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Title: Fork  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Tuning fork, Case knife, Tine (structural), Bartolomeo Scappi, Inanimate Objects Party
Collection: Eating Utensils, Forks
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


Assorted forks. From left to right: dessert fork, relish fork, salad fork, dinner fork, cold cuts fork, serving fork, carving fork.

As a piece of cutlery or kitchenware, a fork is a tool consisting of a handle with several narrow tines on one end. The fork as an eating utensil has been a feature primarily of the West, whereas in East Asia chopsticks have been more prevalent. Today, forks are increasingly available throughout East Asia. The utensil (usually metal) is used to lift food to the mouth or to hold ingredients in place while they are being cut. Food can be lifted either by spearing it on the tines, or by holding it on top of the tines, which are often curved slightly. A fork is also shaped in the form of a trident but curved at the joint of the handle to the points.

Though the fork's early history is obscure, the fork as a kitchen and dining utensil is generally believed to have originated in the Roman Empire, or perhaps in Ancient Greece. The personal table fork most likely originated in the Eastern Roman, or Byzantine, Empire. Its use spread to what is now the Middle East during the first millennium CE and then spread into southern Europe during the second millennium. It did not become common in northern Europe until the 18th century and was not common in North America until the 19th century.


  • History 1
  • Types of fork 2
    • Novelty forks 2.1
  • See also 3
  • References 4
  • Further reading 5
  • External links 6


Bronze forks made in Iran during the 8th or 9th century.

The word fork comes from the Latin furca, meaning "pitchfork." Some of the earliest known uses of forks with food occurred in Ancient Egypt, where large forks were used as cooking utensils.[1] Bone forks had been found in the burial site of the Bronze Age Qijia culture (2400–1900 BC) as well as later Chinese dynasties' tombs.[2] The Ancient Greeks used the fork as a serving utensil,[3] The Greek name for fork is still used in some European languages, for instance in the Venetian, Greek, and Albanian languages.

In the Roman Empire, bronze and silver forks were used, indeed many examples are displayed in museums around Europe.[4][5] The use varied according to local customs, social class and the nature of food, but forks of the earlier periods were mostly used as cooking and serving utensils. The personal table fork was most likely invented in the Eastern Roman, or Byzantine, Empire where they were in common use by the 4th century (its origin may even go back to Ancient Greece, before the Roman period).[6][7] Records show that by the 9th century a similar utensil known as a barjyn was in limited use in Persia within some elite circles.[8] By the 10th century, the table fork was in common use throughout the Middle East.[1]

The fork was introduced to Western Europe by Theophano Sklereina, the Byzantine wife of Holy Roman Emperor Otto II, who nonchalantly wielded one at an Imperial banquet in AD 972, astonishing her Western hosts.[9] By the 11th century, the table fork had become increasingly prevalent in the Italian peninsula. It gained a following in Italy before any other Western European region because of historical ties with Byzantium, and it continued to gain popularity due to the increased presence of early pasta in the Italian diet.[10] At first, pasta was consumed by using a long wooden spike, but this eventually evolved into three spikes because of how much easier it was to gather the noodles.[11] In Italy, it became commonplace by the 14th century, almost universally used by merchant and upper classes by the year 1600. It was proper for a guest to arrive with his own fork and spoon enclosed in a box called a cadena; this usage was introduced to the French court with Catherine de' Medici's entourage. In Portugal, forks began being used with Infanta Beatrice, Duchess of Viseu, king Manuel I of Portugal's mother.[12] That happened around 1450. Still forks were not commonly used in Western Europe until the 16th century when they became part of the etiquette in Italy.[13] It had also gained some currency in Spain by this time,[14] and its use gradually spread to France. Even at that, though, most of Europe did not adopt use of the fork until the 18th century.[6]

Long after the personal table fork had become commonplace in France, at the supper celebrating the marriage of the duc de Chartres to Louis XIV's natural daughter in 1692, the seating was described in the court memoirs of Saint-Simon: "King James having his Queen on his right hand and the King on his left, and each with their cadenas." In Perrault's contemporaneous fairy tale of La Belle au bois dormant (1697), each of the fairies invited for the christening is presented with a splendid "Fork Holder."

The fork's adoption in northern Europe was slower. Its use was first described in English by Thomas Coryat in a volume of writings on his Italian travels (1611), but for many years it was viewed as an unmanly Italian affectation. Some writers of the Roman Catholic Church expressly disapproved of its use, St. Peter Damian seeing it as "excessive delicacy":[11] It was said that... "God in his wisdom has provided man with natural forks – his fingers. Therefore it is an insult to Him to substitute artificial metallic forks for them when eating."[15] It was not until the 18th century that the fork became commonly used in Great Britain,[16] although some sources say forks were common in France, England and Sweden already by the early 17th century.[17][18]

The fork did not become popular in North America until near the time of the American Revolution.[1] The curved fork that is used in most parts of the world today was developed in Germany in the mid 18th century. The standard four-tine design became current in the early 19th century. The fork was very important in Germany because they believed eating with your fingers was very rude and disrespectful. The fork led to family dinners and sit-down meals which is very important in their culture.[19]

