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A new study suggests that primates may have begun drinking alchol 10 million years ago, as fermented fruit on the forest floor.

Alcohol was thought to have been first brewed by Neolithic farmers around 9,000 years ago when northern Chinese villagers made the happy discovery that fruit and honey could be fermented into an intoxicating liquor.

But new evidence suggests our ancestors had become accustomed to drinking nearly 10 million years before.

Scientists now believe that when primates left the trees and began walking on two feet they also started scooping up mushy, fermented fruit which was lying on the ground. And over time their bodies learned to process the ethanol present.

Experts at Santa Fe College in the US studied the gene ADH4 which produces an enzyme to break down alcohol in the body.

It was hypothesised that the enzyme would not appear until the first alcohol was produced by early farmers. But scientists were amazed to find it 10 million years earlier, at the end of the Miocene epoch.

The findings could explain why tree-dwelling orang-utans still cannot metabolize alcohol while humans, chimps and gorillas can.

“This transition implies the genomes of modern human, chimpanzee and gorilla began adapting at least 10 million years ago to dietary ethanol present in fermenting fruit,” said Professor Matthew Carrigan, of Santa Fe College.

“This conclusion contrasts with the relatively short amount of time – about 9,000 years – since fermentative technology enabled humans to consume beverages with higher ethanol content than fruit fermenting in the wild.

“Our ape ancestors gained a digestive enzyme capable of metabolizing ethanol near the time they began using the forest floor about 10 million years ago.

floor is expected to contain higher concentrations of fermenting yeast and ethanol than similar fruits hanging on trees this transition may also be the first time our ancestors were exposed to – and adapted to – substantial amounts of dietary ethanol.”

Any primates unable to digest the fermented fruits would have died before passing on their genes, but those who could would have passed the drinking gene on to their offspring.

The evolutionary history of the ADH4 gene was reconstructed using data from 28 different mammals, including 17 primates, collected from public databases or well-preserved tissue samples.

The first evidence of man making alcohol comes from the Neolithic village Jiahu in China where clay pots were found containing residues of tartaric acid, one of the main acids present in wine.

Some archaeologists have suggested that the entire Neolithic Revolution, which began about 11,000 years ago, was fuelled by the quest for by drinking and intoxication.

Archaeologist Patrick McGovern of the University of Pennsylvania claims that prehistoric communities cultivated wheat, rice, corn, barley, and millet primarily for the purpose of producing alcoholic beverages.

He believes that early farmers supplanted their diet with a nutritious hybrid swill which was half fruit and half wine.

By Sarah Knapton,science editor
Dec 2014
Original article:
telegraph.co.uk

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Lars Williams, an American chef, works aboard a boat in Copenhagen’s harbor that is home to the Nordic Food Lab and the testing ground for one of the world’s most celebrated kitchens. He and his colleagues have embarked on an intriguing quest to discover new flavors using traditional techniques and Scandinavian products. To that end, he’s been fermenting herring and mackerel. “We tried something very simple—salt, fish, and left it in a warm place—and we got a clean, salty fish taste,” he says. “We’re trying to see if there’s a way to get more of that umami richness and less fishiness.”

Before you lose your lunch, consider the following: Fermented fish sauce is hardly a new idea, and it’s even been transformed into a familiar condiment you’ve probably slathered on burgers and fries.

Fish sauce probably started by accident: A fish caught in a rock pool essentially started to digest itself. Humans [1] eventually learned to harness the dual action of saline fermentation and enzymatic autolysis [2]. Modern scholars have not been able to definitively identify the Greek garos (γάρον), the small fish that probably gave rise to garum, a fermented fish sauce that proliferated throughout the ancient Mediterranean world. “Exactly how old garum is can’t be answered,” Robert I. Curtis, an expert in ancient food technology, told me, “but it certainly dates to at least the 7th century B.C.” Romans cooks used garum as an ordinary [3] and affordable condiment, much the way we sometimes use ketchup—to mask the flavors of otherwise off-putting foods.

The tomato sauce we now call ketchup arrived, circuitously, by way of Indonesia, where kecaps—fermented fish and soy sauces—greeted English sailors in the seventeenth century.[4] Nuoc mam, burong-isda, and other fermented fish sauces remain staple condiments across Southeast Asia, whereas Western fish sauce evolved into a tomato-based fermented corn product thanks, at least in part, to the accidental 1957 discovery of an enzyme that could turn corn into high fructose corn syrup.

