Most of us are under the impression that alcoholic beverages do not need any preservatives. It does not cross our minds that the rich foam that we see at the top of our beer mugs could be a work of some inconspicuous preservative. Albeit not every beer you drink contains preservatives, there are certainly some beer brands which liberally use them. As beer is an alcoholic beverage, there is actually no need for preservatives, since alcohol itself wards off microbial growth.
Purity Laws Regarding Preservatives in Beer
German brewer’s in the medieval period brewed beer in its most pure form. German beer purity law of 1516 (Reinheitsgebot) prohibited use of any additives in beer. The only ingredients added in beer were malt (barley), hops, yeast, and water. The mixing of all these ingredients during brewing process produces alcohol. Since the entire beer brewing process was carried out in a sterile environment, no contamination by microorganisms was possible. Besides, alcohol itself has the property to prevent microbial growth. However, since then, brewing techniques have undergone a sea change. Brewers no longer adhere to the strict standards laid down by the beer purity laws in their respective countries.
In the United States of America, brewers are exempted from declaring the complete list of ingredients (including additives) in their product. However, some countries like Australia and New Zealand make it mandatory for their brewers to disclose a complete list of ingredients. Under a combined Food Standards Code, a complete list of additives which might be present in your beer is listed and encoded. In the absence of a universally accepted beer purity law, it becomes very difficult to predict the preservatives used in beer. Besides, every brewer has his own recipe for brewing different types of beer which makes it further impossible to guess what exactly goes in that sparkling gold liquid.
List of Beer Preservatives
Firstly, not all brewers add preservatives to their beer. Hence, your favorite brand of beer may or may not contain the preservatives listed below.
Hops is a natural preservative, which is also responsible for rendering that bitter taste to beer. It also gives beer its characteristic citrus flavor.
Formaldehyde is naturally produced during the fermentation process. However, some brewers may add small amount of it to improve the clarity of beer. Some European brewers adopt this practice of adding formaldehyde to their beer in order to increase its shelf life. However, the levels of formaldehyde detected in most beers are often below the danger level.
Sulfur dioxide is yet another compound which is produced during fermentation process. Due to its preservative properties, some brewers may also add it externally. However, it is mandatory for brewers to disclose if their beer contains more than 10 ppm of sulfur dioxide.
Other preservatives that may be present in your beer are:
– Citric acid
– Sorbic acid
– Ethyl para-hydroxybenzoate
– Methyl parahydroxybenzoate
Besides extending the shelf life of beer, some additives are also used as foam stabilizers. A simple experiment can enable you to decide if your beer contains foam stabilizers or not. Take a clean beer mug and add a drop of milk to it. Now pour your favorite beer in this beer mug. If the foam at top disappears within second, it indicates that no foam stabilizers are present in your beer. On the other hand, if the foam refuses to die even after a minute, be sure that your beer has been laced with preservatives.
Although, most of the preservatives are harmless and below the danger level, it is always better to educate yourself regarding the ingredients that go in your favorite drink.