thanks to the action of lactic acid or acetic acid bacteria, creating an environment that kills potentially life-shortening pathogens. Another by-product of this fermentation is ethanol, a toxin which the livers of great apes—including, of course, humans—are fantastically efficient at breaking down.

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