Beer is proof that God loves hepatologists and wants them to be billing
July 19, 2015 10:58 PM   Subscribe

What would the most nutritionally useful beer have in it and what would the process be for making it?

Obviously, the point of beer isn't to be part of a complete breakfast, but I'd like to know what a brewer would do to make it as good for the drinker's body as possible. I'd suspect removing the alcohol is most significant and that there are also other factors, but I am having trouble finding information.
posted by michaelh to Food & Drink (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Dunno, ethanol is a half-decent caloric source, and an ok preservative. Why get rid of it?

I think the crux of the issue is defining "nutritionally useful" and "good for the drinker's body." What end results do you want to achieve?

Beer (like, old school dilute-porridge-like beer) is actually historically a meal formulation. I'm sure someone will come along and make a FPP quality answer. I'm not The One.

Is this the only nutrient source, or is this in the context of current beer consumption trends?

As the sole nutrient source (and maybe the other one), fibre comes to mind, but that could be pretty unpleasant. Old-school food-beer still had most of the grains being fermented so there could be fibre there. The soluble variety (inulin) might be possible for the other one. It's also naturally slightly sweet.

Would be difficult/unwise to make beer probiotic. The idea of yeast making ethanol is to discourage the growth of bacteria (from the yeast's pov), and the common probiotic Lactobacillis tolerate those environmental conditions poorly. Eating live yeast, otoh... leads to sugar fermentation in your intestines leading to massive buildups of CO2. Secret weapon to winning fart competitions.

Vitamin C is probably lacking, but in certain beers the B vitamins are naturally present in great quantites (much of it I suspect from the yeast. which also provide a lot of other vitamins and cofactors). Supplementing the other essential vitamins, minerals, and amino acids would be obvious.

Amino acids (protein) is lacking in beer. There are some (all cells have protein in them, it's the relative abundance per total weight consumed that make things "high" or "low" in protein. Proteins are made of different amino acids; there are 22 "standard" amino acids and 9 (human) "essential amino acids." Those 9 humans can't synthesize from other amino acids and must acquire them by consuming them in food. So, it's possible to only eat the 9 essential amino acids and be able to use them to make the remainder of the 22. Of course, eating a diet with a complete spectrum of amino acids (in the abundance that are required) is the most efficient way of maintaining cellular health.

For example, vegans, vegetarians, and partial vegetarians may be able to ingest all of the 9 (or even the 22 other common ones) essential amino acids. However, the foods that they eat typically do not have the correct ratio for optimum human health, so in order to get enough of the least abundant amino acid requires eating an enormous and over-calorific diet, without specific supplementation.

Not insurmountable to make yeast that accumulates/secretes a lot of a certain amino acid or tRNA or cofactor or whatnot. Would be "GMO," though but frack we'd need to implement a strong education component to the marketing. GMO isn't good or bad, it's how you use it.

Maybe vegan+ supplemented beer could be a really strong market?

Lets talk, there might be something in this! =D
posted by porpoise at 11:26 PM on July 19, 2015 [3 favorites]

Technically boza is a lager, though maybe not exactly what you're looking for. It's started with a homemade culture (similar to a sourdough fact, you can use a boza culture to start your sourdough culture). It's made by creating a slurry of toasted grains (rye used in Russia, bulgur in Turkey, millet popular across the Balkans), and then adding a sweetener (honey, please, yum) and the culture. It should stay in the dark at room temp for several days to ferment, and then can be put in the fridge. The result is a thick, slightly sweet-sour drink, which has an alcohol content of somewhere between 1-4%. It's packed full of probiotic bacteria, plus the nutritional value of the whole grains (also, any honey left uneaten by the bacteria should provide some additional nutrients and health benefits). Toss in some toasted garbanzo beans and yumyumyum.

Highly recommended as part of a complete breakfast!
posted by hannahelastic at 11:26 PM on July 19, 2015

sorry hannahelastic - I just want to clarify that it's yeast, an eukaryotic fungi that mediates fermentation of ethanol.

The ethanol discourages the growth of bacteria, many of which can harm humans, which spoils food and drink. By introducing or encouraging yeasts to convert the sugar in food/drink into ethanol (alcohol), the ethanol is an antimicrobial.

Importantly, dead yeast doesn't really kick of any immune sensors, unlike bacteria. Bacteria, even dead, have really evolutionarily conserved molecules that our immune system recognizes as general alarms. Then our bodies respond with food poisoning symptoms. Humans can die from food poisoning.

