Beer beyond leisure: more than 7,000 chemical formulas are identified – 08/24/2021

Beers have been brewed for millennia and are part of the cultural history of many countries. And they are getting more and more versions, whether in famous breweries with industrial production or in bars that sell their own craft production. But what you might not know is that there is a huge amount of chemical formulas mixed into one swig (or more) of beer.

In beverage brewing, the basic chemistry behind fermentation is already known, but scientists continue to want to find out which substances contribute to the flavor and aroma of beers. A study by German researchers found that there are at least 7,700 chemical formulas in the tens of thousands of molecules in the drink.

The research was done with a new approach that analyzes a beer sample in just 10 minutes, something considered extremely fast by chemists, and was published in the scientific journal Frontiers in Chemistry.

“Beer is an example of enormous chemical complexity. Thanks to recent improvements in analytical chemistry, it is easy to track small variations in every food production process to safeguard quality or to detect hidden adulterations,” the project co-author explained to the ArsTechnica website , Philippe Schmitt-Kopplin of the Technical University of Munich and the Helmholtz Center Munich.

How was the study done?

In Germany, breweries are subject to the Purity Act of 1516 (it has been updated a few times), which requires that beers contain only malt, hops, water and yeast. However, the production of beverages with different raw materials, such as wheat, corn and rice, also became popular.

To account for this scope, the German researchers chose to analyze 400 samples of beers, purchased in local supermarkets, produced in the United States, Latin America, Europe, Africa and Asia — a total of 40 countries. Since then, they have had two techniques within mass spectrometry, which studies compounds based on the atomic constitution of the sample.

First, they used a method to determine the chemical diversity of beverages and were able to predict formulas for the metabolic ions. Then they used another technique to find the exact molecular structure in a sub-sample of 100 beers. German scientists were also able to reconstruct a complete metabolic network of reactions that take place during the fermentation process.

It was from these results that the team identified more than 7,700 chemical formulas, each with up to 25 different molecular structures. This means that any of the analyzed beers will have tens of thousands of unique molecules that will contribute to the flavor and aroma.

“The molecular complexity is heightened by the so-called ‘Maillard reaction’ between amino acids and sugars, which also gives bread, beef steaks and roasted marshmallow their ‘roasted’ flavor,” Stefan explained. Pieczonka , postgraduate student at the Technical University of Munich and coauthor of the study.

“This network of complex reactions is an exciting focus of our research, given its importance for the quality and taste of food, and also for the development of new bioactive molecules of interest to health,” he added.