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Students recreate 5,000-year-old Chinese beer

Students from Stanford University in the US have brewed a beer using a 5,000-year-old Chinese recipe.

Beer in ancient China would have contained the ingredients that had been used for fermentation and would likely have been drunk through a straw, according to Professor Li Liu

The students brewed the ancient beer under the guidance of Stanford professor of Chinese archaeology Li Liu, who discovered the earliest evidence of beer-making in China during research for a project on the ‘archaeology of food’.

The beer was one of several the students made using ancient brewing techniques used by early human civilisations. The recipe for the brew came from an analysis of the residue inside 5,000-year-old pottery vessel found in an excavated site in north-east China.

The analysis was undertaken by Liu, the Sir Robert Ho Tung Professor in Chinese Archaeology, as part of her project on Archaeology of Food: Production, Consumption and Ritual.

The 5,000-year-old beer recipe was revealed as part of published research last spring, according to the Stanford News Service. The research, which was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, provided the earliest evidence of beer production in China to date.

The research revealed that beer in ancient China was made mainly with cereal grains, including millet and barley, as well as with a type of grass known as Job’s tears. Traces of yam and lily root were also found through the analysis of the ancient vessel.

Previously the earliest evidence of barley seeds in China dated to 4,000 years ago. This suggests that barley, which was first domesticated in western Asia, spread to China through beer making.

“Our results suggest the purpose of barley’s introduction in China could have been related to making alcohol rather than as a staple food,” Liu said.

According to Liu, ancient Chinese beer looked more like a porridge than a beer as we know it today. It is also likely to have tasted sweeter and fruitier than the dry, bitter beers of today. The ingredients used for fermentation were not filtered out, and straws were used for drinking, Liu said.

The results of the students’ beer-making experiments will be used in further research on ancient alcohol-making that the professor is conducting.


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