A brief history of the spork

I'm traveling for work, and I just got back from a reception that was all finger food- even some items that probably shouldn't have been.

And so, just for fun, I thought I would post a brief history of eating utensils from Mental Floss.

The first utensils were chopsticks, designed due to a change in cooking practices resulting from a lack of firewood. To save wood, the Chinese began chopping up their meat and vegetables into small pieces, thus creating the first stir-fry.

No wood for fires also meant no wood for tables, so in order to eat, people had to be able to hold their food bowl while eating with the other hand. An expert chopsticks user could pick up small bits of meat, vegetables, and rice without ever touching the utensils to his or her lips—making the chopsticks more sanitary and pleasing to even the most fastidious of diners.

Among other things, spoons predated forks, and likely originated from shells found in Southern Europe, as both the Greek and Latin word for spoon is cochlea, a snail shell.

Despite the difference of materials, it’s highly probable that the Anglo spoon was influenced by the Southern European version. The Romans designed two spoons in the first century CE: (1) a ligula, which sported a pointed oval bowl and decorative handle, for soups and soft foods and (2) a cochleare, a small spoon with a round bowl and pointed handle, for shellfish and eggs. When the Romans occupied Britain (43 CE to 410 CE), they likely brought their cutlery, inspiring the English design.

Then we have the fantastic fork, the most recent of the big three utensils.

Sure, forks are handy, but they were once counted as the most scandalous of utensils. One legend tells that the fork got its start in Europe during the superstitious Middle Ages. In the 11th century, a Byzantium princess flouted her delicate, two-tined golden fork at her wedding to Domenico Selvo, son of the Venetian Doge. The Venetian clergy had clearly stated their position on the subject: God provided humans with natural forks (i.e., fingers) and it was an insult to his design to use a metal version. Moreover, fork use represented “excessive delicacy,” which was apparently very bad. When the princess died shortly after her wedding, people didn’t look to natural causes (or even fork injury). They assumed the death must be divine punishment.

Somehow, fork use still spread through Europe over the next 500 years, and despite the wishes of the clergy, it was considered an Italian affectation in Northern Europe. Part of the bad rap came from, again, the prissy factor. Although the fork’s functional value is similar to a spoon nowadays, the first forks originally evolved from the knife. Aristocrats would use one knife to cut the food and a second to spear and eat it. The two- and four-pronged knife substitutes must have looked as overwrought as a double-layer dinner fork would seem to us today.

And lest we forget, the most important spork:

Ah, the spork. Our favorite utensil—perfect for scooping up ice cream and spearing pie without dirtying extra cutlery. As its name indicates, the spork is half-spoon, half-fork, and while America was clearly behind on the other cutlery trends, the spork is a true American eating utensil. First mentioned by name in a 1909 supply catalogue, the spork achieved notoriety through another American original—Kentucky Fried Chicken. Back in 1970, KFC started including plastic sporks with their meals as a cheap convenience, and the Van Brode Milling Company of Massachusetts patented the invention for their “combination plastic spoon, fork, and knife” the same year. Due to its handy nature, the spork eventually became a common dessert and travel utensil, available in silver and other metals.

Considering how much time we probably spend obsessing about food, at least this can let us pause for a minute and think about all of the different utensils that help us eat.

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sarah said...

Sporks both fascinate me and creep me out to no end - especially the ones with a slight serrated cutting edge on the curved spoon part. They bug me - if for no other reason - because I have no idea how it would make sense to cut into something without another utensil to hold it down.

I think I might think about them too much, but then, it's thinking about things like this that keep me sane with all the stress that I've got going on. And yes, coffee sometime soon would be great - but no need to apologize, really; things happen in their own time, and usually when the time is right.


Anonymous said...

I <3 sporks and have considered getting this shirt

samsi77 said...

Why am I not surprised that you knew all of this information? lol

Cammy said...

I heart sporks! I can't believe they aren't more commonly used, they are so much more efficient.
I also LOVE Mental Floss, I wish it was 12 issues a year instead of 6, at least they have an RSS feed now!

Lisa said...

Haha, I have "natural forks?" I wish I'd known that as a kid; Mom never would have forced me into good manners!

Libby said...

All day Friday, I kept thinking, "Ha... SPORK! *giggle* SPORK!" It really made my coworkers wonder. I totally need a spork necklace.

Health Care Services said...

Great article, I didn't know about that? I should search for some information about this. It really fascinate me.

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I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

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nour·ish: (v); to sustain with food or nutriment; supply with what is necessary for life, health, and growth; to cherish, foster, keep alive; to strengthen, build up, or promote


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