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A Brief History of Chopsticks

Chopsticks are now known as convenient cooking and dining utensils that are held in the dominant hand, fastened by fingers, and used to pick up food as extensions of the hand. However, did you know that chopsticks actually have a rich history born from scarce resources and the innovative minds of ancient Chinese folks? Today, we’ll dive into that to know more about your favorite utensils.

How chopsticks were developed

The famed ruins of Yin in Henan province not only supplied the oldest evidence of Chinese writing but also the first known chopsticks—bronze sets were discovered in graves at the site. Early chopsticks were mostly used for cooking since they could reach deep into boiling pots of water or oil. The first versions were most likely twigs used to remove food from cooking pans. When resources were scarce around 400 BC, astute cooks found out how to save fuel by chopping meals into little pieces that cooked faster. 

Confucian influence on chopsticks

Knives became almost useless as food got more bite-sized. Confucius was also responsible for their demise and the rise of chopsticks. He feared that sharp cutlery at the dinner table would remind diners of the slaughterhouse because he was a vegetarian. He also believed that the sharp tips of knives invoked bloodshed and conflict, eliminating the cheerful, competitive attitude that should dominate during meals. The use of chopsticks swiftly expanded throughout Asia, thanks in part to his teachings.

Different chopstick styles

Different civilizations have adopted various chopstick styles. Chinese chopsticks had a blunt end rather than a pointed end, maybe as an homage to Confucius. Chopsticks in Japan were 8 inches long for men and 7 inches long for ladies. The Japanese invented the now-ubiquitous disposable set, generally constructed of bamboo or wood, in 1878. The most affluent eaters may utilize ivory, jade, coral, brass, or agate sets, while the most privileged used silver sets. If the silver came into touch with poisoned food, it was said to corrode and turn black.

The symbolism of chopsticks today

Chopsticks have always had a symbiotic connection with rice, another mainstay of Asian cuisine. Eating with chopsticks naturally lends itself to some types of food more than others. At first sight, you’d assume rice wouldn’t make the criteria, but most rice in Asia is short or medium-grain. In contrast to the fluffy and distinct grains of Western long-grain rice, the starches in these rice produce a cooked product that is delicate and chewy. It’s a match made in heaven when chopsticks join together to hoist sizzling bundles of sticky rice.

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