hist-brewing: ancient ale

Martyn Cornell mcornell at blueyonder.co.uk
Thu Feb 25 14:31:40 PST 2010

According to the Handbook of indigenous fermented foods by Keith Steinkraus,
limited preview here
traditionally, chicha is made by grinding dried maize kernels, then slightly
moistening the flour and making it into balls which are popped into the
mouth rather than the corn being "cooked to a mush." It can't be a "mush"
because you couldn't press a "mush" to the roof of your mouth and pop out a
disc of salivated corn paste, the "muko", which is what happens in the
"chewing" stage of chicha making.
Even if malted grains contain more of the necessary enzymes to bring about
saccharinification than saliva, there must be a good reason why Andean
Indians continue to use chewing as a saccharinification starter, rather than
malting. Nobody here seems to have addressed that question.
I talk about the idea that salivary amylase was also a plausible pre-malting
route to beer in the Fertile Crescent using cereal grains here:
Mothers would have chewed ground starchy food to give to their babies as
they weaned them, food which would have become sweet and more palateable to
the baby as the enzymes in the mother¹s saliva worked on the barley
starches. Doubtless the busy mothers would have prepared some pre-chewed
food in advance, which they would have dried to store, and then soaked
before giving it to their young child. Yeasts falling on soaking sweet muko
would have fermented the sugars quickly in the Middle Eastern heat, and beer
is born Š
So: you don't need to malt to make beer, and as others have said already,
pre-pottery technology was perfectly capable of providing the vessels to
make beer: even storing beer is possible in organic containers, vide the
Zulu "beer basket":

On 23/2/10 12:50, "Merryn Dineley" <merryn at dineley.com> wrote:

> Hello all, I am still reading through the excellent posts that came as a
> reply to my initial query about this! Thank you all very much indeed - I
> have been delighted by the response. I aim to reply to individual points
> raised. However, I am still spending far too much time tussling with
> computers to get my papers and research on line and meeting other
> necessary deadlines.
> I agree with most of what has been said  - except for the chewing grain
> bit. My investigations indicate that in South America, when they make
> chicha, they cook the corn to a mush, then they roll it into little
> balls and 'chew' it, ie roll it round their mouths, then spit it out. I
> could be wrong, of course. Corn is too hard to chew when raw, so is
> barley, or wheat for that matter. Teeth would break, let's not go there!
> I work at a Visitor Centre to a Neolithic tomb on Orkney, Scotland - the
> Tomb of the Eagles. The tour guides there would tell tales of Granny
> chewing at the barley, then spitting it out into a pot to make the beer.
> It would have tourists shuddering in horror (some of the tour guides
> there tell a very good tale). I do not advise chewing raw barley.....
> the grains are tough as little stones! I did not damage my teeth but
> imagine it could happen. As one contributor pointed out - there is far
> more amylase released during germination, so that is the more likely
> method.
> Finally, for this email anyway, I have recently had a response from my
> ex Professor - who, ten years ago, refused to support my funding bid to
> investigate the possible biomarkers/archaeobotanical evidence for
> brewing ale in prehistory. Now he says they might have been drinking
> 'some kind of alcohol' There are some archaeologists out there who
> reckon 'cider not ale' in the British neolithic. Cider made from
> crab-apples .....
> .... what is it they say? One step forwards, two steps backwards!
> Thanks again for your informed, intelligent, erudite and sometimes
> amusing comments on ancient malt and ale. I shall write more to you
> later, bye for now, and Cheers!
> Merryn Dineley
> http://independent.academia.edu/MerrynDineley
> _______________________________________________
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> hist-brewing at pbm.com
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