Hop oil

I am not a beer connoisseur. In fact, the large majority of my beer drinking was done between the ages of eighteen and twenty-two. During that time, price was a concern; not taste. My interest in beer was purely social (i.e.. party!!!)

In 1990, my early 20’s, the beer market was different. We drank “big company beer”, Miller and Coors. Currently, strong flavored craft beers appear to be the rage. These brews typically use up to five times more hops than traditional brews. Hops provides flavor (aroma) and bitterness to beer.

Hops are part of the Cannabaceae family of flowering plants, which also includes Cannabis. Hops (Humulus lupulus), unlike Cannabis,  is a climbing perennial herb which grows up to 25 feet per season. A large percentage of the hops crop is grown in the Pacific Northwest. In fact, this year we expect 91.8 million pounds of hops will be harvested in the Northwest.

On a recent trip to Walla Walla,Washington, I stopped to photograph a picture of one of the many hop fields.

Hop Plants in Washington

Hops field (Washington state)

The female flower of the hop plant holds the aroma. Brewers want the flower (the bud), not the seeds, stems or leaves of the hop plant.

Hop Flower (http://cahnrs.wsu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/hop-cones.jpg)

Hop Flower (http://cahnrs.wsu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/hop-cones.jpg)

In Perfume and Flavor Materials of Natural Origin, Steffen Arctander, wrote that hop oil is either steam distilled or solvent extracted from plant material. This was in 1960. Now, the preferred method to extract flavor from the hop bud is supercritical carbon dioxide extraction. Supercritical extraction does not require high heat, which damages the flavor oil.

Hop oil contains bitter taste components, alpha acids, as well as aromatics. I have read that flavors of hops vary and can be described as deeply herbaceous, rich, green and spicy, citrusy, woody or fruitty. There are many varieties of hops and they each have different alpha acid content and flavor profiles.

My experience with hops oil was that it was “ripe” and had a “sweaty” note. Therefore, I feel it is evident that just like my experience with drinking “bad” beer, I used “bad” (oxidized) hop oil. Arctander stated that when hop oil oxidizes, isovaleric and caprylic acid to form. These two acids are the “sweaty” smelling components, good for “ripening” a fruit or providing a tropical note.

Flavor chemists use hop oil to develop beer, tropical(particularly mango), ginger-ale and bitter orange flavors. Companies are also using hop flavor in water, caramel corn, and Hollandaise sauce. With hop production up and infinite creativity, we can expect to see more use of hop oil in both flavors and food products.  I’ll drink to that! (and I’m open to suggestions of craft brews to try)



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