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We don’t have to exert too much effort to chew our food, and new research says that might be something we take for granted.

A new study in Nature found that our ancestors used to spend much more time chewing before they started using stone tools to flatten meat. Since then, our ability to quickly chomp has evolved into something that’s uniquely human.

Here’s what lead researcher Katherine Mink of Harvard said about the rather interesting way she went about figuring that out.


How did you conduct this experiment?

We set up a mini-cafe in our lab. The subjects would come in, and I would put surface electrodes on their faces over the major chewing muscles. I’d give them a piece of food — goat meat and three root vegetables.

The subjects would eat the food and we’d measure muscle activity. And then in some cases, instead of swallowing the foods, they would chew it until the point they would typically swallow and then spit it into a tube. I had the very unenviable job of analyzing that food.


What surprised you most about what you found?

It was shocking how poorly modern humans and really any hominid species are able to consume raw meat.

Meat is a very elastic structure, and if you put a piece in your mouth, it’s like gum. It pretty much remains whole.

On top of that, we found that using mechanical processing like slicing or pounding your foods significantly decreases the overall chewing effort. You’re also able to swallow smaller particles, which means you get more energy from your food.