Silicon deposits and neolithic chefs!

I have always had a love and a passion for food and it has been through chemistry that i have been able to explore in depth the whys and the hows of our food and diet. Last year i was asked to present a speech on how the Romans had affected our lives. Being a passionate eater of course i chose food. The Romans, like the Greeks, to me symbolism the period where civilization was at its greatest, where food and fine dining was really just extravagantly beginning. However This is why I found it surprising to find out about the discovery of the spice “mustard” in early neolithic pots.

The prehistoric periodic has always seemed like a dark age where not much resources were used, and only the basics taken for practical sustenance. However this discovery of 6000 old mustard seems to suggest that humans were using spices to flavor their food so suggesting a style of cooking that wasn’t just a necessity but a pleasure!

An understanding of prehistoric food can be found through the study of “Phytoliths” which are cell deposits formed from the uptake of Si(OH)4 (sillicic acid) from the soil. I find it fascinating that our modern technology is so advanced as to be able to detect these minuscule traces of substances that are found in mustard seeds, especially as mustard is not going to have been kept in large amounts in the first place!

Despite science’s accurate diagnosis of mustard (and in fact garlic mustard!) being used in +6000 year old jars, i am still not convinced that it proves the civilization of the neolithic chefs. I would put forward that it is plausible that such herbs were not used for cooking but for remedies and medicine. In an age where surely everything must have been uncertain and not much understood, I would first think that the mustard may have been thought to have been used for healing and not tasting properties. That said, it is reasonable that strong mustard could equally have been to mask out strong tastes of unpleasant food or even odors!

Take a look at this: http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0070583

 

 

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