Northerners sip it from steaming mugs, whereas Southerners prefer it super-sweet in ice-cold glasses. However it’s prepared, tea is a popular beverage in the United States. Now, scientists from the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) are offering a new twist on this old favorite–with assistance from a surprising source.
Hops are best known as ingredients in another popular beverage, but the qualities that recommend them to beer production have a variety of additional applications. A growing appreciation for their natural antimicrobial benefits has led to an expansion of their use in products such as processed sugar, animal feed and tea.
‘Teamaker’ is a new hop variety released by scientists in the ARS Forage, Seed and Cereal Research Unit (FSCRU) in Corvallis, Ore. It has an alpha acid content of 0.6 to 1.8 percent, giving it the lowest alpha acid concentration of any commercially available hop variety. In addition, its beta acid levels (5.4 to 13.2 percent) are significantly higher than those found in most varieties.
Bitter alpha acids, which give beer its distinct flavor, promote the yeast-brewing process and hinder bacterial growth. Betas, which also inhibit bacteria, have little effect on flavor.
An extremely high beta-to-alpha ratio gives Teamaker all the health benefits of traditional hops cultivars without their characteristic bitterness, creating opportunities for nontraditional uses. In addition to herbal teas, beta acids from hops can substitute for formalin in sugar processing. And new research suggests that they may have agricultural benefits as well–for example, as an alternative to antibiotics in animal feeds.
During the past decade, FSCRU researchers have bred several new varieties of hops to improve their current uses and create new ones. They have developed and released hop cultivars with traits like disease resistance, climate tolerance and aesthetic appeal.
Read more about this research in the January 2008 issue of Agricultural Research magazine, available online at:
ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s chief scientific research agency.