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Cooking history


Coordinator: Angelic van der Aar

This course is part of a 30-ECTS elective program on the science of cooking, where most of the program is focused on the natural sciences. To offer the (STEM) students a broad view on scientific questions related to cooking, we aim to offer this introductory, highly interdisciplinary course with contributions from scientists all across Leiden University.

In this course, the origin and history of cooking will be covered. Students will learn how historical events changed cooking behavior, and, vice versa, how food habits were influenced by historical developments. Examples include the mastery of fire, introduction of agriculture and farming, human migration, plant breeding and the development of various food processing techniques for food preservation and nutritional improvement. Students will learn how botanical and archeological research, and the study of historical sources is applied to get insight in the history of cooking. An important aspect is the history of (traditional and tropical) ingredients.

Key questions during this course are: Why do we cook our food (food preservation, digestion, …)? When did we start processing our food? How can you do historical and archaeological research into food and cooking (scientific questions and methods/tools)?
What is the cultural meaning of cuisine? How are food, national history and national identity related? How does a national cuisine form and evolve? In which respects do culture and functionality of food preparation technologies (as mentioned above) go hand in hand?

Learning goals

Learning Objectives:

Students can:

  • indicate the relationship between the way of living, health the environment and food.

  • explain the importance of fire in human food habits.

  • explain how research in eating habits and food throughout history is performed.

  • explain the link between human migration, culture and food.

  • identify the most common starch producing food plants and explain their role in the history of food.

Final Qualifications:


  • know and understand the scientific foundations (theories, methods, techniques) of cooking history and can read and understand scientific publications in the field.

  • can relate the various scientific disciplines and use an interdisciplinary approach to analyze a problem.

  • have knowledge on the ingredients and techniques covered in this course.

Period: September – October
Or: February - March

Mode of instruction
Lectures, practicals, literature study

Assessment method
This part will be assessed with a theoretical exam on the contents of the theoretical and practical lectures.

Blackboard will be used for communication and exchange of documents

Reading list
Course materials will be provided by the teachers.

This course is part of the programme Science of Cooking. A student is required to follow all courses included in this programme.