The origin of chopsticks

Chopsticks are one of the earliest inventions of eating/cooking utensils. According to research, they were initially used in cooking. Due to their long length, they could reach deep into boiling pots of water or oil. They were also used for stirring the fire and serving bite sized foods. The pair of sticks is held in the dominant hand between the thumb and fingers. The English word “chopstick” is derived from Chinese Pidgin English which refers to “quick eating”.

The earliest pair of chopsticks, made from bronze was found within the 3200 year old ruins of city Yen near modern Anyang, Henan roughly dated to 1200 BCE. They were invented by the Chinese before the Shang dynasty (1766 – 1122BCE). By AD 500 chopsticks became a common utensil in East and South Asia in countries like Japan, Malaysia, Thailand and to a much lesser extent, Philippines. This started in China when there was a population explosion and people started cutting food into smaller pieces which were eaten using tweezers-like grip of chopsticks. The earlier chopsticks were joined together. Initially, they were made from gold, silver and bronze. Then in 1878 the Japanese started making disposable set of two separate sticks made from bamboo or wood.

The size and design of chopstick vary from country to country. The Chinese use 23cm long chopsticks with blunt ends for eating. However, for cooking, they use longer ones which can be up to 40cm for frying. In Japan, women and children use shorter chopsticks than men which are sharp and pointed. In North and South Korea, medium length chopsticks are accompanied with a spoon usually made from the same material. The set is called sujeo.

The use of chopsticks was reinforced by Confucius. He was a vegetarian and used the utensil as a reminder of how animals suffer in the slaughter house. Also, the taking of bite-sized foods was considered hygienic as there were less chances of passing germs in a group eating.

Chopsticks are popularly used in eating especially rice and sushi. Today, they are also used by non-Asians as Chinese restaurants are found in many countries. Presently, China and Japan are the largest users of recyclable chopsticks which have a reduced impact on the environment. Therefore, being a unique utensil for eating makes it more popular in different communities all over the world.

Garima Nabh is the founder of New Age Magazine.

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