Beer, as a culinary product of its own sort, naturally inspires chefs to integrate its ingredients into their cooking. Sometimes this idea works: Water, after all, is integral to cooking. Spent grain can be used for various breads. And yeast—well, those breads couldn’t exist without it.
Hops, though, are pretty much only good for brewing.
“Hop flowers are not a pleasant thing,” said Andrew Gerson, the head of culinary programming at Brooklyn Brewery.
This should come as no surprise to beer fans. Even in their milieu hops are an acquired taste. Ask all the beer beginners who have to deal with amateur Cicerone friends constantly foisting IPAs upon them. The bitter taste of humulus lupulus is not for everyone.
But this limitation is not insurmountable. When used with care, hops have some culinary utility. And now that hops are in harvest season, one should take note of this fact before tossing any shoots or extra flowers in the garbage.
“I think it’s starting to transcend into the food world a lot more than it ever has,” said Gerson. “I think the American palate, the world palate, whatever you want to say, is really starting to wake up to bitterness.”
Gerson studied culinary arts at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollentia, Italy. There, in the university’s courses on foraging, instructors would lead the students to the sides of roads to pick wild hop (lupulo) shoots, which can be pickled or blanched and served with olive oil, salt and pepper.
“They’re like a cross between broccoli rabe and asparagus,” Gerson said.
Since joining the team at Brooklyn Brewery, Gerson has been tinkering with using more of the hops themselves in his cooking.
“The flavor profiles are really vast, so you can use them for a lot of different applications,” said Gerson. He emphasized that a little goes a long way when it comes to cooking with hops, and that using them in a way that highlights their aromas, as opposed to their bitterness, is a good tact to start with.
At HopTown Pizza, a food truck that operates in Washington state’s hop-filled Yakima Valley, owner Carrie Wright and her business partner Lori Roy sprinkle crushed Cascade hop pellets over their pizzas, much like one would normally do with oregano or basil. The food truck does this to all of its pies, out of homage to the area’s hop industry.
“You can kind of just smell the hops,” said Wright. “It kind of gives us a unique flavor you don’t get anywhere else.”
Visiting hop heads who flock to Yakima are especially keen on trying the pizzas, Wright continued.
Carrie Knose of Living the Dream Brewing Co. in Littleton, Colorado, began infusing cooking oils with hops in order to combine her passions of beer and vegetarian cooking. Knose uses a cold infusion for her oils, which results in more citrusy and aromatic profiles than the bitter ones that would result from heating the hops.
Knose uses her oils to make salad dressings, like one recipe that combines them with red wine vinegar, minced garlic and lemon juice and is especially useful to dress a quinoa salad. She also sells jars of the oils at Living the Dream.
“People who love the aroma and the flavor profile of hops, they want to infuse that in their everyday lives,” Knose said. “They would wear cologne with it, I’m sure, if it was available.”
Gerson is interested in trying hop-infused oils himself, but for now uses hops to prepare a version of dry-cured salmon for Brooklyn Brewery’s events. Gerson mixes ground hops into a spice mix with sugar and salt, cures the salmon with the mixture, and then serves the fish on Nordic rye bread with yogurt-based sauces and beet mostarda.
“We now have a food community that would be much more accepting of adding hops into its food,” said Gerson. “But it’s still something that has to be done very carefully.”
Bo McMillan is the editorial assistant at All About Beer Magazine.