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 is a primarily Western utensil, whereas in east Asia chopsticks have been more prevalent. Today, forks are increasingly available throughout east Asia. The usually metal utensil is used to lift food to the mouth or to hold ingredients in place while they are being cut by a knife. 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 shaped in the form of a trident but curved at the joint of the handle to the points.

The early history of the fork is obscure. As a kitchen and dining utensil it is generally believed to have originated in the Roman Empire, as proved by archaeological evidences. 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 AD 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.


Bronze forks made in Persia 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, and 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 (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 first recorded introduction of the fork to Europe, as recorded by the theologian and cardinal Peter Damian,[9] was by Theophano Sklereina the Byzantine wife of Holy Roman Emperor Otto II, who nonchalantly wielded one at an Imperial banquet in 972, astonishing her Western hosts.[10] By the 11th century, the table fork had become increasingly prevalent in the Italian peninsula. It gained a following in Italy before any other European region because of historical ties with Byzantium, and continued to gain popularity due to the increasing presence of pasta in the Italian diet.[11] At first, pasta was consumed using a long wooden spike, but this eventually evolved into three spikes, a design better suited to gathering the noodles.[12] In Italy, it became commonplace by the 14th century and was almost universally used by the merchant and upper classes by 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 were first used at the time of Infanta Beatrice, Duchess of Viseu, King Manuel I of Portugal's mother[13] around 1450. However, forks were not commonly used in Southern Europe until the 16th century when they became part of Italian etiquette.[14] The utensil had also gained some currency in Spain by this time,[15] Its use gradually spread to France. Nevertheless, most of Europe did not adopt use of the fork until the 18th century.[6]

Polish deputy minister has said in 2016, that Poland "taught the French how to use a fork".[16] However the truth is less easy, Henri III was the one to actually introduce proper usage of the fork after a travel to Poland, however on the way home he apparently went to Venice to visit his mother homeland and that's where he supposedly discovered the little pitchfork.

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.[17] Some writers of the Roman Catholic Church expressly disapproved of its use, St. Peter Damian seeing it as "excessive delicacy":[12] It was not until the 18th century that the fork became commonly used in Great Britain,[18] although some sources say that forks were common in France, England and Sweden already by the early 17th century.[19][20]

The fork did not become popular in North America until near the time of the American Revolution.[1] The curved fork used in most parts of the world today was developed in Germany in the mid 18th century while the standard four-tine design became current in the early 19th century. The fork was important in Germany because they believed that eating with the fingers was rude and disrespectful. The fork led to family dinners and sit-down meals, which are important features of German culture.[21]

Types of fork

Carving knife and carving forks.
Note folding fork guards.[22]
Carving fork from 1640.
Two-pronged wooden Chip forks
An ice cream fork from the early 20th century
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.
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.
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 "chip 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.
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).
A narrow fork, usually having two tines, long shaft and an insulating handle, typically of wood, for dipping bread into a pot containing sauce
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.[23]
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.
A utensil with tines at one end of the stem and a spoon at the other. It was used to eat food that would otherwise be messy to eat such as items preserved in syrup. The tine end could spear the item, while the other end could be used to spoon the syrup.[24]
A spoon with flat tines used for some soups. See spork.
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
A long-tined fork with a telescopic handle, allowing for its extension or contraction.
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 crank, 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. 1 2 3 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. 1 2 James, Peter; Thorpe, Nick; Thorpe, I. J. (1995). Ancient inventions. Ballantine Books. p. 305. ISBN 978-0-345-40102-1.
  7. Casey, Wilson (2009). Firsts: Origins of Everyday Things that Changed the World (F ed.). Penguin. ISBN 978-1-59257-924-2. Retrieved 2013-09-02.
  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. ISBN 978-0-688-15305-2.
  9. "Θεοφανώ η Ελληνίδα βασίλισσα της Γερμανίας".
  10. Adelbert Davids (1995). The Empress Theophano: Byzantium and the West at the Turn of the First Millennium,. Cambridge University Press.
  11. Rebora, Giovanni (2013). Culture of the Fork: A Brief History of Everyday Food and Haute Cuisine in Europe. Columbia University Press. pp. 14–18. ISBN 978-0-231-51845-1.
  12. 1 2 Wilson, Bee. Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat. New York: Basic, 2012. Print.
  13. "Livro de Cozinha da Infanta D. Maria".
  14. Rautman, Marcus Louis (2006). Daily life in the Byzantine Empire. Greenwood. p. 47. ISBN 978-0-313-32437-6.
  15. "Table Forks of the Medieval & Renaissance Period". The International Guild of Hospitality & Restaurant Managers. Retrieved 8 Dec 2011.
  16. "Poland 'taught France how to use fork' says deputy minister amid helicopter row". BBC.
  17. Petroski 1992, pp. 8−9.
  18. Charing Worh (2014), Types of Cutlery in the UK, Charing Worth, retrieved March 24, 2014
  19. (2 November 2010).  This tertiary source reuses information from other sources but does not name them.
  20. at
  21. Adam, Thomas. "Germany and the Americas: Culture, Politics and History." ABC-CLIO, n.d. Web.
  22. what's this do? carving fork doodad -
  24. "A Short History of the Fork - The Art of the Table".

Further reading

A history of the evolution of fork design can be found in:

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