5000-Year-Old Chinese Beer Recipe Tastes Fruity: Stanford Students


The ancient Chinese must have liked their beer fruity and cider-like, as revealed in an experiment conducted by students from Stanford University.

In May 2016, archeology professor Li Liu and her students uncovered an ancient pottery that contained clues to the ingredients of a 5,000-year-old Chinese beer recipe.

Nine months later, the same research team asked Stanford students to brew and recreate the ancient Chinese drink, which is now considered as one of the world's oldest known alcoholic beverages. It was part of the final project for Liu's class.

"Archaeology is not just about reading books and analyzing artifacts," said Liu. She further explained that imitating past customs allows researchers to understand the reasons behind ancient people's behavior.

Alcohol-Making In Ancient Times

Liu and Jiajing Wang, a doctoral candidate at Stanford, led the team of experts who discovered the 5,000-year-old beer recipe in an excavated site in northeast China.

By analyzing the residue on the pottery vessels, researchers found that the ancient Chinese beer was made mainly of cereal grains, including barley and millet, as well as a type of grass in Asia called Job's tears. Some traces of lily root parts and yam were also found on the concoction.

Liu was surprised to detect barley on the vessels, especially because it is an ingredient used even today. Earliest evidence of barley seeds in China were dated at around 4,000 years ago. This may suggest why barley spread all over China, she said.

Recreating The Ancient Chinese Beer

Students in Liu's class each attempted to imitate the Chinese beer by using either barley, wheat or millet seeds. They first covered the grain with water and allowed it to sprout.

After the grain sprouted, the seeds were crushed and mixed with water. The mixture was placed in an oven heated to 149 degrees Fahrenheit (65 degrees Celsius) for an hour. The students closed the container with plastic and kept it at room temperature for a week to ferment.

Undergraduate student Madeleine Ota used red wheat to brew her ancient Chinese beer. Despite the white mold that floated on top of the liquid, the concoction had a pleasant fruity smell and tasted like citrus, similar to a cider, Ota said.

Aside from the ancient Chinese beverage, students also recreated other kinds of beer, including the South American brew called "chicha." The process of making the chicha involved chewing and spitting manioc, then boiling it and letting it ferment.

Meanwhile, the wide selection of beer that the students made will be added into the final research findings of Liu, Wang, and their team.

Details of the study were featured in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Watch the video below for more information.

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