Neanderthals May Have Had Their Own Traditional Cooking Techniques

When we modern humans spoke about neanderthals before the end of the 20th century, we maintained that there were few, if any, similarities between ourselves and our archaic primate predecessors (per BBC). But the wealth of paleontological research that's continued to emerge since the late 1800s has led to all sorts of discoveries about the extinct species that walked the earth over 40,000 years ago — including evidence that they were far more advanced than we originally thought.

Getting down to basics, we know that neanderthals were hunter-gatherers who lived in limestone caves across Eurasia during the Middle Paleolithic Age, also known as the Stone Age (per Britannica). More recent findings show that neanderthals practiced familiar cultural behaviors that we associate with our modern species, including burying their dead with flowers, making paintings on the walls of their caves, and building tools out of wood and bone (per the Journal of Quaternary Science). Likewise, according to brand-new research published by Antiquity, Neanderthal cooking techniques and rituals were way more elaborate than we thought.

Neanderthals were partial to bitter flavors

Despite evidence of their cultural advancement in other areas, modern representations of neanderthals have long reduced their diets to foraged berries and raw meat torn from animal carcasses. This week, however, Antiquity released research that sheds new light on the dining rituals of the former dwellers of the Shanidar Cave in northern Iraq and the Franchthi Cave in Greece. Researchers found "carbonized macro-remains of processed plants" in 70,000-year-old charred food remains — some of the oldest ever found.

The remains contain ground pulses, a class of plants that includes beans, lentils, and peas (per Harvard School of Public Health), which suggests that "bitter and astringent" plant flavors were favored by certain denizens of the Stone Age. Before this research, previous food remains left over by neanderthals suggested a more rudimentary plant diet of "starch-rich tubers and grasses," (via Antiquity). But the recent findings also reveal traces of wild almonds, pistachios, and mustard seeds, in addition to pulses. 

"The long-term and widespread use of almonds, terebinths and pulses therefore suggests that Palaeolithic foragers developed processing technologies and associated food preparation practices that enabled their routine safe consumption," writes Antiquity. "Even more intriguing is the possibility that they did not deliberately extract all the unpalatable toxins," a researcher told CNN. "A Neanderthal flavor of choice."