Beer aroma study disproves long-held assumption

Friday, 29 September, 2023

Beer aroma study disproves long-held assumption

Hop-derived constituents can not only increase shelf life and bitterness of beer, but can also have a significant influence aroma.

Under the leadership of the Leibniz Institute for Food Systems Biology at the Technical University of Munich, a team of scientists has disproved a roughly 20-year-old assumption about the linalool odourant, which has a floral and citrus-like scent. The new study contributes to a better understanding of changes in beer bouquet during the brewing process and beer aging.

Two molecular variants of the odourant linalool are found in hops and beer: the enantiomers (R)- and (S)-linalool. Both molecules consist of the same number and type of atoms, and show the same connectivity. Nevertheless, they have a different spatial structure and differ like an image from its mirror image. This ‘small’ but nevertheless crucial difference is also reflected in different odour intensities of the molecules.

In addition, it has long been known that beer aroma changes during the brewing process and storage because, among other things, part of the (R)-linalool predominant in hops is converted to (S)-linalool. Previously, based on a 1999 paper, researchers assumed that the odour threshold concentration of (R)-linalool is about a factor of 80 lower than that of (S)-linalool. Put simply, they assumed that (R)-linalool has a much stronger influence on beer aroma than its mirror-image counterpart. However, data on the odour thresholds of both substances were lacking.

To close this knowledge gap and enable more precise predictions of changes in beer aroma, the team led by brewing and beverage technologist Klaas Reglitz and food chemist Martin Steinhaus from the Leibniz Institute first optimised a preparative method. In close cooperation with the Research Center Weihenstephan for Brewing and Food Quality, the researchers thus succeeded in isolating enantiomerically pure (S)-linalool.

Having the pure substance available in sufficient quantities helped to determine the specific odour threshold concentrations of the two odourant variants in water and unhopped beer using a trained sensory panel. This was essential because only (R)-linalool is commercially available as a pure substance.

As the team showed, the thresholds of (R)- and (S)-linalool in water were 0.82 and 8.3 micrograms per kilogram, respectively. In unhopped beer, the team determined thresholds of 6.5 micrograms per kilogram for (R)-linalool and 53 micrograms per kilogram for (S)-linalool.

“Our results thus confirm the previously postulated higher odour potency of (R)-linalool. However, they also refute the previous assumption that the odour threshold concentrations of the two enantiomers differ extremely. Instead, the study shows that the difference is only about eight- to tenfold,” said Martin Steinhaus, head of Section I and the Food Metabolome Chemistry Research Group at the Leibniz Institute.

First author Klaas Reglitz said, “The conversion of (R)- to (S)-linalool thus does not have as great an influence on beer aroma as has long been assumed. Thanks to our study, we now better understand how and why the aroma changes during storage.”

The research has been published in Brewing Science.

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