Will consumers worry if GMO yeast makes beer hoppy?
Researchers have developed a genetically modified yeast that mimics the flavors of hops — a technology that promises to cut the environmental impacts of craft beer production — but some brewers may be reluctant to use it, NPR reports.
Published in the journal Nature, the study found that adding DNA from mint and basil to brewing yeast created hoppy flavors and aromas in beer without using any hops. Researchers hope the yeast will help brewers make better beer more consistently with less agricultural land and less water.
Hops can vary from year to year, making it problematic for brewers to produce a consistent flavor. Consumer taste preferences have been trending toward more hoppy beers, making some hop varieties increasingly difficult to source. The genetically modified yeast variety could solve these problems, as it has a consistent taste profile similar to the highly prized Cascade hop.
Genetic modification, whether for improved flavor, reduced environmental impacts or another purpose, is a highly divisive issue among consumers. However, researchers may have more chance of convincing consumers of the benefits of a non-agricultural product like this one.
Genetically modified yeast is already used in food production, including to make fermentation-derived sweeteners, flavors like vanilla, and even cow-free milk. In all these cases, the yeast is a vehicle to produce the food itself and does not end up in the finished product. A modified yeast ingredient takes things a step further, and is likely to make some GMO-skeptical consumers wary.
However, where there is a clear benefit for producers — and a taste benefit for consumers — there is sure to be a market. As NPR reports, some brewers refuse to stray from traditional brewing methods, while others are eager to try the ingredient. After all, if they can produce the hoppy taste that consumers enjoy without the expense and environmental impacts of hop production, the yeast could be a useful addition to the brewing toolbox.
Meanwhile, researchers have been working on producing yeast strains that mimic the most desirable flavors of beer for years — but mainly using conventional breeding techniques because of the stigma surrounding genetic engineering.