Types of fork

A 1998 design patent drawing for a spork, from U.S. Patent D388,664
Two-pronged wooden forks
An ice cream fork from the early 20th century
  • Asparagus fork
  • Barbecue fork
  • Beef fork
A fork used for picking up meat. This fork is shaped like a regular fork, but it is slightly bigger and the tines are curved outward. The curves are used for piercing the thin sliced beef.
  • Berry fork
  • Carving fork
A two-pronged fork used to hold meat steady while it is being carved. They are often sold with carving knives or slicers as part of a carving set.
  • Cheese fork
  • Chip fork
A two-pronged disposable fork, usually made out of sterile wood (though increasingly of plastic), specifically designed for the eating of chips (known as french fries in North America), fried fish and other takeaway foods. From 7.5 to 9 cm long. In Germany they are known as Pommesgabel (literally "potato fork") and "currywurst fork".
A small fork resembling a trident, used for spearing cocktail garnishes such as olives.
A short, sharp and narrow three-pronged or two-pronged fork designed to easily extract meat when consuming cooked crab.
  • Dessert fork (alternatively, pudding fork/cake fork in Great Britain)
Any of several different special types of forks designed to eat desserts, such as a pastry fork. They usually have only three tines and are smaller than standard dinner forks. The leftmost tine may be widened so as to provide an edge with which to cut (though it is never sharpened).
  • Dinner fork
  • Fish fork
  • Fondue fork
A narrow fork, usually having two tines, long shaft and an insulating handle, typically of wood, for dipping bread into a pot containing sauce
  • Fruit salad fork
A fork used which is used to pick up pieces of fruit such as grapes, strawberries, melon and other varies types of fruit.
A spoon with flat tines used for some deserts. See spork.
A long handled fork used for extracting pickles from a jar, or an alternative name for a ball joint separator tool used to unseat a ball joint.[20]
Similar to a regular fork, but may be shorter, or have one of the outer tines shaped differently. Often, a "salad fork" in the silverware service of some restaurants (especially chains) may be simply a second fork; conversely, some restaurants may omit it, offering only one fork in their service.
A utensil combining characteristics of a spoon, a fork and a knife
A utensil combining characteristics of a spoon and a fork
  • Tea fork
  • Terrapin fork
A spoon with flat tines used for some soups. See spork.
  • Toasting fork
A fork, usually having two tines, very long metal shaft and sometimes an insulating handle, for toasting food over coals or an open flame

Novelty forks

Spaghetti fork
  • Extension Fork
A long-tined fork with a telescopic handle, allowing for its extension or contraction.
  • Spaghetti fork
A fork with a metal shaft loosely fitted inside a hollow plastic handle. The shaft protrudes through the top of the handle, ending in a bend that allows the metal part of the fork to be easily rotated with one hand while the other hand is holding the plastic handle. This supposedly allows spaghetti to be easily wound onto the tines. Electric variations of this fork have become more prevalent in modern times.

See also


  1. ^ a b c Ward, Chad (6 May 2009). "The Uncommon Origins of the Common Fork". Leite's Culinaria. 
  2. ^ Needham (1986), volume 6 part 5 105–108
  3. ^ "Forks". 
  4. ^ "Fitzwilliam Museum – A combination Roman eating implement". 
  5. ^ Sherlock, D. (1988) A combination Roman eating implement (1988). Antiquaries Journal [comments: 310–311, pl. xlix]
  6. ^ a b James, Peter; Thorpe, Nick; Thorpe, I. J. (1995). Ancient inventions. Ballantine Books. p. 305.  
  7. ^ Casey, Wilson (2009). Firsts: Origins of Everyday Things that Changed the World (F ed.). Penguin.  
  8. ^ Wright, Clifford A. (1999). A Mediterranean Feast: The Story of the Birth of the Celebrated Cuisines of the Mediterranean from the Merchants of Venice to the Barbary Corsairs, with More than 500 Recipes. William Morrow Cookbooks. p. 82.  
  9. ^ Adelbert Davids (1995). The Empress Theophano: Byzantium and the West at the Turn of the First Millennium,. Cambridge University Press. 
  10. ^ Rebora, Giovanni (2013). Culture of the Fork: A Brief History of Everyday Food and Haute Cuisine in Europe. Columbia University Press. pp. 14–18.  
  11. ^ a b Wilson, Bee. Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat. New York: Basic, 2012. Print.
  12. ^ "Livro de Cozinha da Infanta D. Maria". 
  13. ^ Rautman, Marcus Louis (2006). Daily life in the Byzantine Empire. Greenwood. p. 47.  
  14. ^ "Table Forks of the Medieval & Renaissance Period". The International Guild of Hospitality & Restaurant Managers. Retrieved 8 Dec 2011. 
  15. ^ "The Irrational Exhuberance of American Dining Etiquette". Archived from the original on 27 October 2009. 
  16. ^ Charing Worh (2014), Types of Cutlery in the UK, Charing Worth, retrieved March 24, 2014 
  17. ^ (2 November 2010).
  18. ^
  19. ^ Adam, Thomas. "Germany and the Americas: Culture, Politics and History." ABC-CLIO, n.d. Web.
  20. ^

Further reading

  • A history of the evolution of fork design can be found in: Henry Petroski, The Evolution of Useful Things (1992); ISBN 0-679-74039-2

External links

  • Cutlery of the Middle Ages and Renaissance Forks from the Greco-Roman era to the 17th century
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