Juha-Matti Pihlava celebrated his birthday recently by opening a 21-year-old beer.
At his work place, the Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke), Juha-Matti Pihlava placed a sample of the beer into a high-performance liquid chromatograph. With Senior Laboratory Technician Tuula Kurtelius, they repeated this with 200 beer samples.
What on earth is it that fascinates Pihlava about beers?
He wanted to learn more about the phenolic compounds in barley and beer that are beneficial to human health. He is particularly interested in the less widely studied hordatine compounds.
“Barley produces hordatines to defend itself against pests. The surprising thing is that people can benefit from these compounds contained in beer,” Pihlava explains.
“Barley produces hordatines to defend itself against pests.
It has been concluded that hordatine compounds can prevent constipation. They also affect the after-taste of beer, creating a sensation that some people describe as astringent or mouth drying.
“I wanted to establish how much of these compounds is found in beer and whether there is any variation between beer types. Included were lager, ales, wheat beers, stouts and porters and both non-alcoholic and low alcohol content beers.”
Juha-Matti himself prefers Finnish beers, and is happy to discover new products by microbreweries. He thinks that local beers should be used in the local food trend, even though in many cases water is the only local ingredient.
Pihlava and his group concentrated on Finnish beers and lager beers in particular; a number of international beers were also included in the study. One of these was a Swedish beer that had been stored in Pihlava’s basement for 21 years.
The beer samples were analysed, and Biometrician Timo Hurme ran a statistic analysis of the results. Interesting facts were revealed about the brews. One of these was that the higher the alcohol content of a beer, the higher the amount of beneficial hordatines contained in it.
There was no difference in the hordatine rates between bottom-fermenting or top-fermenting yeast beers. Wheat beers and non-alcoholic and low-alcohol beers were exceptions to this; as Pihlava found out that some non-alcoholic beers contained up to eight milligrams of hordatines per litre. In wheat beers, there was usually very little of these compounds.
The hordatines seemed to keep well, as they still existed in the more mature, 21-year-old brew. Still, it is best to adhere to best before dates with ordinary beers. Their taste does not usually improve by storage.
“These results could be used when new types of barley malt products or non-alcoholic beers are being developed,” Pihlava suggests.
It was slightly disappointing to discover that a Finnish beer did not necessarily mean a high hordatine rate.
Chemical compounds of beer have been widely studied. However, Pihlava managed to produce the first reports on beer hordatine contents and to compare different types of beers.
And that was not all. Pihlava also wanted to take a peek into the world of wheat and rye beers. Other types of natural defensive chemicals, benzoxazinoids, are concealed in them.
They, too, may have positive effects on human health. What is particularly of interest is how the compounds act against certain types of cancer.
“There were fewer benzoxazinoids in wheat beers than rye beers. However, these compounds prove to be more versatile,” Pihlava states.
These compounds were also present in non-alcoholic wheat beers and rye beers with a low alcohol content.
In addition to rye beer, you can get beneficial benzoxazinoids from rye crispbread, wholegrain rye bread and rye flake porridge. Similarly, rye malt flour and organic rye-based mämmi pudding are excellent sources of benzoxazinoids.
Text: Riitta Salo-Kauppinen
Published in Maaseudun Tulevaisuus on July 11th 2016.