The History of Eating Utensils

Knives, forks, and spoons are things that many all take for granted. Every household has a drawer full of them and you can even buy disposable ones. Surprisingly, modern eating utensils took a long time to develop. Forks weren't even used in the United States until the 19th century. Even the most mundane objects like eating utensils often have an interesting history.

  1. Knives

    • According to the California Academy of Science (CAS) Department of Anthropology, people have used knives for eating, as well as hunting, food preparation, and defense, since prehistoric times. People used the knife to spear their food and then bring it to their mouth. In the Middle Ages, most carried their own knife in a sheath attached to a belt. In 1669, King Louis XIV of France prohibited the use of all pointed knives on the street and at the dinner table to reduce violence, so knife points were ground down to a blunt end. Cutlers began making knife ends wider and rounder, to be able to scoop food up off the plate, eventually leading to the common butter knife used today.

    Early Forks

    • The CAS reports that Greeks were the first to develop forks to help carve and serve meat. These early forks were large and had two tines, much like serving forks of today. In the 7th century, royal courts in the Middle East began using forks at the dinner table for dining. From the 10th to 13th centuries, wealthy Byzantines often used forks and brought them to Italy in the 11th century. However, most Italians found them unnecessary; it wasn't until the 16th century that forks became widely used in Italy.

    The Spread of the Fork

    • In 1533, when Italian noblewoman Catherine de Medici married Henry II, she brought her fork to the dinner table of France. Forks finally found their way to England in 1608 when a British traveler brought one back from Italy. The English ridiculed the fork and called its users effeminate. Slowly, wealthy people began using them for sticky or messy foods. By this time, a smaller, more slender version had been developed for table use, but they were still considered a luxury item. In the late 17th century, larger forks with four curved tines were developed in France, which made it easier to pick up food than the straight two-tined models. By the early 19th century, multi-tined forks became popular in Germany and England, and soon made their way to the U.S.

    Spoons

    • Spoons have been used as eating utensils since Paleolithic times, according to the CAS. Early spoons were often made of shells or wood. The Greek and Latin word for spoon is derived from "cochlea," which means shell, and the Anglo-Saxon word "spon" means chip of wood. First century Romans used two types of spoons: the ligula, which had a pointed oval bowl and decorative handle for soups and soft foods, and the cochleare, which had a round bowl and pointed slender handle for shellfish and eggs. The far-reaching Roman Empire spread the use of these two instruments throughout Europe and the Middle East. In the Middle Ages, commoners used wood or horn to make spoons, but wealthy diners enjoyed spoons made of silver or gold. The development of pewter made spoons affordable to almost everyone.

    Chopsticks

    • According to the CAS, chopsticks were invented 5,000 years ago in China. The earliest use was probably actually two twigs used to retrieve food from large cooking pots. By 400 B.C., smaller pieces of food were used to achieve faster cooking times, so knives for dining became obsolete and chopsticks became a staple at the dinner table. They were made from bamboo and resembled large tweezers. In the next century, chopsticks spread to present-day Vietnam, Korea, and Japan, where they were made from wood.

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References

  • Photo Credit kevinrosseel

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