Richard Wrangham, a professor of biological anthropology at Harvard, has just authored a book called "Catching Fire:How Cooking Made Us Human.” The book explains how the act of cooking food dictated the evolution of the human species.
“Cooked food does many familiar things,” Wrangham observes. “It makes our food safer, creates rich and delicious tastes and reduces spoilage. Heating can allow us to open, cut or mash tough foods. But none of these advantages is as important as a little-appreciated aspect: cooking increases the amount of energy our bodies obtain from food. The extra energy gave the first cooks biological advantages. They survived and reproduced better than before. Their genes spread. Their bodies responded by biologically adapting to cooked food, shaped by natural selection to take maximum advantage of the new diet. There were changes in anatomy, physiology, ecology, life history, psychology and society.”
The amazing part of the story is that this theory is new-no one has pointed to cooking as a fundamental reason for human evolution.