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Israeli researchers find presence of vanilla in Old Testament-era wine

Researchers from Tel Aviv University and the Israeli Antiquities Authority analysed fragments of 2,600 year old wine jars and found traces of vanilla inside.

Vanilla may be an aroma most often associated with a wine which has seen oak, but the ancient elite of Jerusalem appear to have liked it so much that the spice was added directly to the wine itself.

Wine jar fragments, found in the ruins of buildings in the City of David, date from before the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem around 587 BC.

Ayala Amir, a doctoral student at Tel Aviv University, led the residual analysis which detected traces of the molecule vanillin, which gives vanilla its distinctive flavour.

Although vanilla is geographically associated with Madagascar and Tahiti in the modern day, the researchers suspect that South Asia may have been the origin of the spice, saying: “The discovery of vanilla fantastically illustrates which luxury products came here – possibly from India and its surroundings, thanks to Jerusalem sitting on the international trade route.”

In the ancient world, vanilla was an exotic luxury reserved for only the wealthiest in society.

The custom of spicing wine was common in the classical world, both as a means of adding desirable flavours and for covering up undesirable ones. Ginger, cloves and black pepper were all used as wine flavourings in the ancient Mediterranean.

When the Times of Israel asked Amir whether she would opt for vanilla-flavoured wine in the future, she replied: “I’m not a big wine drinker, but maybe!”

Archaeologists in Israel also recently discovered a 1,500 year old wine factory in Tel Aviv, further showing that the area now known as Israel was a highly significant centre for wine in the past.

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