One of the most exciting new cooking technologies harnesses an energy source that is billions of years old. Solar powered cooking, or the practice of using the sun as an energy source to cook food, is gaining traction around the globe as a low-cost, emissions-free way to prepare meals. Yet, for millennia, humans have known how to concentrate the Sun’s rays to cook food.
A sect of Jews called the Essenes, who existed from 200 B.C. to 100 C.E., may have been the first group of people who used to Sun to cook food. They used to lay ground sprouted grains on rocks heated by the Sun, which created the world’s first wafers. In the 1500s, glass became cheaper to produce, and the Flemish and Dutch began to build the world’s first houses of glass, or greenhouses, filled with crops, that were heated only by the Sun. The English and French quickly followed suit, and humans have been using greenhouse for the past five hundred years to grow horticulture during all seasons.
Solar cooking tools really began to get heated in the 18th century, when the Swiss naturalist Horace de Saussure was able to heat food in a glass cook box using the Sun’s rays. From there, people around the globe began to use the solar cooking equipment from de Saussure’s design for their own benefit. At the end of the 19th century in China, a restaurant opened that served food that was cooked using solar energy.
In the twentieth century, engineers developed more sophisticated solar cooking tools in the 1950s thanks to efforts by the United Nations to eradicate poverty in resource-scarce regions of the world. Due to the complexity of the design and solar cooking equipment, the models created by the U.N. did not spur a worldwide change in cooking habits. However, in the 21st century, due to concerns about global warming and a desire by environmentalists and development workers alike to consume fewer resources, solar cooking is seeing a resurgence.
Any camping enthusiast or ardent environmentalist who does not want to spend money to prepare food outside need not despair, as creating a solar cooker can be easy and relatively cheap. Solar cooking tools can include cardboard boxes and aluminum foil, cast-iron pots and cookie sheets. Anyone who wants to boil water during a power outage, cook rice, beans, soups, and even bread can do so with a solar cooker. The Internet is rife with websites and videos showing how to build simple cookers using materials that can be found in a grocery store.
Will we all cook with the Sun in the foreseeable future? The path ahead is unknown. But solar cooking’s potential to transform lives by using the Sun to inexpensively prepare meals makes the future look exceedingly bright.