Evolution seems to crop up all over the place. In life, business, ideas. And now in recipes through the ages.
Yup, that’s recipes. For food. Osame Kinouchi from the Universidade de São Paulo in Brazil and buddies, have studied the way in which ingredients used in recipes vary around the world and through the ages. And they’ve found, they say, evidence of evolution.
The team studied the relationship betwen recipes and ingredients in four cookbooks: three editions of the Brazilian Dona Benta (1946, 1969 and 2004), the French Larousse Gastronomique, the British New Penguin Cookery Book, and the medieval Pleyn Delit.
They took the recipes from each book, counted the number of times each ingredient appeared in these recipes and ranked them according to frequency.
What’s remarkable is that the frequency-rank distribution they found is more or less the same for each cookbook. Kinouchi and co say this can be explained if recipes evolve in much the way that living organisms do–in a landscape in which some ingredients can be thought of as fitter than others, in which random mutations take place, and some ingredients die out while others prosper.
Very clever…unless they’ve missed something.
Perhaps it’s not ingredients that produce this distribution but words themselves. I’d be interested to see whether the results they get would be significantly diffierent were they to examine the frequency of adjectives or colours or numbers in these books rather than ingredients. If not, then recipes have nothing to do with the results they are presenting.
Of course, it’s possible that recipes have evolved in the way the group suggests. But the evidence they present here doesn’t look convicing to me.
Ref: arxiv.org/abs/0802.4393: The Nonequilibrium Nature of Culinary Evolution