Since when do we eat with a knife, fork and spoon? History of cutlery and their invention

The various ones silverware that we commonly use at the table today were actually born in different moments: The knife it has existed since the dawn of time, being indispensable not only for eating, but also for many other activities; The table spoon it was invented in ancient times, but after the knife; there fork instead it has established itself in more recent times. In its complete form, the “triad” of fork, knife and spoon is attested for the first time in a buffet of the 1536. However, for many centuries the use of cutlery, in particular forks and knives specifically for the table, interested only the aristocracies and only spread throughout the population in the 19th century. Let’s delve into its history in brief.

Since when has cutlery been used and where was it invented

Cutlery is not used all over the world. In China and in other oriental countries, as we know, chopsticks are used almost exclusively. In Indiaparticularly in the southern part of the country, much of the food is eaten with the hands.

Even in the West, the use of cutlery is relatively recent and for centuries the most used “utensils” to bring food to the mouth were hands. The first table with a knife, a fork and a spoon for each diner was set in Italy for a banquet in honor of Emperor Charles V of 1536, but the event was noteworthy precisely because it represented an exceptional case. The use of cutlery throughout the population it only established itself in the nineteenth century. The times at which the three main cutlery spread, however, are not the same. Let’s look at it in a little more detail.

thumb inventions


The fork is the latest in cutlery. The first known specimens date back to Qija culture, developed near the Yellow River, in present-day China, between 2200 and 1600 years before Christ. It might seem paradoxical that the first forks were found in the country that then replaced them with chopsticks, but, in reality, their function was different: they were used for cooking and not for bringing food to the mouth. They were more similar, at least in use, to the today’s forks. The same tool, moreover, also existed in the ancient civilizations of the Mediterranean: Egyptian, Greek, Roman.

The fork for bringing food to the mouth was introduced intoByzantine Empire around the 4th century AD, although scholars do not exclude that it could already have been used, occasionally, in ancient Greece.

However, the diffusion has been very slow. For centuries the fork remained confined to the Byzantine Empire and some other eastern territories. Around the year 1000 arrived in Italy, a European territory most closely linked to the Byzantium empire, but spread only among the aristocracies. The fork, after all, it was not appreciated by the Catholic Churchwho considered it a demonic tool and a fashion imported from the hated Byzantine Empire (which had separated from the Catholic Church in 1054).

Nonetheless, the fork continued its rise. Around the 16th century it crossed the borders of the Peninsula and spread to the wealthy classes of southern Europe. In the 18th century it also reached Northern Europe. Gradually, the habit of eating with a fork became increasingly established among populations and in the nineteenth century it became common in all social classes. In the same century, the four-prong modelwhich is the most frequently used today.


The invention and use of the knife are lost in the mists of time. Some millions of years agowell before the appearance of homo sapiens, the previous species of the genus Homo they used sharp objects, like chipped stones, for various functions, including that of cutting food. Since then all the cultures and civilizations that have followed one another on the planet have made use of knives.

Stone Age Knife (credits Kambai akau)

The table knife however, it is a recent invention. Until the end of the Middle Ages, there were no specific tools for cutting food and at the table everyone used their personal knife, which also served for other functions: personal defense, cutting fabrics, etc. Even at banquets, it was normal for each guest to bring their own knife. The first specific example for the table seems to have been that of the aforementioned banquet of Charles V in 1536, but large-scale use has spread in the aristocracies only in the 17th century (according to some sources, Cardinal Richelieu, Prime Minister of France, introduced it) and to the rest of the population in the following centuries.

Table spoon

The use of the spoon is also ancient, although not as ancient as that of the knife. The first specimens from the Mediterranean area date back to Egyptian civilization; the eastern ones at the time of Shang dynasty (2nd millennium BC).

Spoons were originally made of ivory, wood, stone or bone, but metal ones also established themselves in the ancient world, becoming the most widespread in the Greco-Roman age. The use of the spoon has never disappeared, but the shape has changed many times over the years and only in the 18th century did the current design, in which the tip of the blade is narrower than the base. The materials have also changed and today the spoons ordinarily used in the kitchen are made, like other cutlery, of stainless steel.