Sunday, May 17, 2020

Echoes of the Bread-Beer Spectrum

Why did humans start growing wheat?

The "obvious" answer is "so that they could make bread". But that might not be the right answer--and it's certainly not the whole story.

Bread is not the only fermented grain food. Beer is another. Which came first?

You can make a case for either.

But I'm not looking for a definitive answer, even if there is one, which there might not be.

What's interesting is the middle ground between.

Grain porridges, if left to sit for a while, will ferment. Fermented grain porridges can become either sourdough or beer…or can simply be eaten as fermented porridges.

Danish øllebrød is a beery bread porridge. Today, rye bread and dark beer are typical ingredients. It's easy to imagine though that in the past, it was simply a fermented rye slurry.

Russian квас (kvass) is another of these in-between things—a beer made from stale bread.

Foods like these seem like reproductions or vestiges of foods the past—receding echoes of the bread-beer spectrum.

But they may point the way to the future as well, a future in which people waste less food and make better use of available materials.

Leftover ("spent") grains from beer making have long been used for animal feed. And now they are once again finding their way back into the human food supply chain, in granola bars and such.

What other foods can we think of that live somewhere in the middle of the bread-beer spectrum? How can we reject the strict food categories that constrain our imagination?

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