History of Chopsticks

Updated January 19, 2021 | David Johnson and Logan Chamberlain

How did the Asian food utensils originate?

Some believe Confucius championed chopsticks over knives, which would remind people of slaughterhouses.

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In much of Asia, especially the so-called "rice bowl" cultures of China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam, food is usually eaten with chopsticks.

Chopsticks are two long, thin, usually tapered, pieces of wood. Bamboo is the most common material, but they are also be made of various types of wood, as well as plastic, porcelain, animal bone, ivory, metal, coral, agate, and jade.

During the Middle Ages, aristocrats often favored silver chopsticks since it was thought that silver would turn color if it came into contact with poison.

Elegant Craftsmanship

Sometimes chopsticks are quite artistic. Chopsticks can be made of lacquered wood and covered with artwork. Truly elegant chopsticks might be made of gold and embossed in silver with Chinese calligraphy. Artisans also combine various hardwoods and metal to create distinctive designs.

A child's plastic set of chopsticks might feature a cartoon character, such as Mickey Mouse, while aluminum from recycled cans might find new life as a lightweight, easy-to-clean pair of chopsticks.

Elaborate Carvings

Chopsticks may be totally smooth or carved or modeled ripples. Silver or gold paint can be used to give them a rough texture. In Thailand, wood is often elaborately carved into chopsticks. The ends of chopsticks can be rounded or squared, while the tips can be blunt or sharp.

Millennia of Chopsticks

According to the classical historian Sima Qian, the Chinese have used chopsticks for 4,000 years. Modern archaeological evidence suggests that they've been around for about 3,200. Much of traditional Chinese cuisine consists of food stewed in large pots; cooks would use chopsticks, which can easily reach into the boiling pots, in the cooking process. Eventually it would be used to pick out morsels from the stew for eating, used in conjunction with a spoon. According to historian Q. Edward Wang in his book Chopsticks: a Cultural and Culinary History, it became the main eating utensil in the Han Dynasty, about 2,000 years ago—this corresponds with the popular rise of noodles, which are easily eaten with chopsticks.

Some people think that the great scholar, Confucius who lived from roughly 551 to 479 B.C., influenced the development of chopsticks. A vegetarian, Confucius believed knives would remind people of slaughterhouses and were too violent for use at the table.



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