5,000-year-old Chinese beer recipe had an hidden ingredient

According to a new archaeological research, barley could be the hidden component in a 5000-year-old beer recipe from China.

Scientists came to this conclusion after analysis of ancient pottery jars and funnels found at the Mijiaya archaeological site in China’s Shaanxi province. The tests revealed traces of oxalate — a beer-making byproduct formed in the brewing utensils.

The tests also showed residues of grains which included broomcorn millets, an Asian wild grain known as “Job’s tears,” tubers from plant roots, and barley.

Barley is the preferred grain used in making the highly popular drink even today partly because it contained high levels of amylase enzymes. Amylase helps to convert starch into sugar which is then fermented to produce alcohol.

It is not clear when Beer Brewing began in China, but the residues obtained from the artifacts in central China more than 5000 years suggest that barley was an essential ingredient to prepare the mildly intoxicating drink much earlier than the cultivation of the cereal grain as food.

Barley was a component used in brewing the liquor in other parts of the world, such as in ancient Egypt, and the plant could have spread to Central China from Western Eurasia along with the knowledge that it could be used to manufacture Beer.

The Mijiaya site was discovered in 1923 by Swedish archaeologist Johan Gunnar Andersson. Barley was found in Bronze Age sites in Central Plains, China. However, it did not become a staple crop till 206 B.C. to A.D. 220 during the rule of Han dynasty.

The introduction of Beer could have led to the emergence of hierarchical societies in Plains of Central China, also known as the cradle of Chinese civilization. A beer like any alcoholic beverage is often used as a means to negotiate different kinds of social relationships.