Fish sauce makes use of naturally occurring substances in fish’s intestines or entrails; the gut of an Atlantic herring, for example, contains chymotrypsin (an enzymes that has been used as a food additive for, among other things, milk in France). Combined with bacteria (Leuconostoc mesenteroides and Lactobaccilus plantarum), the fermented fish transforms into various amino acids, including glutamic acid—the basis for the rich, mouth-coating umami flavor and the much-maligned MSG. Williams says he also adds Aspergillus orzyae starter culture, a mold intrinsic to Japanese cuisine—much like you’d add yeast to bread—to speed the aging process.

Microorganisms give rise to an incredible range of flavors and aromas. If different species mean different tastes, could the geographic range of microorganisms reflect a unique time and place—the Copenhagen harbor, the belly of a herring, or, more broadly, the Atlantic Ocean? Could fermented fish yield up a microbial species tied to place like the yeasts in San Francisco’s sourdough (Lactobacillus sanfranciscensis) or the lambic beers brewed in the Seine River valley (Brettanomyces bruxellensis)?
Rachel Dutton is a microbiologist at Harvard who has been studying microbial interactions. She’s using fermented dairy as a model organism—cheese as a lab rat, essentially. (I talked with her for a forthcoming story in Wired magazine.) “Most of the microbiological research that’s been done in the last 100 years has been focused on disease, for good reason,” she said. “But there’s a lot of diversity within groups of microbes. For example, Staph are found in cheeses and dried cured salamis and they’re not pathogens. The vast majority of microbes do not cause harm to humans, but the one percent that do have that potential. It’s a problem. Talking about the science that’s happening in these foods, how do you make it so people aren’t afraid of the science?”

Another group of chefs, led by Daniel Felder in New York City, suggest that fungal and bacterial cultures could be a way to rekindle our relation with nature. “In large urban environment like New York, alienated from the natural world, it is easy to become disconnected from the concepts of utilization and stewardship for our natural environment.” Perhaps the renewed enthusiasm for fermentation could be a way in—a kind of re-wilding by way of fish sauce, aged cow’s milk cheese, or even a historically accurate, ancient English ketchup. Fermentation could counter our exaggerated perception of microbial risk that’s led to the antiseptic status quo, where Purell®, hypoallergenic cats and antimicrobial everything proliferate.

Still, there’s one other ingredient to consider: disgust. “The fermentation process is one of the most interesting culinary processes,” Williams told me. “The microorganisms are far beyond what you can do with a Maillard reaction, but people say, ‘Fermentation is weird; this is gross or something you might find in the back of the fridge.’ Well, cheese and wine and beer and bread, those are all fermented products.”

Since we cannot readily or easily detect dangerous microorganisms, we may have evolved the predisposition to steer clear of rancid meats with a sense of disgust. As societies became more complex, disgust served as a social function, which may help explain why, on the one hand, fermented milk may sound delicious, while on the other, fish sauce may not.

As scientists continue to unravel the complexity and magic—how certain gut bacteria lead people to prefer or avoid certain foods—we’re still a ways off from revealing the secrets of how fish sauce, or modern condiments, have come to define us. “Where do these organisms in our gut come from, how they take up residence there, or how food-borne organisms impact what’s already there?” Dutton says. “How do they change us? We don’t really know yet.”

Notes:
[1] Scholars diverge on the question of whether great apes ate fish—or, for that matter, fermented fish. Stephen Cunnane argues that the available amino acids in clams, frogs, and fish drove hominin encephalization. Katharine Milton doesn’t buy it. “If it’s just more of early humans lived by the sea and turned to marine resources sort of stuff and lo and behold their brain got bigger—you can stuff that one in a weighted sack and drop it in the deep blue sea. Brains run on glucose folks!”

[2] Ancient people were able to harness these process, to add chemicals and enzymes, despite the lack of knowledge about microorganisms—which would not emerge until Antony van Leeuwenhoek peered into his homemade microscope in 1665 and laid eyes upon living animalcules.

[3] In a testament to its everyday use, modern archeologists have even used garum to estimate the date upon which Vesuvius erupted based on the seasonal appearance of a sea bream that Linnaeus later classified as Boops boops.

[4] Initially deemed frivolous, historian Andrew F. Smith writes that ketchup’s supposed aphrodisiac qualities—touted in Henry Stubbes’s 1682 book—undoubtedly contributed to their proliferation.

Original Article:
smithsonian.com

By peter smith, feb 28, 2012

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