To mark the publication of Hedonistic Hops, the book she authored with her husband Michael Porter, Marie Porter introduces us to hops and how they can be used not only in beer, but also how you can cook with hops to make your dishes sing. To prove her point, she shares two tantalizing recipes. And, do enter our giveaway for a copy of the book!
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Hops are prized for their ability to impart varied, complex flavours to beer, but did you know they can also be used culinarily?
While hops may seem like a bizarre or exotic item to cook with, it’s the same as using other herbs and spices in your kitchen — you just have to know what to do with them! Much like salt or lemon juice can be added to dishes to perk them up, a small amount of hops — used wisely, and with specific techniques to do so in a balanced fashion — can really make a dish sing.
Even those who aren’t fans of beer will love the unique flavours that various types of hops can bring to their plate: floral, earthy, peppery, citrusy … Cooking with hops is a great way to expand your seasoning arsenal! Several parts of a hop plant are not only edible, but tasty — the shoots, leaves, and flowers — but for the purposes of this article, I’d like to focus on the most popular part, the flower.
What Are Hops?
Before we get going on the various ways you can use hops in cooking, let’s address what hops are.
“Hops” are the cone shaped flowers of the hop plant, Humulus lupulus, a member of the Cannabaceae family and a climbing perennial bine (a flexible twining or climbing stem). They’ve been cultivated for over 1,000 years, with the earliest documented cultivation occurring in Germany in the 700s.
While hops have long been used in both the flavouring and preservation of beer, they’ve also been used medicinally for hundreds of years. Hops are known for their calming, sedative effect, and even as an anti-inflammatory. Traditionally, hops were brewed as a tea when used for medicinal purposes.
On Acid ...
Hops get most of their flavour from the acids and oils produced by glands hidden under their “petals,” or bracts. These acids and oils are present as a sticky yellow substance, lupulin. How bitter a hop is, and what flavour profile it presents, depends on a combination of factors, all from the specific blend of acids and oils in its lupulin.
The acids contained in lupulin fall into one of two main categories: alpha acids and beta acids.
Alpha acids are where the bulk of the bittering properties come from, which is important to consider when choosing hops for cooking with. Too bitter, and you’ll ruin a dish!
When it comes to beer making, hops high in alpha acids are typically used in the initial boil, for a fairly long amount of time. The boiling draws out the acids into the wort (beer before it becomes beer!) through a chemical reaction called “isomerization.” These hops are commonly referred to as “bittering hops.”
Beta acids work a bit differently when it comes to the bittering of beer and food. Rather than their bitterness coming out in a long boil, their aroma and bitterness come from more long-term application, usually in dry hopping or while aging beer. The changes come as a result of the acids breaking down — oxidization, rather than through isomerization.
As hops are rated by their bitterness, this rating is used, for the most part, to determine the function of a hop. Hops high in alpha acids are generally considered to be “bittering” hops, while hops low in alpha acid are used more for their aromas and flavours, and thus are “aromatic hops.” These categorizations are typically noted on the packaging.
Where acids contribute the bitterness to hop flavouring, essential oils contribute aromas and actual flavour. When you see descriptors of “citrus,” “earthy,” “floral,” “fruity,” “grassy,” “herbal,” “piney” and “spicy,” these are referring to the flavours contributed by the essential oils in each variety of hops.
These oils work pretty much the opposite of the alpha acids in terms of extraction. Alpha acids need a long boil, while essential oils are boiled off and lost in long boils. For this reason, it’s best to add hops right at the end of cooking your dish when boiled liquid is involved!
Hops can be purchased year round, through any homebrew store. You can even order them online, shipped right to your door! They come in the following forms.
Pelletized hops are made from milling hops into a powder, before being heated, pressed, run through an extrusion process and cooled. They’re sold chilled and in mylar bags. They take up far less space than a similar weight of leaf hops, and also stay fresher longer.
Dried or “Leaf” Hops
These are hops that are dried shortly after being harvested. They’re stored in freezers or coolers, and are usually sold by weight in mylar bags. Bags tend to contain a mix of whole cones and loose leaves. (Dried hop cones are very fragile, and will split into loose leaves very easily.)
Fresh off the bine hops are far less available than dried or pelletized hops, and are only available seasonally. In my opinion, those looking to utilize fresh hops are usually best off either growing them or knowing someone who does.
No matter what format you purchase, you’ll want to find an aroma hop with a low alpha acid rating, in the flavour profile you want. There are many charts out there to help in choosing a variety, and they’re usually available at homebrew supply stores to aid in your shopping.
No matter the format you’re using, there are a few natural “enemies” of your hops: heat, oxygen and light. The better you can protect your hops from these elements, the longer they’ll taste right.
Time is also a natural enemy of hops; the alpha acids and essential oils begin degrading almost as soon as the hops are picked from the bine, but the damage that time brings can be mitigated with careful attention paid to the aforementioned elements.
Store your hops chilled, in dark, airtight containers. Mylar/foil bags are great at preventing light damage. If your hops don’t come in resealable bags, you can buy stand-up pouches from many places online. We’ll usually buy a pack of 200 and use them for several harvests worth of hops.
While we usually just press out most of the air as we’re sealing the bags, vacuum seal bags are also a great option, especially if you’ll be storing your hops for more than a few months. As most vacuum seal bags are clear, it’s a good idea to store vacuum packed hops in a second, darker bag or container.
