Pliny the Elder, Natural History 19.29(32)

Brevior his est et torosior amariorque inula per se stomacho inimicissima, eadem dulcibus mixtis saluberrima. Pluribus modis austeritate victa gratiam invenit. Namque et in pollinem tunditur arida liquidoque dulci temperatur, et decocta posca aut adservata vel macerata pluribus modis et tunc mixta defruto aut subacta melle uvisve passis aut pinguibus caryotis. Alio rursus modo cotoneis malis vel sorbis aut prunis, aliquando pipere aut thymo variata defectus praecipue stomachi excitat, inlustrata maxime iuliae augustae cotidiano cibo. Supervacuum eius semen, quoniam oculis ex radice excisis, ut harundo, seritur, et haec autem et siser et pastinaca utroque tempore, vere et autumno, magnis seminum intervallis, inula ne minus quam ternorum pedu, quoniam spatiose fruticat. Siser transferre melius. (19.32)

Inula is smaller than [the skirret], fleshier, and more bitter; by itself, it is most hated by the stomach, but it is most healthy [when] mixed with sweet things. It finds its thanks by countering its harshness with many things. Dried, it is beaten into a powder and tempered by sweet liquids. And, boiled in vinegar water, or saved and softened by many means, it is then mixed with boiled grape juice, or incorporated with honey, raisins or fatty dates. And, others have mixed it with quinces, serviceberries, or plums; revolted with a bad stomach, it stimulates by changing [the flavors] with pepper and thyme. It is most famous as a daily food of Julia Augusta. The seed of the inula is useless, since [the plant] is reproduced by cutting out the eye from the root, just like a reed. The inula, skirret, and parsnip, is planted in the spring and autumn, with a great distance left between the seeds. The inula only grows with no less than three feet [between the plants]. The skirret is better to be transplanted.

Pliny talks about plants. This passage is not about beer, but about a possible adjunct to beer – inula (elecampane?) – that is described by Hecataeus in a Paeonian millet beer, parabias.

In order to consider inula (or konuza) as an appropriate adjunct for beer, I consider inula’s use in ancient Roman cuisine.

Inula has a bitter taste that complements sweet liquids. Obviously, this brings to mind the the function of hops to counteract the sweetness of wort/beer. In fact, several ingredients (grapes, dates, honey) that work well with inula are also found in wine and other ancient alcoholic concoctions. In a pre-hop world, inula-flavored beer may have been strikingly familiar to a modern palate.

Still, Pliny does not explicitly mention the addition of inula to beer, nor does he share much about the Paeonians predilection for the delightful suds; instead, the millet-inula draught is described by Hecataeus. Of course, Hecataeus writes many centuries earlier than Pliny and, if true, may convey a practice that was no longer relevant by Pliny’s day.

All of this to say: I acquired some elecampane (a type of inula) and will brew millet beer a la Hecataeus to taste alongside a hoppy counterpart.

Author’s Note
Pliny the Elder (23-79 CE)
You know him well, by now.


Wikimedia Commons, Svklimkim


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