A recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that the humble wasp and their more aggressive cousin the hornet, carry yeast that is responsible for the fermentation of wine, beer and bread.
Researchers from Yale University found that the yeast, Saccharomyces Cerevisiae, live inside the wasps during their winter hibernation and subsequently when they feed on grapes their bite leaves traces of the yeast that act as a catalyst in the fermentation process.
DNA sequencing was used to analyse the genes of the yeast and the researchers were then able to trace them back to the wasps’ gut.
While other animals like birds and insects also carry the yeast, wasps have an ability to carry Saccharomyces Cerevisiae during the winter and their capacity to pass it on to their offspring makes them a “wine lover’s best friend”, according to Duccio Cavalieri, professor of microbiology at the University of Florence and one of the authors of the study.
“Wasps are a wine lover’s best friend,” Cavalieri said. “The study shows it is crucial to look at conservation and the study of biodiversity – everything is linked.” He continued: “One of the most beautiful things of wine is the fact that basically it's complex; it's made of several parts and it communicates to several parts of your brain,"
Although winemakers have the capacity to add least later on in the process the report illustrates the importance of ecology and in particular those pesky wasps, intimating wine just wouldn’t taste the same without them.
While the research may be a surprise to some, wasps and other insects have long been used to help the winemaking process and indeed with the growth of other crops. Ancient Romans planted flowers near their vines to lure certain insects to encourage the fermentation process.