Why garlic breath has been around a long time

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New research has revealed how our early ancestors had a taste for spicy food.

Archaeologists at the University of York, working with colleagues in Denmark, Germany and Spain, have found evidence of the use of spices in cuisine at the transition to agriculture. The researchers discovered traces of garlic mustard on the charred remains of pottery dating back nearly 7,000 years.

The silicate remains of garlic mustard – alliaria petiolata – along with animal and fish residues were discovered through microfossil analysis of carbonised food deposits from pots found at sites in Denmark and Germany.

The pottery dated from the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition from hunter-gathering to agriculture.

Previously scientists have analysed starches which survive well in carbonised and non-carbonised residues to test for the use of spices in prehistoric cooking.

But the new research, which is reported in PLOS ONE, a scientific journal, suggests that the recovery of phytoliths – silicate deposits from plants – offers the additional possibility to identify leafy or woody seed material used as spices, not detectable using starch analysis.

Lead researcher, Dr Hayley Saul, of the University of York, said yesterday: “Our evidence suggests a much greater antiquity to the spicing of foods in this region than is evident from the macrofossil record, and challenges the view that plants were exploited by hunter-gatherers and early agriculturalists solely for energy requirements, rather than taste.”