Hops (Humulus lupulus)

Hops plants were mentioned by the Roman writer Pliny in the first century A.D. as a popular garden plant and vegetable whose young spring shoots were sold in markets and eaten like asparagus.

By the ninth century, the hops plant was used in brewing throughout most of Europe for its clearing, flavoring and preserving qualities.
Today most home garden hops growers are cultivating them because they make their own home brew. However like the early Romans, the stems can still be steamed and eaten like asparagus.
Hops are the flowers used to season beer. Bittering hops, meaning adding hops early on in the boil process, provide bitterness to the beer to balance the sweetness of the malt. Hops added at the end of the boil, referred to as finishing hops, add flavor and aroma to the beer. Adding hops directly to the fermenter, or dry hopping, lends additional hop aroma to the beer.

Hops also serve as a natural preservative, helping to prevent spoilage in beer. Hops comes as either whole flowers or compressed pellets (think rabbit food). There are many varieties of hops available to homebrewers, allowing for great diversity of flavors and aromas.

Different hops are used to brew different styles of beer. For example, cascade hops give American pale ales their distinct citrusy quality, fuggles have an earthiness common in English-style ales, and saaz lend the spicy/herbal character found in European Pilsners.

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