Unique features of hops
Hops are the flowers of the plant Humulus lupulus, which is actually a member of the Cannabaceae family. They can be used fresh, but are generally used dried for ease of storage and transportation. Hops grow on separate male and female plants, but only the flowers from the female plants are used commercially.
Hops have a natural antibacterial effect, which is one of the reasons they first became so popular for brewing beer. Early beer producers noticed that brews made with hops were less prone to spoilage.
Aside from their use in food and beverages, hops have many medicinal properties. They are often used in herbal medicines for insomnia and anxiety, and even in ADHD (attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder) medications.
What are hops used for in products?
Hops have a unique flavour profile thanks to their chemical composition. In addition to various proteins, hops contain a variety of compounds that contribute to their distinct flavour:
- Alpha and Beta acids
- Flavonoids (particularly Xanthohumol)
- Essential oils and terpenes
When used as an ingredient in beer, hops act as a stabilising and bittering agent. Hops help to keep the beer fresher for longer, and create a head of foam – which is a key component of the beer’s aroma.
They also add general flavour, as well as imparting fruity, floral, or citrus notes and aromas.
Products that contain hops
While their chief use is still in commercial and craft beers, pale ales, lagers, pilsners and IPAs, hops are being used in an ever-wider range of foods and beverages.
- Herbal teas – such as the special ‘Teamaker’ brand
- Soft drinks like Kvass, Julmust (a popular carbonated beverage consumed in Sweden) and Malta (a soft drink popular in Latin America)
- The young shoots of the hop plant are also consumed as a vegetable
- Salad dressings and sauces
- Hops are sometimes used as an herb in soups and stews
- Hop yeast is sometimes used as a replacement for baker’s yeast when making bread
Hops are so widely used in making beer, that there’s actually a name for brews which don’t contain hops – “gruit”. Basically, if it’s a beer, it contains hops!
They are also used in cosmetics like creams and lotions, and there is even an ornamental variety used as a garden specimen.
Types of hops
Humans have been using hops since way back in the 9th century, and possibly well before that, so it’s not surprising that hundreds of different varieties have been cultivated over the years.
Different countries and regions tend to have their preferred varieties:
Popular American hop varieties include:
- El Dorado
- Mount Hood
- Mount Rainier
- San Juan Ruby Red
- Sonnet Golding
- Super Galena
Popular British hop varieties include:
- Bramling Cross
- Brewer’s Gold
- First Gold
- Northern Brewer
- Whitbread Golding
Popular German hop varieties include:
- Hallertauer Magnum, Merkur, Taurus, and Tradition
- Huell Melon
- Mandarina Bavaria
- Spalter Select
Noble hops – most often used in pilsners and lagers:
- Hallertau Mittelfrüh
Popular European hop varieties include:
|Tardif de Bourgogne||France|
|Saaz Late||Czech Republic|
New Zealand, Australia, Japan, and many other regions all have their own unique hop varieties and cross breeds too.