At the start of the 21st century, a two-tier structure has arisen, with a few international food processing giants controlling a wide range of well-known food brands. There also exists a wide array of small local or national food processing companies. Advanced technologies have also come to change food manufacture. Computer-based control systems, sophisticated processing and packaging methods, and logistics and distribution advances can enhance product quality, improve food safety, and reduce costs.
Types of fat include vegetable oils, animal products such as butter and lard, as well as fats from grains, including maize and flax oils. Fats are used in a number of ways in cooking and baking. To prepare stir fries, grilled cheese or pancakes, the pan or griddle is often coated with fat or oil. Fats are also used as an ingredient in baked goods such as cookies, cakes and pies. Fats can reach temperatures higher than the boiling point of water, and are often used to conduct high heat to other ingredients, such as in frying, deep frying or sautéing. Fats are used to add flavor to food (e.g., butter or bacon fat), prevent food from sticking to pans and create a desirable texture.
German research in 2003 showed significant benefits in reducing breast cancer risk when large amounts of raw vegetable matter are included in the diet. The authors attribute some of this effect to heat-labile phytonutrients. Sulforaphane, a glucosinolate breakdown product, which may be found in vegetables such as broccoli, has been shown to be protective against prostate cancer, however, much of it is destroyed when the vegetable is boiled.
Phylogenetic analysis suggests that human ancestors may have invented cooking as far back as 1.8 million to 2.3 million years ago. Re-analysis of burnt bone fragments and plant ashes from the Wonderwerk Cave, South Africa, has provided evidence supporting control of fire by early humans there by 1 million years ago. There is evidence that Homo erectus was cooking their food as early as 500,000 years ago. Evidence for the controlled use of fire by Homo erectus beginning some 400,000 years ago has wide scholarly support. Archaeological evidence from 300,000 years ago, in the form of ancient hearths, earth ovens, burnt animal bones, and flint, are found across Europe and the Middle East. Anthropologists think that widespread cooking fires began about 250,000 years ago, when hearths started appearing.
This loaded veggie bowl gets a touch of smoke from the chili-spiced sweet potatoes and roasted bell pepper and plenty of zing from fresh lime. Chili powder and lime also give toasted almonds an addictive crust; make extra and enjoy as a snack. Cotija cheese has a dry, crumbly texture—it won’t melt or disappear into the bowl. Use it to top tacos, stir into whole-grain salads, or top roasted broccoli.
In addition, many cultures use grills for cooking. A grill operates with a radiant heat source from below, usually covered with a metal grid and sometimes a cover. An open pit barbecue in the American south is one example along with the American style outdoor grill fueled by wood, liquid propane, or charcoal along with soaked wood chips for smoking. A Mexican style of barbecue is called barbacoa, which involves the cooking of meats such as whole sheep over an open fire. In Argentina, an asado (Spanish for "grilled") is prepared on a grill held over an open pit or fire made upon the ground, on which a whole animal or smaller cuts are grilled.
Some foods not from animal or plant sources include various edible fungi, especially mushrooms. Fungi and ambient bacteria are used in the preparation of fermented and pickled foods like leavened bread, alcoholic drinks, cheese, pickles, kombucha, and yogurt. Another example is blue-green algae such as Spirulina. Inorganic substances such as salt, baking soda and cream of tartar are used to preserve or chemically alter an ingredient.