The History of Chopsticks

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Zhu
Kuaizi

California Academy of Sciences has the following regarding the history of chopsticks:

Chopsticks play an important role in Asian food culture. Chopsticks are called "Kuai-zi" in Chinese (and means "quick little fellows") and "Hashi" in Japanese. In Chinese ancient times they were called "Zhu." Chinese people have been using chopsticks as main tableware for more than 3,000 years and were first used about 5,000 years ago. By A.D. 500, chopstick use had spread from China to present day Vietnam, Korea, and Japan.

Ancient chopsticks from China

It is thought that people cooked their food in large pots which held heat for a long time, and hasty eaters then broke twigs off trees to retrieve the food. By 400 B.C., because of a large population and dwindling resources, food was chopped into small pieces so it could be cooked rapidly to conserve fuel. The pieces of food were small enough that they negated the need for knives at the dinner table, and thus, chopsticks became staple utensils. It is also thought that Confucius, a vegetarian, advised people not to use knives at the table because knives would remind them of the slaughterhouse.

In Japan, chopsticks were originally considered precious and were used exclusively for religious ceremonies. The earliest chopsticks used for eating looked like tweezers; they were made from one piece of bamboo that was joined at the top. By the 10th Century, chopsticks were being made into two separate pieces.

Ancient chopsticks from China

Traditionally, chopsticks have been made from a variety of materials. Bamboo has been the most popular material because it is inexpensive, readily available, easy to split, resistant to heat, and has little perceptible odor or taste. Cedar, sandalwood, teak, pine, and bone have also been used to make chopsticks for the greater population. The wealthy, however, often had chopsticks made from jade, gold, bronze, brass, agate, coral, ivory, and silver.

During dynastic times it was thought that silver chopsticks would turn black if they came into contact with poisoned food. It is now known that silver had no reaction to arsenic or cyanide, but if rotten eggs, onions, or garlic were used, the hydrogen sulfide they released might cause the chopsticks to change color.

Source: California Academy of Sciences - http://researcharchive.calacademy.org/research/anthropology/utensil/chpstck.htm

Ancient chopsticks from China

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