I never would have guessed that beer pre-existed bread. I’ve always just assumed that beer was an accidental discovery by breadmakers.
I’m putting this on my bread blog, because of course I am. Also tagging @appendingfic who I think expressed interest.
Tens of thousands of years ago people foraged and hunted for their food and ate whatever they could. Among their forage were wild cereals, which included the ancestors of modern cultivated wheat, barley and others.
People like sweet things. Grains are starchy, but if sprouted they start converting those starches to sugars, so people would’ve left grains in water to sprout. These sprouts are also easier to digest, thus more nutritious, which bestowed an invisible advantage on those sprouting their grains.
If grains are left in water too long, however, they begin to ferment. Alcohol is produced. People like alcohol.
In ancient Mesopotamia the fermented grains were experimented with, resulting in an early form of beer. The process of making that beer was quite complicated and involved a combination of sprouted and mashed grains.
People wanted beer all year round, but early beers did not have long shelf lives and the grain could only be harvested at certain times. So the ancient Mesopotamians invented a way of storing the ingredients for beer.
It was made of the grain mash, honey, dates and spices that were fermented to make beer. For storage, prior to fermentation, the mixture was baked dry, cut into smaller pieces and baked again to remove all water. This produced bapir, a product very much like biscotti, which could be stored for later rehydration and fermentation. Sometimes it was eaten instead.
I’ve made bapir, and I’ve eaten it. It is brittle but delicious. It’s also a form of unleavened bread.
Bread was invented as a way to store the ingredients for beer, which was most likely a development from a chance discovery. Leavened bread (that is, with bubbles) may well have been discovered when a mixture like that for bapir was accidentally allowed to ferment before baking. Yeast is responsible for both alcohol production and leavening.
There’s a lot more to it, in terms of the cultivation of grains and the development of milling, than I’ve written here. It’s been a process of millennia to go from chewing sprouts to eating soft white bread like that pictured. But every step along the way was small and simple.
Okay, that’s not how bread was invented. I wrote a potted history, I could try to dig that out if anyone is interested?
Do you ever wonder how many amazing things are fated to go forever uninvented because each step necessary to invent them is a completely unintuitive thing to do?
there are a number of distinct steps though, each of which can be observed in isolation. “grind tough seeds to make them edible” is practiced with other foods besides grains (like acorns). the natural next step after that is to add water, which gives you porridge: a common ancient roman meal was puls, very similar to modern cream of wheat. once you have that you also have a simple dough, and baking it to preserve it is a logical experiment (as is baking some you forgot about and left out for a few days, just so you don’t waste it… voila, leavened bread)
there could have been, and probably was (though i’m not an archaeologist) a substantial time between each of these innovations. it’s not too hard to imagine people being chill with “grind seeds for soup, select plants for bigger seeds” for a good while
Invention of bread is weird bc it’s like some Neolithic ppl were like “hey you know that tall grass thing that’s sorta edible but not really how about we take it and grind it into a very very fine powder which is extra backbreaking right now bc the wheel won’t be invented for awhile and then we mix it with water and heat it up and you know what let’s also toss some mold in there just to see what happens”