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Ancient elites drank wine infused with vanilla, says study

Wine enriched with vanilla may have been popular among royals and high society in Jerusalem more than 2,500 years ago, suggest researchers in a new study.

Researchers examining remnants of jars dating back to the kingdom of Judah found evidence that royal elites in Jerusalem may have been drinking wine ‘flavoured with vanilla’.

It’s already known that wine has a long history in the region, and some studies suggest wines contained added spices or herbs.

Yet researchers said they were surprised to find traces of vanillin in some of the ancient storage jars, which were excavated from debris caused by the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BCE / BC.

‘The large capacity of the jars and the presence of wine-markers may indicate that the vanilla was used as a wine additive,’ said researchers in findings published in the PLoS One journal.

‘Archaeological evidence for flavouring wine with exotic spices has recently begun to accumulate,’ added the study’s authors, from the Israel Antiquities Authority plus Tel Aviv University and the Weizmann Institute of Science.

As a highly prized import, vanilla was probably the preserve of high society at the time. Several jars examined by the researchers contained a rosette stamp linking them to the kingdom of Judah’s royal economy.

‘Residues of vanilla, discovered in some of the jars, attest to the great prestige of the wine and to the drinking habits of the elite residents of Jerusalem,’ said the study’s authors.

They said the findings indicated vanilla was used ‘as a wine additive by the kings of Judah and their entourage’.

They added the vanilla was likely imported from India or East Africa. ‘Both areas were connected to the Levant by the desert roads which originated ether in South Arabia or Egypt,’ they said.

The news comes only a few months after a ‘huge’ winery complex dating back 1,500 years was discovered by archaeologists working for the Israel Antiquities Authority near the city of Yavne.

See full study in PLoS One.

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