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Journal Article

Toward a global ecology of fermented foods


Gavin,  Michael C.
Linguistic and Cultural Evolution, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Max Planck Society;

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Dunn, R. R., Wilson, J., Nichols, L. M., & Gavin, M. C. (2021). Toward a global ecology of fermented foods. Current Anthropology, 62(24): 716014. doi:10.1086/716014.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0009-6CD0-3
The control of microbes in food has been as important to human societies as the domestication of plants and animals. The direct or indirect management of microbes has been critical to food safety, ensuring nutrient availability, and developing desired sensory characteristics in food. Fermentation is more universal than is agriculture inasmuch as it is practiced by agricultural societies, pastoralists, and hunter-gatherers. In addition, fermentation likely predates agriculture, potentially by hundreds of thousands of years. However, we lack a general approach to understanding of (a) when and why technologies associated with fermentation emerged and (b) how those technologies and the microbes associated with them diverged once they emerged. Here we offer a framework for the study of the diversification of fermented foods in and among human societies. In developing this framework, we draw heavily from research on language and more generally cultural diversification.