Scientists use 5,000 year old yeast to brew beer enjoyed by the Pharaohs of Egypt


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Like most ancient peoples, the Egyptians loved their beer, and 5,000 years later, scientists literally brewed a batch of it from yeast found in the pottery used to store the beverage.

Previously, we wrote a story about University of Colorado professor Travis Rupp, who also works in a brewery. Rupp seeks to keep history alive by copying ancient beer recipes so that people can experience these historical beverages for themselves, such as Viking beer and beers from other cultures, including the Egyptians.

“It makes it more tangible to them,” Rupp said at the time. “Makes the– the ancients very similar to them in some ways, you know? As a lover of history, archaeology, I’m also an educator and I love to give people an experience. My goal is to preserve history. They help me preserve that history by drinking it.”

But while Rupp can only reasonably copy the recipes by using ingredients available today, which he admitted because he does not have access to ingredients that are thousands of years old, scientists in Israel tried using 5,000-year-old yeast found embedded in the pores of Egyptian pottery used to store beer, thus one-upping Rupp and brewing a beer that he would likely want to try and compare to his own efforts.

The yeast goes all the way back to when pharaohs ruled Egypt, so lead researchers Dr. Ronen Hazan and Dr. Michael Klutstein, microbiologists from the School of Dental Medicine at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, thought of a bold idea.

What if they collected the yeast from the pottery and resurrected it to brew beer drank during ancient times?

To do this properly and safely, the duo sought help from vintners at Kadma Winery, who actually still produce alcoholic beverages in clay jars, making them experts at removing the yeast.

Next, they had to retrieve pottery used at the time, which they received from archaeologists, including shards that “date back to the reign of Egyptian Pharaoh Narmer (roughly 3000 BCE), to Aramean King Hazael (800 BCE) and to Prophet Nehemiah (400 BCE) who, according to the bible, governed Judea under Persian rule.”

“We dug at Ramat Rachel, the largest Persian site in the Judaean kingdom, and found a large concentration of jugs with the letters J, H, D — Yahud — written on them,” Professor Yuval Gadot of Tel Aviv University’s Department of Archaeology, which provided some of the shards for the experiment said. “In a royal site like Ramat Rachel it makes sense that alcohol would be consumed at the home of the Persian governor.”

The team even enlisted the International Beer Judge Certification Program to taste test what they brewed to make sure it passed muster.

And then they tasted it themselves and discovered they had made a serious breakthrough. It turns out this is the first time that scientists have produced an alcoholic beverage using literal original ingredients.

“We are talking about a real breakthrough here,” Dr. Yitzchak Paz of the Israel Antiquities Authority said. “This is the first time we succeeded in producing ancient alcohol from ancient yeast. In other words, from the original substances from which alcohol was produced. This has never been done before.”

“What we discovered was that yeast can actually survive for a very, very long time without food,” Klutstein told the Associated Press. “Today we are able to salvage all these living organisms that live inside the nanopores and to revive them and study their properties.”

You know what that means, right? It means scientists can now do the same thing to brew beers and other alcohols from other ancient cultures with a lot more accuracy.

“The greatest wonder here is that the yeast colonies survived within the vessel for thousands of years — just waiting to be excavated and grown,” Hazan said. “This ancient yeast allowed us to create beer that lets us know what ancient Philistine and Egyptian beer tasted like.”

“By the way, the beer isn’t bad. Aside from the gimmick of drinking beer from the time of King Pharaoh, this research is extremely important to the field of experimental archaeology — a field that seeks to reconstruct the past. Our research offers new tools to examine ancient methods, and enables us to taste the flavors of the past.”

Soon, we could all be able to taste this beer for ourselves as Hazan and Klutstein are seeking to mass produce and market it.

“Currently we are working with Yissum, the R&D company of the Hebrew University, to find investors who are interested in commercializing it,” Hazan said.

And by drinking these ancient brews, people can get a clearer picture of some parts of history in their heads, such as a biblical description of ancient Philistines, according to Professor Aren Maeir of Bar-Ilan University’s Department of Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology.

“These findings paint a portrait that supports the biblical image of drunken Philistines,” Maeir said.

The ancient Egyptians loved their beer. Clearly, everyone who tasted it for this experiment did as well, making it one of the few examples of people getting paid to drink on the job. Makes one want to become an experimental archaeologist now.

See more about the resurrection of ancient Egyptian beer below:


Featured Image: Wikimedia


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