5000-year-old Chinese beer recipe found in Central Plain

May 24, 2016 | By Garrett Montgomery More

A 5000-year-old Chinese beer recipe has been discovered in Central Plain of northern China. The method was found after experts analyzed a series of Mijiaya artifacts found on the site.

5000-year-old Chinese beer recipe

Beer is one of the oldest drinks known to humankind, and now experts have unearthed a 5000-year-old Chinese beer recipe in the Central Plain of China for drinkers to try. And an Ohio brewing company has already accepted the challenge to make beer out of the ancient recipe.

On May 23, Jiajing Wang, a Ph.D. student at Stanford University in California, published the interesting findings on the 5000-year-old Chinese beer recipe in the Mijiaya site via the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The Mijiaya site was first discovered in 1923 by Swedish archaeologist Johan Gunnar Andersson. It was excavated by Chinese archaeologists between 2004 and 2006 before being developed for modern residential buildings. The presence of funnels and stoves fueled the rumor that beer or another alcohol could have been produced there, but it was never proven until now.

Before getting to Mr. Wang’s research here is a brief history of beer. Experts believe that beer is one of the world’s oldest prepared beverages that might have been invented in the early Neolithic or 9500 BC when cereal was first farmed in ancient Iraq and ancient Egypt. More on beer’s history:

“The earliest known chemical evidence of barley beer dates to circa 3500–3100 BC from the site of Godin Tepe in the Zagros Mountains of western Iran. The Ebla tablets, discovered in 1974 in Ebla, Syria, show that beer was produced in the city in 2500 BC. A fermented beverage using rice and fruit was made in China around 7000 BC. Unlike sake, mould was not used to saccharify the rice (amylolytic fermentation); the rice was probably prepared for fermentation by mastication or malting.”

According to the paper, archaeologists discovered what could be described as a “beer-making tool kits” in underground rooms built between 3400 and 2900 B.C. at the Mijiaya site, which consisted of funnels, pots, and specialized jugs. The shapes of the objects suggest they were used for brewing, filtration, and storage.

Mr. Wang revealed it is the oldest beer-making facility ever discovered in China, but he went on to say he does not know when exactly Chinese started producing beers. The analysis of the objects found at the site revealed traces of oxalate — “a beer-making byproduct that forms a scale called “beerstone” in brewing equipment — as well as residues from a variety of ancient grains and plants. These grains included broomcorn millets, an Asian wild grain known as “Job’s tears,” tubers from plant roots, and barley.”

Wang elaborated:

“Barley was one of the main ingredient[s] for beer brewing in other parts of the world, such as ancient Egypt. It is possible that when barley was introduced from Western Eurasia into the Central Plain of China, it came with the knowledge that the crop was a good ingredient for beer brewing. So it was not only the introduction of a new crop, but also the movement of knowledge associated with the crop.”

The archaeologists wrote in the paper:

“Together, the lines of evidence suggest that the Yangshao people may have concocted a 5,000-year-old beer recipe that ushered the cultural practice of beer brewing into ancient China. It is possible that the few rare finds of barley in the Central Plain during the Bronze Age indicate their earlier introduction as rare, exotic food.”

The researcher added:

“Our findings imply that early beer making may have motivated the initial translocation of barley from western Eurasia into the Central Plain of China before the crop became a part of agricultural subsistence in the region 3,000 years later.”

The scientists believe that the beer-making technology aided the development of complex human societies in the region. Wang stated:

“Like other alcoholic beverages, beer is one of the most widely used and versatile drugs in the world, and it has been used for negotiating different kinds of social relationships.”

The Great Lakes Brewing Company in Ohio has teamed up with researchers at the University of Chicago to try to recreate the 5,000-year-old recipe.

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    1. Mikeg says:

      Nice!
      I hope someone will re-create it and sell it commercially!


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