Posts Tagged beer

Beer’s bitterness and your health aimee whitcroft Jan 31

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Yay, more beer-related science!

This time, it’s around the chemistry involved in that lovely bitterness in beer. As it turns out, this bitterness is provided by a class of chemicals* called alpha acids, which are to be found in the resin of mature hops.

For those living in New Zealand and enjoying the local craft beer industry’s obsession with hoppy beers – you know what I’m talkin’ about, bitterness-wise :)

From Urban, al, 2013, Absolute Configuration of Beer′s Bitter Compounds

Anyhoo, one of the major such acids is called humulone, and it’s about this that we’ll be talking. During the brewing process, humulone degrades into two isomers**, which are both far more soluble than humulone itself. Up until now, there’s been a great deal of confusion about these isomers and their formation.

And so in have stepped the scientists and, in this case, their ability to perform x-ray crystallography. The technique takes the crystals of a compound, and then bounces x-rays off of them – how the x-rays diffract gives valuable information on the compound’s physical structure.

And what this group found was that the common notions around humulone (and its derivatives’ structure) have been…incorrect.

Why is this important? Well, it’s simple. There have, increasingly, been claims that beer (and what makes it bitter), in moderate amounts, can be beneficial for a number of illnesses and complaints***.  Some of the claims have linked specific alpha acid isomers  (i.e. specific bitternesses) with specific benefits.

The problem is, though, that the configuration of these isomers, and how they’re formed, has been a source of confusion for decades. In turn, this prevents the development of any good structure-function relationships for these compounds. If we knew exactly what does what, we can get better at getting the most goodness out of our beer habits. Hell, we may even be able to give people supplements, say, containing only the beneficial compounds. Why anyone would want to lose out on drinking lovely, lovely pints in the process is beyond me, but that probably says more about me than anyone else :P

Or, as the authors put it:

Excessive beer consumption cannot be recommended to propagate good health, but it has been demonstrated that isolated humulones and their derivatives can be prescribed with documented health benefits.#bib21” rel=”references:#bib21” shape=”rect”>21 The absence of correct stereochemical assignment for these compounds has prevented verification of the actual species responsible for biological activity.

So there you have it. With a bit of luck, one day we’re going to know exactly which alpha acid isomers are good for what. Can you imagine being prescribed certain types of beer? It’s certainly a less bitter pill to swallow for many, as it were :P


And yes, I did indeed toy with doing an ‘up-goer fiver’ on this :P

Also, amuse that this was published in a German journal…



Urban, J., Dahlberg, C., Carroll, B., & Kaminsky, W. (2013). Absolute Configuration of Beer′s Bitter Compounds Angewandte Chemie, 125 (5), 1593-1595 DOI: 10.1002/ange.201208450

Related posts:

Drink up! Beer benefits bones…

The Periodic Table of Beer?

Beer, anxiety and depression – their origins


* Yep. CHEMICALS. You know, the stuff everything’s made from. Not ‘chemicals’ in the sense of ‘ew, chemicals, they’re bad for you’.

** Isomers are, basically, different forms of the same thing – to be more precise, they’re compounds ‘ isomers are compounds with the same molecular formula but different structural formulas’ (thanks, Wikipedia). Sometimes they’re mirror images of each other, and sometimes it gets quite a bit more complicated than that.

*** See Beer: Can it help fight off the common cold?, for example. Also, read the paper this post talks about for more examples of other complaints beer has been linked to helping fight.

TOSP Episode 4: October 4th 2011 aimee whitcroft Oct 04

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Including mix & mash winners, the IgNobels, beetles and beer, space broadband, predatory beetle larvae, decoding the brain, gold nanoparticles, a low-carbon world, hybrid cars, World Space Week, emotions in science and a Digital Pompeii.

Oh, man.  This just keeps getting more and more fun.  And the temptation to wax lyrical for hours stronger and stronger.

