What were they *really* making with those starches?


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I hate to beat a dead horse with this "paleo bread" news blather, but I don't know why this didn't occur to me before. So these archaeologists think that people laboriously dug up these roots and ground them up. And they assume they made bread for them, bread that they admit was "not very tasty." Hmm, maybe these researchers aren't exactly the life of the party, but I can't imagine people doing all these work for shitty pita bread.

And then I was reading this freakin epic NY Diet of the Bronx's "food baron" and he mentions chicha. Aha! A few months back I had some chicha at a Peruvian place. Peruvian chicha is usually made with corn, but you can make it with a vareity of other fermentable starches and sugars. The ancient method for making it is very simple and might be how our ancestors first got wasted. As this NYtimes article describes, you just have your women chew up some ground starch and spit it into a bucket. They you let it ferment...and pArTy!!!!!

“You need to convert the starches in the corn into fermentable sugars,” the always entertaining Mr. Calagione said by phone from his headquarters in Rehoboth Beach. “One way is through the malting process. But another way — there are natural enzymes in human saliva and by chewing on corn, whether they understood the science of it, ancient brewers through trial and error learned that the natural enzymes in saliva would convert the starch in corn into sugar, so it would ferment. It may sound a little unsavory. ...”

So what were those hunter-gatherers really doing with all those starches? I'm voting for alcohol. Which would you rather have? Even if it's made with spit, it's still better than fail!bread.

There is even a serious argument that desire for more alcohol motivated the agricultural revolution.

Modern chicha, not made with spit, is one of my favorite alcoholic drinks. At 3-5% of alcohol it's just enough to enjoy without getting wasted. Perhaps vodka and other distilled spirits are an example of neolithic hyper-palatibility. Alcohol occurs in nature and plenty of wild animals have been seen imbibing on fermented fruit, but distilled spirits represent alcohol at a level not seen in nature. Hunter-gatherer cultures are devastated by the introduction of bread and sugar, but the introduction of alcohol is certainly just as devastating. Diabetes AND alcoholism and the two major problems on Native American reservations. 

However, there are some known neolithic genetic adaptations to alcohol. If you are able to drink vodka, it's certainly a better choice than beer. I'm one of the unlucky ones with bad genes, so I have to be very careful when imbibing.

So what were those paleolithic people doing with that starch?

- Making low-fat pita bread so they could follow the USDA food pyramid recommendations

- Making a gruel because they were starving, despite the fact that numerous herds of reindeer were all about them.

- Makin some beer for their next party!!!!!