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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: RESEARCH, ACQUISITION, MANAGEMENT, AND DOCUMENTATION OF PLANT GENETIC RESOURCES

Location: Plant Germplasm Introduction and Testing

Title: Dregs of our forgotten ancestors: fermentative microorganisms in the prehistory of Europe, the steppes and Indo-Iranian Asia, and their contemporary use in traditional and probiotic beverages

Author
item Dugan, Frank

Submitted to: Fungi
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: April 1, 2009
Publication Date: December 1, 2009
Repository URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10113/49541
Citation: Dugan, F.M. 2009. Dregs of our forgotten ancestors: fermentative microorganisms in the prehistory of Europe, the steppes and Indo-Iranian Asia, and their contemporary use in traditional and probiotic beverages. Fungi. 2(4):16-39.

Interpretive Summary: Evidence for the deep antiquity of kvass, mead, wine and koumiss, alcoholic beverages used by early Indo-European peoples, is encountered in comparative linguistics and in archaeology. Cognates and artifacts pertaining to these beverages illuminate possible patterns of dispersal of Indo-European languages and peoples. Drinking rituals, sanctioning of royal power by beverage consumption, and deities with the power of brewing and intoxication, span an inter-continental range of ancient Indo-European language and myth. Traces of such cultural practices survive today. Beverages unfamiliar to most western Europeans and Americans, kvass and koumiss, continue to be produced and consumed in eastern Europe and central Asia. Modern, cataloged germplasm collections contain yeasts and lactobacilli isolated from kvass, mead or koumiss, or used to produce these drinks. Contemporary enthusiasm for these beverages, and research into the microorganisms used to produce them, contribute to popular and scientific interest in probiotics.

Technical Abstract: Fermentative microorganisms in the yeast genera Debaryomyces, Hyphopichia, Kluyveromyces, Lachancea, Saccharomyces, and Wickerhamomyces (and in the bacterial genus Lactobacillus) have been isolated from a variety of fermented beverages. These same microorganisms were very likely unknowingly utilized for beverage production by a wide variety of ancient peoples, especially those known as Indo-Europeans. Historical examples of beverages (ale, beer, kvass, koumiss, mead and wine) consumed in ancient Indo-European cultures are attested by Indo-European and Proto-Indo-European cognates for these beverages, and by results of chemical analyses of residues on ancient pottery. A historical account is followed by descriptions of analogous uses of fermentative microorganisms in contemporary beverage production for modern kvass, koumiss and mead. Beverages initially produced by ancient Indo-European nomads are now the focus of probiotic beverage production, and the fermentative microorganisms are the focus of numerous investigations by food scientists. Modern, extensive collections of microbial germplasm (both governmental and private) contain these microorganisms. Numerous examples are provided, specified by name of the collection, species name of the microorganism, accession number, and source of isolation.

Last Modified: 7/28/2014
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