PHILADELPHIA, PA, September 09, 2013 /24-7PressRelease/
-- As a European native, El Grabarsky
knows the importance of spices in traditional European foods. But recent studies suggest that even prehistoric Europeans spiced their foods. The information suggests that additional information is still unknown about the culinary habits of prehistoric humans.
A recent article published by National Geographic reports that ancient European hunter gatherers used garlic mustard seeds to spice their meals. These seeds would have given food a peppery kick, but why they used them remains unknown.
"To me, as a European, I always knew my ancestors knew how to make food taste good," Grabarsky jokes. "In all seriousness, this report is fascinating and shows that some of the earliest humans might have cared more about flavor than we thought."
The article reads, "Researchers have found evidence for garlic mustard seeds in cooking residues left on ancient pottery shards discovered in what is now Denmark and Germany... (The) team found microscopic specks of plant-based silica, known as phytoliths, on fire-scorched pottery shards collected from three campsites in north central Europe that ranged between 5,800 and 6,150 years old. The team identified the seeds as belonging to the garlic mustard plant, also known as Jack-by-the-hedge. The tiny black seeds from this plant have no nutritional value, but are known for their pungent, peppery taste."
Researchers say because the plant particles were found with residue from animal fat, they believe the seeds were used as spices. Flavoring the food could have had medicinal purposes or have merely improved flavor.
For dietary historians and anthropologists, this research is revolutionary.
It matters because it challenges the historical view that prehistoric people chose foods only for nutritional value. Because the spices found have none, we now know that food was used for more than energy.
Further studies are looking for other spice residues to create hypotheses about why spices were used. It is already theorized that ancient people may have believed the spices had medicinal qualities.
The team that discovered this is already planning to examine pottery from other parts of the world to determine if spices were used, and when. It is theorized that other spices were also used, but proving that is difficult because not every spice leaves behind phytoliths in high enough concentrations.
El Grabarsky said current chefs can use this revelation to connect back to true culinary traditions. As more research uncovers additional reasons for spice residue, innovative chefs could recreate prehistoric dishes.
"When I heard the news, my gears started clicking and I started thinking of ways to use garlic mustard seeds in dishes," he said. "Especially with the paleo diet that emphasizes what our prehistoric ancestors would have eaten, it would be really cool to use the spices we know for certain they used."
El Grabarsky is a sous chef at the White Rose, a fine dining establishment in downtown Miami, Florida, owned by his wife. Originally from the Netherlands, he moved to the United States to pursue an education in English and further his cooking career. He is passionate about the food and beverage industry and enjoys learning new techniques or ingredients to incorporate in his cooking. In his spare time, Grabarsky tutors children in writing. He is an avid reader of fiction and other written material and believes learning is essential for continued growth and improvement.