Hops, an important part of the brewing process
Hops , cone clusters from the female plant, have been a key ingredient in brewing since the 11th century. They are used primarily as a flavoring and stability agent in beer, to which they impart a bitter, tangy flavor, though hops are also used for various purposes in other beverages and herbal medicine. However, the first documented use of hops in beer as a bittering agent is from the 11th century. Before this period, brewers used a wide variety of bitter herbs and flowers, including dandelion, burdock root, marigold, horehound (the German name for horehound means "mountain hops"), ground ivy, and heather. Hops are used extensively in brewing for their many purported benefits, including balancing the sweetness of the malt with bitterness, contributing a variety of desirable flavors and aromas, and having an antibacterial effect that favors the activity of brewer's yeast over less desirable microorganisms. Historically, traditional herb combinations for ales were believed to have been abandoned when ales made with hops were noticed to be less prone to spoilage.