Six Myths About Hops

Written by Martyn Cornell for

“Jewish exiles in captivity in Babylon (in 597 BC) drank hopped ale as a defence against leprosy”

They did not. The original Hebrew description (from the fourth century AD) of the herb used in the anti-leprosy drink was “cuscuta of the hizmé shrub”, that is, a Middle Eastern climbing plant of the dodder family. By the 11th century, rabbinical commentary on the Talmud was talking about hops, probably because these were more familiar to European Jews than cuscuta. In any case what was drunk to guard against leprosy was shekar flavoured with cuscuta, shekar being a Hebrew word which meant any strong drink, not beer specifically (although in Akkadian, a related Semitic language spoken by the conquerors of Sumer, the word sikar translated Sumerian kash, beer). Shekar became, via the Bible and its Greek and Latin translations, and then French, the source of the English word cider.

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