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Our Ancient Relationship with Fermentation

"In fact, we know that there can scarcely be found any people so primitive who have not provided themselves with some beverage or some other means to inebriate themselves"

-Giacomo Leopardi (1798-1837), from "In Praise of Birds"

Two very fascinating recent articles (in National Geographic and the UK's Daily Mail newspaper) explore humanity's deep relationship with fermentation, going back some 9,000 years.

Artistic rendering of grapes being trodden in preparation for winemaking (Tomb of Nakht, 18th dynasty, Egypt

According to some detailed research involving chemically testing ceramic jars at the molecular level, scientists have discovered evidence of a fermented beverage dating from around 7000 BC (!) at Jiahu, a village in Neolithic China.

It's important to note that fermented foods and beverages did not serve merely as a means to get intoxicated; researchers believe that fermentation played a large role in early human evolution as well.

For proto-humans, the ethanol produced by decaying fruit provided an evolutionary boost. Its strong smell made the fruits easier to find, a boon to food-gathering primates. It is also easier to digest, delivering calories with much less effort expended in processing those calories. And, ethanol possesses antiseptic properties, which helped prevent sickness.

Researchers also hypothesize that the fermentation of beverages was so important to early cultures that it motivated the sedentary agricultural way of life associated with the beginnings of what we call civilization: in order to supply the needed quantities of grain for brewing fermented drink, cultivation became a necessity.

Again, fermented beverages were not only a source of happy feelings, but they also provided health benefits. The ethanol produced in the fermentation process acted as an early form of antibiotics and, from the NatGeo article, "beer, wine, and other fermented beverages were, at least until the rise of modern sanitation, often healthier to drink than water."

Brewing your own kombucha is not just a fun hobby; it is also a way of connecting with our deepest human roots. Stay tuned for more info in the coming weeks!

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