Ancient Chinese Inventions: Advancements in Food

As ancient civilizations progressed, they invented and developed different methods of cooking and eating their meals. The types of food that they added to their diet also changed with the times. In this article, you will learn about the different ways that the ancient Chinese ate.

Rice Cultivation

One of the most important staples of Chinese cuisine, rice plays a significant role in the history of the culture. Reports of rice cultivation in eastern China emerged in 2002 when a group of researchers found fossilized phytoliths of domesticated rice that supposedly dated back to 11,900 BC or earlier. The data associated with the find is often controversial because of concern of potential contamination. Researchers believe that rice cultivation most likely took place in the middle Yangtze Valley around 7000 BC. The Hemudu culture that lived close to the Yangtze Delta had domesticated rice by 5000 BC and started cooking the food in pots. Before rice became a food of choice in southern and northeastern China, millet was a previously favored crop.


It is commonplace to assume that noodles originated in Italy, but an archaeological excavation centered on the Qijia culture (2400 to 1900 BC) came up with significant information. They learned that noodles were made of millet (instead of the wheat flour of traditional makers) 4,000 years ago in China. The food remains were preserved when an earthenware bowl was turned over in such a way that it created an airtight space between it and the sediment. The noodles were able to stay preserved and showed that they were quite similar to the traditional lamian noodle of China. This type of noodle is made by constant pulling and stretching of the dough by hand. The archeological find took place in 2002.


The cultivation of soybeans is traced back to inhabitants that lived in the eastern half of northern China. Evidence suggests that the practice occurred at least by 2000 BC. It is said the first soybean was originated in China and domesticated around 3500 BC. By the time 5th century came around, soybeans were being cultivated in many parts of the eastern Asia, but the embrace of the crop stayed confined to this region for a great deal of time.

Steaming Food

The practice of using pottery for cooking purposes, such as steaming, is traced back to the ancient Chinese culture. Archeologists have conducted excavations that revealed the Chinese used steam to cook using a cooking vessel made from pottery that was referred to as a yan steamer. A pot or caldron was placed on a tripod base with a cover that sat on a perforated floor. The earliest type of yan steamer dates back to about 5000 BC and is associated with the Banpo excavation site. Researchers learned more about the yan steamer when they deciphered the different symbols used to reference food appliances. Bronze vessels bore the symbols of steamers that were used during the Shang Dynasty (1600 to 1050 BC). Other examples of the steamers were found in the tomb of Fu Hao, which dates back to the 13th century BC.