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Jeruba's avatar

Speculative Q: What do you suppose made anybody think of boiling water?

Asked by Jeruba (41907 points ) September 26th, 2013

We’re not going to know the answer to this. I’m just wondering what you imagine when you try to picture how this simple yet profoundly consequential action first came about.

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20 Answers

Buttonstc's avatar

I’m going to go out on a limb and make the assumption that shortly after the discovery of how to reliably make a fire, water was first heated because it was damn cold outside and drinking heated water felt good.

And then either by accident or experimentation, it was discovered that tea could be made by putting various herbs and good tasting leaves in the water.

And then they realized that heating the water till bubbles start rolling made the best tasting tea (as opposed to just warm water).

And after that came meats, veggies, soups, stews and all that other good stuff.

Now, if you mean boiling water to sterilize things and realizing that it was because it killed bacteria, that’s a whole nuther thing and took a WHOLE lot more hundreds of years indeed :)

ucme's avatar

Nature produces it’s own “boiling water” in the form of hot springs, Finland being particularly abundant in them. Maybe eons ago folks dipped their toes in these natural delights & quickly warmed to the notion of boiling their water.

elbanditoroso's avatar

Someone really really wanted soft boiled eggs and the idea of boiling was born out of his necessity.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

Someone was having a baby and the guys needed something to do. It was just slightly before grilling was invented.

dabbler's avatar

Great speculation fodder! I like @ucme‘s idea that hot water was not necessarily a new concept but making it yourself was.

The whole idea requires that vessels were available that can hold water and can stand the heat of a fire. ... maybe cooking/boiling spurred the development of such vessels.

mrentropy's avatar

Probably an accident. Someone started heating up water, got a phone call and started yakking and forgot about it.

Yes, the telephones made from rock.

El_Cadejo's avatar

I was thinking hot springs probably gave early humans the idea.

I’ve always been amazed at how we discovered the use of stuff like yeast. Eat it straight and you’ll die, but mix it into the recipe in the right quantity and you have some nice fluffy bread.

Cassava tastes AMAZING IMO but if you eat it raw you’ll likely die or get very sick from the amount of cyanide in it, only after cooking is it safe to eat.

Cashews are actually a seed rather than a nut, the fruit that they are inside is very poisonous. I wonder who it was that decided, ya know, I just saw half my friends die from eating this fruit but I wonder what will happen if I eat the seeds….

rojo's avatar

It is not just the heating of water. You have to figure out how to do it. If you just throw it on the fire it either puts the fire out or steams off. You have to have some kind of container, something that does not burn, yet more trial and error.
Imagine the conversation:

I am definitely going to have to think on this one. Thanks @Jeruba!

rojo's avatar

OK how about this scenario:

.

Scene 1: Winter, a looooooooong time ago

Caveman1 – “Dude, I hate this time of the year when all the damned water freezes and we can’t get it out of the waterskin”
Caveman2 – Like, I know, right?” “Hey, what if we put it near the fire to melt it?”
Caveman1 – “Whoa! Dude, what a great idea, then we won’t have to cut the bag open and lick the hard water to satisfy our thirst!” And he places the bag next to the fire.
Cavewoman1 – “Hey, I thought you two layabout were gonna go out and kill some breakfast? It’ ain’t gonna come wandering in with a big ‘eat me’ sign on it!” “Get off your ass and get going”
Grumbling CM1 & CM2 go out to get breakfast, leaving the skin next to the fire.

Scene 2, One hour later, CM! and CM2 come wandering back into camp with a scrawny white snowshoe hare dangling from a pointy stick. They have already skinned and gutted it and CM2 is holding the fur over his groin and asking CM1 to play peekaboo.

CM1, “Get the Hell away from me!” (throwing the hare into a big clay pot that is just sitting around), “Here’s your damn breakfast, woman.”. “I need a drink”
CM2 (reaching for the waterskin) – “Crap! We forgot about the water!” “Ow! Ow!Ow! M-F that sombitch is hot!’
Bobbling the waterskin from hand to hand, CM2 fumbles to get it open and pours it into the pot saying “I need to let it cool before we drink it and this bag is way too warm”
CM1 – “Not in there!,” “Now look what you’ve done” and he reaches in to get it out only to find the water is too hot to get the hare out with bare hands.
CM1 – “Well, I guess we can get it out when the water cools”.....

Tropical_Willie's avatar

Several societies in the world do not boil water over a fire but put hard hot rocks in a gourd or non-fire safe container.

augustlan's avatar

Interesting thought experiment! I always wonder about stuff like this. Why anyone would’ve ever thought to drink milk from a cow in the first place, for instance. Did everything originally happen by accident, only later becoming a widely practiced intention?

rojo's avatar

And who was the first brave soul to eat an oyster and why? Starvation? A primitive dare?

SadieMartinPaul's avatar

@rojo “And who was the first brave soul to eat an oyster and why? Starvation? A primitive dare?”

What about lobsters, which are anything but succulent and resemble large cockroaches?

dabbler's avatar

@Tropical_Willie Keen point, using hot rocks into the liquid really changes what kind of a container you can use, like a gourd, where heating fluid on a fire would be tougher on the vessel.

Jeruba's avatar

Yes, it was the container I was thinking of, as well as the magical bubbling of the water when it reaches its temperature, and the meaning of that power, imagining how that might have seemed to the first who tried it in each culture.

Blondesjon's avatar

How else are you supposed to make beer?

kritiper's avatar

A simple way of cooking eggs that didn’t burn them to a crisp.

El_Cadejo's avatar

@SadieMartinPaul Lobsters used to be prison food. The cockroaches of the sea. They used to be so pletiful they were all over the shores.

dabbler's avatar

@Blondesjon Beer will make itself if you let it and you’re lucky that it does not get contaminated.
The indigenous peoples of the Andes make a frothy brew they call chi-cha at hut temperature. They do start it with a splash from the previous batch which helps the chances that the desired organisms are working on it instead of something airborne.

I think we boil our worts mostly to help clear out other kinds of grain-eating organisms.
Then we add a proven beer-making starter.

rojo's avatar

Even throwing rocks in water bring you back to the question why are you heating/boiling water in the first place? At what point did people decide to add water to their foodstuffs and why? To stretch it out and make it go further. And once you decided to do that, why throw rocks into your food?
From our present day perspective we can see that it makes sense but what if you had no idea about stews and teas? What would make you wonder “Hey, what will happen if I put this in water?” You know, from this perspective it sure makes it sound like a guy thing.
Kind of a “Hold my mastodon and watch this” type experiment.

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