Revealing the constituents of Egypt's oldest beer using infrared and mass spectrometry

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Chemistry Department

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Mohamed Ali Farag; Moamen M. Elmassry; Masahiro Baba; Renée Friedman

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Research Article

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Previous studies have shown that the Ancient Egyptians used malted wheat and barley as the main ingredients in beer brewing, but the chemical determination of the exact recipe is still lacking. To investigate the constituents of ancient beer, we conducted a detailed IR and GC-MS based metabolite analyses targeting volatile and non-volatile metabolites on the residues recovered from the interior of vats in what is currently the world’s oldest (c. 3600 BCE) installation for large-scale beer production located at the major pre-pharaonic political center at Hierakonpolis, Egypt. In addition to distinguishing the chemical signatures of various flavoring agents, such as dates, a significant result of our analysis is the finding, for the first time, of phosphoric acid in high level probably used as a preservative much like in modern beverages. This suggests that the early brewers had acquired the knowledge needed to efficiently produce and preserve large quantities of beer. This study provides the most detailed chemical profile of an ancient beer using modern spectrometric techniques and providing evidence for the likely starting materials used in beer brewing.

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