Send Andrew e-mail:
. introduction . nutrition and the making of beer . fermented beverages and culture .
Beer is in essence a thin fermented gruel made of mashed sprouted grain, or malt. When the grain is allowed to sprout, the growing rootlet produces the enzyme diatase, which acts on the starch and breaks it down to the simple sugar maltose. During ferment ation, yeasts act on the maltose to produce alcohol. These yeasts greatly enhance the nutritional properties of the dish. Yeasts are excellent sources of lysine, riboflavin, niacin, and thiamin, and other amino acids and vitamins. Further, the growing yea sts reduce the phytate concentration in the grain (Katz and Voigt, 1986: 30). The yeasts will ferment sugars to alcohol in acidic, anaerobic conditions. The anaerobic conditions are provided by the yeasts themselves, which produce carbon dioxide as a meta bolic product- in a sealed container, anoxic conditions will arise. The acid conditions of the beer are produced by the fermentation action of lactic acid bacteria, primarily Lactobacillus, Leuconstoc, Streptococcus, and Pediococcus (Hessel tine, 1979: 368-370). These bacteria add more nutritional value, in the form of protien, amino acids, and vitamins, to the food product. Fermented grain foods generally have a protien content of 8-20%, as opposed to 1-2% protien in an unfermented grain di sh. These fermented foods also have enhanced values of thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, isoleucine/leucine, histidine, arginine, valine, tryptophan, lysine, tyrosine, cystine, and methionine (Hesseltine, 1979: 367-371).
There are several advantages other than nutrition that come with the production and consumption of fermented food. The acid conditions produced by the lactic acid bacteria, as well as the alcohol produced by the yeasts, are inhibiting to the growth of oth er microorganisms. The fermenting process acts as a means of preserving food so that it will keep for months in place of days: a very important advantage for early peoples, providing a food supply through thin months. When dried, the fermented food will k eep even longer, up to years, as the low water activity and the acid conditions prevent the growth of almost all organisms. Also, the fermentation of beer is a relatively low tech art with little time investment for the production of such an inhanced food source. The production of bread on the other hand requires the grain to be ground much finer, requires kneading and shaping of loaves, and requires a large oven for baking. A food source that does not require fuel for its processing is a particular advan tage in areas like the Ancient Near East and much of Africa, where wood is a valuable and fairly scarce resource (Hesseltine, 1979: 367-370).
Gruel that has been allowed to ferment is also a traditional food of many cultures. The fermentation process, in addition to adding nutritional value, preservatives, and alchohol to the food, adds flavor to an otherwise monotonous dish. The lactic acid ba cteria that act on the food before the yeast produce a souring acid tang to the gruel, not unlike yogurt or sourdough bread. In the Middle East and Africa, such preparations are well known. Kishk, a fermented wheat porridge with milk, is a traditional Ara b dish that can be stored from winter to summer as a liquid or longer when dried (Hesseltine, 1979: 371). Ogi is an African sour fermented maize food that is consumed daily by adults and is used to wean children. The ogi, which also may be made from sorgh um and millet, is consumed as a liquid with 8-10% solids, as dried cakes, or boiled into a gel or meal (Hesseltine, 1979: 371-372). Popular foods among the Bantu speaking people of Africa are mahewu and keffir beer. Mahewu is an important part of the diet and is a non-alcoholic, sour drink of 8% solid content and pH ~3.5 made from maize porridge and wheat flour (Hesseltine, 1979: 372). Kaffir beer is a widely consumed food beverage as well, and is made of sorghum and wheat. A pink , opaque liquid with ~5% suspended solids, the drink has a meally consistancy and a fruit-like tang, and bubbles as it is consumed in a active state of fermentation (Hesseltine, 1979: 372).
Let the heart of the fermenting vat be our heart!
What makes your heart feel wonderful,
Makes also our heart feel wonderful.
Our liver is happy, our heart is joyful.
You poured a libation over the brick of destiny,
You placed the foundations in peace and prosperity,
May Ninkasi* live together with you!
Let her pour for you beer and wine,
Let the pouring of the sweet liquor resound pleasantly for you!
In the reed buckets there is sweet beer,
I will make cupbearers, boys, and brewers stand by,
While I turn around in the abundance of beer,
While I feel wonderful, I feel wonderful,
Drinking beer, in a blissful mood,
Drinking liquor, feeling exhilarated,
With joy in the heart and a happy liver-
While my heart full of joy,
And my happy liver I am covered with a garment fit for a queen!
-Sumerian song commemerating the building of a beer hall
*goddess of beer
(Katz and Voigt, 1986: 29)
The Hymn to Ninkasi
Translation by Miguel Civil
Borne of the flowing water (...) Tenderly cared for by the Ninhursag, Borne of the flowing water (...) Tenderly cared for by the Ninhursag, Having founded your town by the sacred lake, She finished its great walls for you, Ninkasi, having founded your town by the sacred lake, She finished its great walls for you Your father is Enki, Lord Nidimmud, Your mother is Ninti, the queen of the sacred lake, Ninkasi, Your father is Enki, Lord Nidimmud, Your mother is Ninti, the queen of the sacred lake. You are the one who handles the dough, [and] with a big shovel, Mixing in a pit, the bappir with sweet aromatics, Ninkasi, You are the one who handles the dough, [and] with a big shovel, Mixing in a pit, the bappir with [date]-honey. You are the one who bakes the bappir in the big oven, Puts in order the piles of hulled grains, Ninkasi, you are the one who bakes the bappir in the big oven, Puts in order the piles of hulled grains,, You are the one who waters the malt set on the ground, The noble dogs keep away even the potentates, Ninkasi, you are the one who waters the malt set on the ground, The noble dogs keep away even the potentates. You are the one who soaks the malt in a jar The waves rise, the waves fall. Ninkasi, you are the one who soaks the malt in a jar The waves rise, the waves fall. You are the one who spreads the cooked mash on large reed mats, Coolness overcomes. Ninkasi, you are the one who spreads the cooked mash on large reed mats, Coolness overcomes. You are the one who holds with both hands the great sweet wort, Brewing [it] with honey and wine (You the sweet wort to the vessel) Ninkasi, (...) (You the sweet wort to the vessel) The filtering vat, which makes a pleasant sound, You place appropriately on [top of] a large collector vat. Ninkasi, the filtering vat, which makes a pleasant sound, You place appropriately on [top of] a large collector vat. When you pour out the filtered beer of the collector vat, It is [like] the onrush of Tigris and Euphrates. Ninkasi, you are the one who pours out the filtered beer of the collector vat, It is [like] the onrush of Tigris and Euphrates.
Hesseltine, C. W. 1979. "Some Important Fermented Foods of Mid-Asia, the Middle East, and Africa." Journal of the American Oil Chemists' Society. .56:367-374.
Katz, S, and Voigt, M. 1986. "Bread and Beer: The Early Use of Cereals in the Human Diet." Expedition. 28, no. 2:23-34.
Oppenheim, A, and Hartman, L. 1950. "On Beer and Brewing Techniques in Ancient Mesopotamia." Journal of the American Oriental Society. Supplement 10.
Current word count: 13001
Look at other RELI 205 projects!