For hops you’ll be using within a few days, refrigerator storage is fine. If you’re looking to keep them for much longer than that, storing them in the freezer is the best way to go. While heat, oxygen and light can be kept at bay with your packaging and storage, time is still an issue. Freezing slows the degradation of alpha acids and essential oils, but doesn’t stop it.
For that reason, we recommend throwing out hops after a year in the freezer. They won’t be “bad” after a year in the freezer, much the same way that spices are “bad” after a year or two ... it’s just nicest to use fresher ones!
Using Hops in Cooking
When using hops in brewing, the process is pretty much universal: you put the hops in the boiling wort at some point (either for a long boil or for aromatics at the end), and strain the hops out at some point. This is the case whether using fresh, dried or pelletized hops.
When it comes to cooking with hops, the method really depends on the type of hop, as well as the type of recipe. You can use any form of hop, strain it out or leave it in, et cetera.
Also, a cheat note: a small amount of baking soda and/or sugar can neutralize and balance out a bit of the bitter if you go a bit too nuts with the hops!
Hops can be used to infuse a dish, then strained out; for instance, when making sauces, custards, et cetera. This is great for when you want the flavour of the hops, but without actual hop material in the dish.
You can infuse/strain any format of hop — fresh, dried, pelletized — but the straining out will differ. A normal sieve/colander will work great for fresh or dried hops, but to remove bits of pelletized hops it’s best to line your sieve with a layer of fine cheesecloth.
Another issue to take into account is liquid uptake. Fresh hops will remove little, if any, liquid from your recipe. Dried hops will reconstitute slightly, removing a bit of the liquid from your dish.
Pelletized hops, however, take up a significant amount of liquid in reconstitution. You can squeeze some of this liquid out of the pulp during the straining step, but it will hold onto a fair amount. If you’re using pelletized hops in a recipe that calls for dried or fresh hop leaves, you may want to add a bit more liquid to compensate for the liquid retained by the hop pulp.
Sometimes I’ll use hops in such a way that I don’t plan to remove them from the dish. To better distribute the flavours throughout the dish, the pieces of hop need to be broken down into a finer texture. For this, I’ll use a mortar and pestle (pellet hops), or a spice/coffee grinder. This works best with dried and pellet hops (you can get them down to a fine powder), but will do a good job of shredding fresh hops down to smaller pieces as well.
Sometimes, having the whole “leaves” (bracts) of the hop flower in a recipe can be desirable, even pretty. This is usually best done with dried hops, as they break down into individual leaves much more easily than fresh hops. While my husband would be more than happy to have entire hop cones in his food, most people wouldn’t find that palatable!
One of the most convenient ways to include hop flavouring into your cooking and baking is through the use of homemade hop extracts, which are very easy to make. The recipe/method is in our book, Hedonistic Hops!
- 3 Chicken breasts
- 8 oz Button mushrooms
- 1 to 2 Zucchini
- ⅓ cup Olive oil
- ½ cup Cider vinegar
- ¼ cup Light brown sugar, packed
- 2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
- 4 Garlic cloves, pressed or finely minced
- ½ tsp Powdered Pellet hops
- Salt & pepper
- Trim chicken breasts, cut into 1" cubes. Wash mushrooms and zucchini, slice zucchini into ½" thick slices. Place prepared chicken and vegetables into a non-metallic bowl or dish (with a lid).
- Whisk together all remaining ingredients, aside from salt and pepper. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour over chicken and vegetables, stir well to coat. Chill for 1 hour.
- Thread chicken onto skewers, and vegetables onto separate skewers (they’ll have different cook times). Grill until chicken is cooked through, and vegetables are as cooked as you like them. Serve hot.
- 1 cup Water
- 1 cup Granulated sugar
- 1 Lemon, zest of
- Pinch Salt
- ¼ tsp Baking soda
- ½ oz Dried hops — leaves or pellets
- 1 cup Freshly squeezed lemon juice
- Cold water
- In a medium saucepan, combine water, sugar, and lemon zest. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring to dissolve sugar.
- Once sugar is dissolved, add baking soda and hops. Stir and remove from heat. Cover and allow to steep for 10 minutes.
- When 10 minutes is up, add lemon juice and stir well. Pour through a cheesecloth lined strainer (I find 2 or 3 layers of cheesecloth works best), and into a 2L (½ gallon) sized pitcher. Discard hop pulp.
- Add cold water to pitcher, to taste; stir well, and allow to chill for 30 minutes before serving.
This article is partially excerpted from Hedonistic Hops. Recipes from Hedonistic Hops. Photo Credit for all: Michael Porter, Celebration Generation.
Win A Copy of Hedonistic Hops
We're excited that Celebration Generation has provided one copy of Hedonistic Hops for a giveaway to one of our FBC readers! The contest is open to all residents of Canada and the United States. The winner will be contacted by email and will be required to answer a skill testing question.
The article Hedonistic Hops is written by Marie Porter. Marie is an Aspergian polymath, which is just a fancy way of saying that she knows a lot of stuff — and does even more stuff — with a brain that runs on a different operating system than most. Because of that OS, her career has spanned across many facets: she’s a trained mixologist, competitive cake artist, professional costumer, food blogger, and — last but not least — author. As of 2016, her written works include six cookbooks, six specialty sewing manuals, and a tornado memoir. You can find Marie at Celebration Generation, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.