But we resist.  For you, our listeners.  So, without further ado, we (aimee and Elf), present This Week’s Podcast! Apologies it’s a day late — we explain why in the podcast :)


You can read the rest of this entry on the Sciblogs The Official Sciblogs Podcast site

nerdnite wellington #6: seriously awesome aimee whitcroft Jul 19


UPDATE: Videos from nerdnite 6 are available here

Last night was the sixth, _sixth_, nerdnite Wellington.

nerdnite-logo-trueIf you remember*, I started nerdnite about a year ago. The event takes place in a bar/pub, and consists of lots of interesting (and interested) people, drinking copious quantities of beer**, and 4 speakers speaking on whatever floats their boat.

So far, there’s been a huge range of topics, from witchcraft to bioengineering, from electronic music to cryptic crosswords, from scrabble to arduino.

And last night was the biggest yet – I estimate we had over 100 people there! Our speakers spoke on the subjects of beer, cryptic crosswords***, the use of video editing in propoganda, and 3d printing/rapid protoyping****.

In the meantime, if you’re interested in previous talks (and vids therefrom), might I direct you to the website.  Forthcoming talks will cover everything from mentalism to chemistry (and alchemy!), neuroscience to physics, cartography in video games to counting fish using acoustics.  And, if I can find anyone to talk about taxidermy, that, too :)  Also, there are going to be increasing numbers of working scientists talking. Beware…

Cheers to everyone who turned up, the great staff at Bodega, and my awesome, awesome friends for helping me out with it!  Massive shoutouts this time around to @chelfyn and @dene.


There’s also a twitter stream and a facebook page, of course

* Shameless self-plug.

** Or wine.  Or, y’know, other beverages.

*** I might actually start doing these now.  Turns out, it’s all about the tricks and clues given by the clues themselves.  Also, David’s made a cheat sheet, available on his website :)

**** The events are recorded, and videos from last night will be up shortly.  Also, there are some photos floating around I’ll upload, too.

Drink up! Beer benefits bones… aimee whitcroft Feb 08


I can hear the whoops of joy emanating around the world.  Joined, of course, by mine.


For years, we’ve known that a glass or two of the vino has its benefits.  However, I’ve never heard of anything particularly beneficial coming as a result of drinking beer (apart from general joi de vivre, of course).

But now, praise be, this time has come to an end.  Researchers have discovered* that beer is good for bone mineral density, meaning moderate consumption of it could help fight osteoporosis.  Overconsumption, of course, could lead to exactly the kind of falls which break bones…

To explain further.

Beer, the oldest and most widely consumed alcoholic beverage on earth (according to wiki) occurs, for the most part,  when malted barley is fermented.  Sometimes hops (that distinctive bitter taste) or fruit is added.  Sometimes the barley is replaced by wheat (my favourite), maize and rice.  All of these things to be expected from a concoction to which ancient odes have been written, and with which we’ve apparently been playing since something like 9,000BC.

It’s the barley, it turns out, that is particularly beneficial.  Its husk contains large amounts of silicon,of all things.

This silicon is present in the resulting beer orthosilicic acid (OSA).  In fact, it constitutes a large proportion of the dietary silicon intake of us Western folk.  And the American NIH is of the opinion that this OSA stuff may be important for the growth and development of bone and connective tissue.

Happily for us, it appears that the malting process itself has little effect on the amount of OSA in the beer, as malting doesn’t really affect barley husks.  Interestingly, and no one knows why, the malts which have the highest silicon are the pale ones (which have had less roasting).  On the other hand, the darker malts, which have undergone more heat stress and roasting, have less silicon.

And for those of you liking your beer hoppy – even better news!  Hops has oodles of silicon in it – apparently, up to 4 times as much as barley, although of course hops is used in far lower quantities than barley.

To paraphrase, then: for the best bone densities around, drink moderately of beers  made with much of malted barley and hops.  Possibly preferably pale.  Sadly, for those (including me) who love their wheat beers , ales and so forth – while there’s definitely anecdotal evidence about their medicinal** qualities, they’re not quite as good silicon-wise.


Casey, T., & Bamforth, C. (2010). Silicon in beer and brewing Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture DOI: 10.1002/jsfa.3884

**Truly.  Especially the Paulaner Brauhaus’ weissbier.  My father and I are both willing to attest to this.

Local coverage:

First seen on the NZ Herald website, here.

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