Why do forks have four tines?

You probably use forks every day.

Why do forks have four tines?

You probably use forks every day. But do you know why they have exactly four teeth?

When you eat, you use a fork with four tines, but you probably don't wonder why it has four tines. Moreover, in cooking, there are also forks with three tines or even two, but the most used are those with four branches and this is no coincidence. To understand what the number of tines on forks means, let’s go back in history a little. The fork appeared in the 4th century AD in the Roman Empire. It had two or three teeth to bite food, which often materialized in large pieces of meat. The fork really appeared on tables, in the West, much later, around 1000 AD, until its use became familiar in the 17th century. It was at this same time that the fork saw its fourth tooth appear.

The latter was designed to be more practical, it allowed food to be brought more easily to the mouth, food slipped in it much less. With four tines, the fork was also perfect for collecting food that did not need to be pricked, replacing the spoon in many cases. Furthermore, the evolution of habits, with dishes served at the table, has also changed the type of utensils used: pre-cut in kitchens, food no longer necessarily needed to be pierced or held with large forks to two or three teeth for cutting.

Today, three-pronged forks have not disappeared. Used when cutting or with the barbecue, they have been miniaturized to be used for salad and desserts. Another type of three-pronged fork is used for fish: it makes it easier to separate the fish flesh from its bones. There are even small two-pronged forks: they can be useful for snails in particular or cheese.

Anecdotally, in some beliefs, forks with two or three prongs were removed from daily use because they were reminiscent of the devil's fork. Now that you know what each fork is for, you now need to place them correctly on the table. In France, it is customary to direct the tines of the fork towards the table and to the left, facing the knife which will have the blade facing the plate.

As explained by the former host of C'est pas Sorcerer Jamy Gourmand in a video, the fork was placed on the left because initially the knife was used much more often and the majority of the population was right-handed. For its part, the fork has therefore taken the remaining place on the left and must be turned towards the tablecloth. Before the French Revolution, noble families displayed their coat of arms on the back of the fork: by placing the tines facing the tablecloth, they thus showed their social rank. Although the coats of arms have disappeared, the tradition has continued. This was also seen as a sign of pacifism. Now, at your next meal with family or friends, you can impress the table with all this knowledge about forks!