If you're interested on how this is, read up on "Pathogen Associated Molecular Patterns." Look up "Poly Matzinger" and find an awesome scientist who wasn't afraid to kick figurative hornets nests.

I guess my issue is that there should be very little bacteria (pro-biotic) in beer, but yeast is great because it provides lots of essential amino acids and cofactors. I guess there should be a better term for yeast products than pro-biotic, but I totally understand where you're coming from in not completely understanding what a pro-biotic is/different usages of pro-biotic in different environments.
posted by porpoise at 11:37 PM on July 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

There are a couple scholarly articles investigating the probiotic effects of boza, so if I'm crazy for thinking it might be true, at least I'm not alone.
posted by hannahelastic at 12:26 AM on July 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'd look at trying to replicate the nutritional content of an ensure shake - they're generally regarded as an nutritionally adequate meal replacement, and some how combining that with a weak brew.

Also, I'm going to have to back up hannahelastic here - you're on a really weird rant, porpoise. Bacteria and yeast can absolutely co-exist in a fermentation reaction - you're just not going to maximize alcohol content. Sourdough bread is a great example. Also, yeast absolutely produce PAMPs (zymosan, anyone?), though brewer's yeast (like most of the bacteria in the food we eat) is rarely pathogenic and thus avoids setting off significant reactions in most people.
posted by fermezporte at 3:41 AM on July 20, 2015

Ethanol tolerance really isn't an issue for Lactobacillus. IIRC, I believe The Bruery has cultivated a strain that has a tolerance around 12% ABV, and most commercial strains such as those found in probiotic supplements show a tolerance of 3.5 - 8% ABV. What actually inhibits Lactobacillus growth in beer is the presence of hops.
posted by nulledge at 5:05 AM on July 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

There are any number of Belgian beers that are famously teeming with all manner of bacteria.
posted by slkinsey at 5:49 AM on July 20, 2015

In addition to 'nutritionally useful' and 'good for the drinker's body,' we might also need to decide at what point something stops being beer. I mean, you could squirt a little hop oil into a protein shake. That's probably not something most people would see as beer. You could also brew a low-carb no-alcohol beer, stir in some fiber and dissolve a multivitamin in it. That's... something some people would see as beer, and some people would not.

If we're going to go with something inspired by German beer purity laws, and specify that beer is made of water, malt, hops and yeast, then our options will be relatively limited. We can select a water with good minerals in it, lower the alcohol content, pick yeast with an eye to probiotics (to whatever degree they'll be present in the final product) and switch to a healthier grain than barley (this one is arguable, beer-purity-law-wise). And do something with the hops. I dunno, double them.
posted by box at 7:15 AM on July 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'm going to suggest something like an old-fashioned small beer, the kind people used to drink by the liter instead of water. But box is right - what is beer? And for that matter what is a healthy beverage? Clean water is arguable the healthiest one out there. I suppose a meal substitute shake is also healthy in its way. Neither is much like beer.
posted by mskyle at 9:53 AM on July 20, 2015

This could be a fascinating question but I agree with the many others who are a bit confused by your term "nutritionally useful." As an amateur brewer and beer-chemistry nerd, I'll take a stab at it though.

I take it from your question title that you are primarily concerned with alcohol content. To reduce alcohol intake, you can either minimize alcohol content from the outset, or remove it once it's been produced.

To minimize alcoholic content, you could make a weak beer as others have suggested (high ratio of water to all other ingredients). But that's boring. A more interesting task would be to produce something that generally resembles "regular" beer, but with drastically reduced alcohol. One way to do that is to change your mashing (i.e., grain steeping) temperature - generally speaking, within the range of 148-156 F, lower temperatures result in higher alcohol content due to the interaction of various enzymes. The residual starches and sugars give the beer a characteristic "mouthfeel." For a variety of reasons there tends to be a lot of temperature consistency across ale brewers, such that higher residual sugar levels are associated with higher alcohol levels. You could exploit this association and subvert the drinker's assumption by tweaking the mashing process to produce lower levels of alcohol and higher levels of residual sugars, and otherwise brewing it like a "strong" beer, e.g. in terms of hop content and character grains. So you could, for example, produce a relatively assertive, strong-tasting IPA that has only 3.5% ABV. Or likewise a relatively rich-tasting stout at about the same level. Or a nice light amber ale with lots of malt character but only 1.5-2% ABV.

