Researchers discover humans likely manufactured and drank beer and blue cheese as far back as 2,700 years ago in Europe. Research provides light on our prehistoric ancestors’ eating habits. Researchers examined faecal samples from Austrian salt mines. They’ve discovered two fungus species used in the manufacturing of blue cheese and beer.
Their findings are in the journal of Current Biology. The miners “were sophisticated enough to use fermentation intentionally, which surprised me a lot,” Frank Maixner, a microbiologist at the and lead author of the study, informs AFP. “This is not something I would expect even then”. This is Europe’s oldest evidence of cheese maturing. While alcohol drinking is in reports elsewhere in older sources or archaeological evidence. This is the first molecular proof of beer consumption across the continent at the time.
Complex food processing and fermentation played an important role in our early culinary history
“It is becoming increasingly clear… complex food processing and fermentation play an important role in our early culinary history,” Kerstin Kowarik, a co-author of the study, says in a statement. The Hallstatt site, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a “very special place in the middle of nowhere”. It is in use for salt production for more than 3,000 years, Maixner says. “All the inhabitants worked and lived from the mine”.
The faeces was especially well kept in the mine due to a high concentration of salt and a steady temperature of roughly 8 degrees Celsius. The researchers examined four samples: one from the Bronze Age, two from the Iron Age, and one from the 18th century. One of them dates back around 2,700 years. It contains two fungi, Penicillium roqueforti and Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Both are now recognized to be utilised in food processing.
“Initially, they are available in nature. And then humans use these natural strains to domesticate them,” Maixner says. “We found so much DNA from these fungi, it was amazing. So much that we were able to reconstruct their genome,” he adds. Another finding of the study is the composition of the microbiota of these humans. In other words, the set of bacteria present in their bodies. “The microbiota is connected to different types of diseases today,” Maixner points out.
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