Before society developed modern water treatment procedures, drinking impure water was a common way to pick up diseases. For centuries, beer was a popular alternative in many nations. Harmful microorganisms were removed during the production process, thanks to boiling and the addition of hops, which have natural antibiotic and antifungal properties.
Today, developed countries have plenty of safe beverage options, but hops are still an important crop. Most of the 55-60 million pounds of hops grown in the United States each year are still used in beer, but an appreciation of their antimicrobial benefits has led to use in products such as processed sugar and animal feed. Recent ARS research has developed new hops for diverse uses, along with improved storage methods to protect the genetic diversity of this important crop. Learn more about Hops: New Markets, Better Storage (Laura McGinnis, ARS. Agriculture Research, January 2008).