In terms of removing alcohol from a standard brew, it's not very complicated: you essentially re-boil it after fermentation to evaporate the alcohol. This kind of wrecks delicate beers like pilsners, partly because the hop character changes with boiling and if it is "right" before fermentation, the additional hours of boiling will certainly change it and not for the better. Frankly though I think there is a lot of potential for re-boiled dark beers like porters and stouts that do not rely much on hop aroma and flavor. One could brew a porter, for example, with no hops, ferment it, then add hops at the end of the re-boil and it should be pretty damn close in taste to a low-alcohol porter. I admit I haven't tried this however.

If you are interested in other "nutritionally useful" substances like proteins, you could just brew with higher-protein grains. Additionally you would want to modify your process to immediately bring the grains up to starch conversion temperatures, to avoid various protein-converting enzymes that kick in at lower temperatures as the mash warms up. However, too much protein tends to make the beer hazy and kind of "thick" tasting so eventually, as box points out, you will run into the question of "is this still beer."

Finally, a word on anti-microbial properties. The alcohol, acidic pH, and hop content of beer do all lend it anti-bacterial properties. This is not refuted by the fact that certain bacteria can flourish in beer. Rather, these measures resist cultivation of bacteria that could cause problematic infection in humans. The idea is that bacteria that can infect us have to tolerate a certain human-body environment: relatively neutral pH, moderate salinity, average temperature of ~100F, very low alcohol (recall that at a blood alcohol level of 0.2%, you are wasted and 0.5% is basically fatal). So, beer cultivates an environment that is quite acidic in comparison (pH about 4.5), an order of magnitude more alcoholic (3%+) and is generally stored and served cold or at least well below body temperature. These characteristics do indeed help it resist human-pathogen bacteria, even if some bacteria can flourish.
posted by Joey Buttafoucault at 10:23 AM on July 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I've found the answers interesting! I wasn't sure in what direction the answers might go, so I didn't want to specify one nutritional philosophy. The alcohol removal was just a guess on my part; disregard if you have better ideas (and you all seem to.)
posted by michaelh at 2:26 PM on July 20, 2015

I'm on #teamhannahelastic and I would point out that (A) bacteria can produce alcohol, so it shouldn't be considered a yeast-only thing, and (B) many types of bacteria aren't particularly suppressed by alcohol, as anyone who has tasted vinegar or sour beer can tell you. (Joey Buttafuocault is correct that alcohol and low pH make beer very inhospitable to disease-causing bacteria, so as a general matter beer is a safe thing to consume, alcohol and allergies aside.) Lactobacillus - which is hardly bad for you! - is suppressed by hops, but plenty of other bacteria aren't.

In terms of the nutritional qualities of beer, of course there are calories but those aren't scarce in a modern western diet. I would guess (and this really is a complete guess) that dark beers are good in roughly the same way that coffee is good at reducing mouth/throat cancer, that all beers are good for their polyphenols and other microbial by-products, and that sour beers are good for their bacteria content. There are stories of Irish doctors prescribing Guinness for all manner of ills. Probably mostly apocryphal, but a nice light low-alcohol beer like Guinness is one of the healthier things you can drink.
posted by sudo intellectual at 8:13 PM on July 20, 2015

Also, just adding... the brewing process is practically designed to remove protein, so even a relatively high-protein beer (like, I don't know, a hefeweizen) is not going to be a significant source of protein in anyone's diet.
posted by sudo intellectual at 8:17 PM on July 20, 2015

The others here are obviously more well read on the topic, but it's an interesting question! It seems like if you stick to something close to what most of us would recognize as beer, you'll have trouble getting a whole lot of “nutritional” value out of it, because most of the nutrition is dumped out before bottling. If you consider medicinal value, however, your options should be quite limitless, as I imagine you could infuse the beer with all sorts of things to boost its medicinal properties.

If one can seriously expand their definition of what might be considered beer, I still believe what I mentioned could sort of fit the bill (which, from what I understand, contains a happy balance of acid-producing bacteria and acid-loving, alcohol-producing yeast). It seems like it's some primitive predecessor to beer. I wonder if it could even be done using malted grains bringing it a step closer to a modern definition...?
posted by hannahelastic at 11:20 PM on July 20, 2015

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