Have you ever wondered why your favorite Asian dishes are traditionally enjoyed with chopsticks instead of another form of utensil? They are the go-to for everything from sushi to stir-fry, and while using chopsticks may take some practice for those of us who don’t use them on a daily basis, they have been around in some form as far back as nearly 5000 years ago in China. Likely made from twigs, the earliest incarnations were used for cooking food, as their length made them ideal for reaching into pots filled with hot liquids. Although an exact date is impossible to know, it is believed that chopsticks made their debut as table utensils around 400 or 500 A.D.
One of the biggest reasons chopsticks became the everyday utensil of choice was a boom in the population across China. As there were more mouths to feed, resources were stretched thin and people were forced to become more inventive with their diets and cooking techniques. One effective way to cook their food more quickly was to cut it into small pieces before preparing it. Table knives were rendered obsolete as bite sized food no longer required their presence during meals. Happily, this new style of cuisine was a natural companion to chopsticks since they were perfect for picking up these smaller bits of food. This turn of cultural events brought chopsticks, which were inexpensive and easy to make, to the forefront of popularity and started a major trend.
Within the first century of the trend sweeping through China, the use of chopsticks spread to other Asian countries such as Japan, Korea and Vietnam. One distinction of early Japanese chopsticks was that they were joined at the base and crafted from one single piece of bamboo. The Japanese culture originally used chopsticks strictly for religious ceremonies; however, that practice did not last and they became an everyday household item. Throughout the years, the popularity of chopsticks has remained and they are still the most widely used utensils used in these countries.
While the early versions of chopsticks were typically made from bamboo or other cheap materials, silver chopsticks were introduced during the Chinese dynastic era as an aid in preventing food poisoning. Throughout this time, it was believed that silver chopsticks would turn black if they were to come into contact with anything harmful or toxic. Unfortunately, users in those days were unaware that silver does not turn black when exposed to poisons such as arsenic or cyanide and therefore did not truly provide any real protection. Thankfully this practice did not last and more practical materials returned to the limelight.