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Zythum (from Latin, based on Greek: ζῦθος, zŷthos), was a malt beer made in ancient Egypt.


The name is Greek, meaning "ferment". The Latin name is a transcription of the Greek. The Egyptian name for beer was hqt.[1]


The principal ingredient was malted grain, either emmer wheat or barley or both together. It is often said that yeast was added by lightly baking bread and using crumbled bread to start the fermentation. This, however, is not supported by archaeological finds, which suggest instead that cooked grain and malted grain were combined, producing a mixture that contained sufficient sugar for fermentation.[2]

A very different recipe is mentioned in the third tractate of the Babylonian Talmud (42b).[3] According to Rav Yosef b. Hiyya, it contains 13 barley, 13 safflower seed and 13 salt. Rav Papa substituted wheat for barley. The ingredients were steeped, roasted and ground. This would not have produced real beer.

Medicinal properties[edit]

Apart from recreational drinking, zythum was used as an ancient Egyptian medicine. It was said to work as both a laxative and antidiarrhoeal. Its use was thought dangerous for sick people and pregnant women.


Among Orthodox Jews, it is forbidden during Passover because it contains barley, making it chametz, although the punishment of kareth is not applicable to its consumption.[citation needed]


  1. ^ "Beer in Ancient Egypt" at Ancient Egypt Online
  2. ^ Delwen Samuel, "Brewing and baking" in P. T. Nicholson, I. Shaw, eds, Ancient Egyptian materials and technology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000) pp. 537-576, especially 555-557
  3. ^ Norman Solomon, ed. (2009). "Third Tractate Pesahim (The Passover)". The Talmud: A Selection. Penguin. pp. 148, 150. ISBN 978-0-14-144178-8.

External links[edit]


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