Chopsticks are shaped pairs of equal-length sticks that have been used as kitchen and eating utensils in most of East Asia for over three millennia.
They are held in the dominant hand, secured by fingers, and wielded as extensions of the hand, to pick up small pieces of food.
Chopsticks range from 23 centimetres (9.1 in) to 26 centimetres (10 in) long, gradually narrowing to a blunt or pointed tip at the base. Very long, large chopsticks, usually about 30 or 40 centimetres (12 or 16 in), are used for cooking, especially for deep frying foods.
They are made from a variety of materials including bamboo, plastic, various types of wood, bone, gold, silver, stainless steel and other metals, horn, jade, coral and ivory. Long chopsticks made of wood or bamboo are used for cooking.
The English word “chopstick” seems to come from Chinese Pidgin English, a pidgin where “chop chop” meant quickly.
The Mandarin Chinese word for chopsticks is kuàizi – 筷子. It is a word made of different parts – it has the phonetic part of “快”, which means quick, and a semantic part, 竹, meaning bamboo.
First used by the Chinese, chopsticks later spread to other East Asian cultural sphere countries including Japan, Korea, and Vietnam. As ethnic Chinese emigrated, the use of chopsticks as eating utensils for certain ethnic food took hold in South and Southeast Asian countries such as Cambodia, India, Laos, Nepal, Myanmar, Singapore, and Thailand. In India, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Nepal, chopsticks are generally used only to consume noodles. Similarly, chopsticks have become more accepted in connection with Asian food in Hawaii, the West Coast of North America, and cities with Overseas Asian communities all around the globe.
Chopsticks originated in ancient China as early as the Shang dynasty (1750-1040 BC).
The earliest evidence of a pair of chopsticks made out of bronze was excavated from Yin Ruins’s Tomb 1005 at Houjiazhuang, Anyang, Henan, dated roughly 1200 BC.
The earliest extant bronze chopsticks were excavated in sites dating from the fifth century BC. It is not clear whether these were used for eating utensils or as cooking utensils.
Capable of reaching deep into boiling pots of water or oil, early chopsticks were used mainly for cooking. It wasn’t until AD 400 that people began eating with the utensils. This happened when a population boom across China sapped resources and forced cooks to develop cost-saving habits. They began chopping food into smaller pieces that required less cooking fuel—and happened to be perfect for the tweezers-like grip of chopsticks.
As food became bite-sized, knives became more or less obsolete. Their decline — and chopsticks’ ascent—also came courtesy of Confucius. As a vegetarian, he believed that sharp utensils at the dinner table would remind eaters of the slaughterhouse. He also thought that knives’ sharp points evoked violence and warfare, killing the happy, contended mood that should reign during meals. Thanks in part to his teachings, chopstick use quickly became widespread throughout Asia.
Different cultures adopted different chopstick styles. Perhaps in a nod to Confucius, Chinese chopsticks featured a blunt rather than pointed end. In Japan, chopsticks were 8 inches long for men and 7 inches long for women. In 1878 the Japanese became the first to create the now-ubiquitous disposable set, typically made of bamboo or wood.
Throughout history, chopsticks have enjoyed a symbiotic relationship with another staple of Asian cuisine: rice.
During the Chinese dynastic times, silver chopsticks were sometimes used because it was believed they would turn black if they came in contact with poisoned food. This practice must have led to some unfortunate misunderstandings—it’s now known that silver has no reaction to arsenic or cyanide, but can change color if it comes into contact with garlic, onions, or rotten eggs, all of which release hydrogen sulfide.
According to an article in a Malaysian publication, some Asians believe if you’re given an uneven pair, you will miss a boat or plane. An old Korean superstition holds that “the closer to the tip one holds a pair of chopsticks, the longer one will stay unmarried.”
A jeweler in Gold Coast, Australia has created one of the most expensive chopsticks in the world with a selling price of $198,500 Australian dollars ($139,000). The 18-carat gold chopsticks are created by master goldsmith Paul Amey of Erotic Jewellery Company in Australia.
The largest chopsticks measured 8.4 m (27 ft 6 in) and was manufactured by Wakasa Chopsticks Industry Cooperative (Japan) in Obama, Fukui, Japan. The chopsticks were completed on 22 March 2009. The chopsticks are made of pine tree timbers. The woods were lacquered after having been undercoated for six times. It took them five months to complete the chopsticks.
The longest line of chopsticks is 3,975 and was achieved by Sanhua Aweco (Poland) in Tychy, Poland, on 29 August 2019. The line took over 6 hours to complete.
The most chopsticks in a beard is 520, and was achieved by Joel Strasser (USA) in Snoqualmie, Washington, USA, on 21 November 2019.
The most chopsticks snapped in 30 seconds is 60 and was achieved by Ashrita Furman (USA) at the Sunar Beach Hotel in Bali, Indonesia, on 27 January 2011. The chopsticks were Naomi brand and measured 20 cm by 5 mm.
The most chopsticks snapped in one minute is 118 and was achieved by Ashrita Furman (USA) at the Sunar Beach Hotel in Bali, Indonesia, on 27 January 2011. The chopsticks were Naomi brand and measured 20 cm by 5 mm.
The most coffee beans moved with chopsticks in one minute is 48, achieved by Silvio Sabba (Italy) in Rodano, Milan, Italy, on 10 August 2017.
The most balloons burst with chopsticks in one minute is 40 and was achieved by David Rush (USA) in Boise, Idaho, USA, on 3 August 2020.