Hops (Humulus lupulus) are a climbing plant from the Cannabaceae family. They are often described as bines due to their need for supports which they wrap themselves around during growth. In beer, hops impart bitterness to balance the sweetness of the beer malts, as well as providing flavours, a variety of aromas, resins to increase head retention, and retardants to slow down spoilage. Hops are a natural organic preservative. It is the flower of the hop plant that is processed for beer brewing.
Hop flowers are shaped like pine cones. Each cone is composed of thin, green, papery, leaf-like bracts. Within the bracts are the waxy, yellow lupulin glands. This is where the alpha acids and essential oils are most concentrated. Alpha acids in hops are responsible for the bitterness and the oils that give your beer both flavour and aroma. The plant has separate male and female bines. However it is only the female bines that develop cones.Home brewers have the option to use either flowers or pellets. Home brewers most times prefer pellets.
Other than being used in beer, hops also have medicinal application. They are being trialed in highly concentrated powder form as a possible solution to gluten intolerance.