Discovering New Hops with the Help of Chromatography
Dec 11 2020
Hops have been since the Middle Ages to help add flavour and preserve one of humankind’s favourite drinks – beer. But they are also used in flavouring other beverages such as herbal teas and soft drinks. They are also used as a herbal medicine to treat anxiety and insomnia. The part of the hops we use are the flowers or seed cones of the hop plant Humulus Lupulus, a cousin of cannabis.
Hops are grown in a temperate climate with the US and Germany dominating world production, with the rest of Europe and China making up most of the world production. But with the increasing demand for new flavours and ‘craft’ beers, brewers could well be looking for new sources of hops. A recent report on the Government of Canada website reports on work carried out in Canada to find new hops and new flavours for the brewing industry, and chromatography could be making your bitter more bitter.
Hops to it – making beer bitter
Alongside barley, yeast and water, hops are an essential beer ingredient. Hops are the flowers of a cannabis relative and contain lots of great ingredients that can give beer flavour, bitterness, and stability so that it lasts longer in the bottle. Hops have been used for over 1000 years in making beer, with the first mention being 1079AD in Germany. Since then, hops have enjoyed a rich cultural history being used by both the state and the Catholic church to increase taxes and control over people.
One of the main constituents of hops are alpha acids that brewers release to balance the sweetness released by the grain in the brewing process. Hops also contain essential oils that can give beers their signature taste and aroma. Brewers use their magic to get the best from the hops they use, adding them at different stages and under different conditions. They also use different varieties of hops – because all hops are not equal.
Canadian Maritime hops add a new flavour
Gone are the days when we all went to the pub and had a pint or lager, bitter or mild. Nowadays, beer and ale drinkers have a plethora of new brews to sample from winter ales to IPAs. Craft beer is where all the new science and ingredients are going as brewers strive to produce new beers. For a beer drinker, it is a golden era of fresh, exciting new beers and ales.
A project in Canada has helped drive this by using chromatography to help find new hop varieties growing wild in the Maritime province of Canada. The team behind the research developed a new ultra-performance liquid chromatography method that is faster than older methods in separating out the hop constituents. Developing new methods is discussed in the article, µ-Pillar Array Column – an Innovative Approach for the Separation and Characterisation of Complex Biological Samples.
Hopefully, we’ll be enjoying the fruits of their work in a pub soon.
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