The ancient discovery of fermentation was almost certainly a happy accident – perhaps one of the happiest of all. No one knows who exactly invented the first beer. Humans first began domesticating wild grains around 10,000 years ago in Mesopotamia [source: Food Timeline]. The first breads were unleavened, meaning they were flat and tough. When grain gets wet, it becomes food for naturally occurring yeasts in the air, which produce alcohol as a byproduct.
At some point, ancient bakers must have noticed that this fermented grain rose into fluffier loaves of bread. A few adventurous/crazy folks also decided to take a sip of the stinky foam in the grain bin. And beer was born!
Some anthropologists and archaeologists even theorize that beer — not bread — was the original reason that humans took up agriculture [source: Kahn]. The social lubrication of low-proof alcohol may have softened the rigid social structures of ancient tribes and encouraged collaboration and innovation. Bread, some argue, was just a convenient byproduct of the quest to make tastier beer.
Author's Note: 10 of History's Happiest Accidents
Some of the tastiest food and beverage discoveries absolutely had to be accidents. Wine and beer are great examples. Who was the first guy — and it had to be a guy — to see a rotten pile of fruit soaking in days-old water and think, "I'm going to drink that!" Who was the first person to discover that if you let olives — inedible when freshly picked — cure in a salt brine for a few months, they're delicious? Probably the guy who found some old olives a seawater-soaked bag and though, "Why not?" Eating raw oysters had to start as a dare. And have you ever seen coffee or cocoa beans in the wild? How in the world did anyone imagine that those super bitter little beans could be converted into two of the world's most coveted confections? I know there must have been some happy — and plenty of unhappy — accidents along the way.
- American Physical Society. "This Month in Physics History: Nov. 8, 1895: Roentgen's Discovery of X-Rays." November 2001. (May 16, 2014) http://www.aps.org/publications/apsnews/200111/history.cfm
- BBC News. "Anniversary of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards Dartford Meeting." Oct. 17, 2011. (May 16, 2014) http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-kent-15333771
- BBC News. "Mick Jagger and Keith Richards Plaque for Dartford Station." Dec. 14, 2013. (May 20, 2014) http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-kent-25384381
- British Library. "Roentgen's Discovery of the X-ray." (May 16, 2014) http://www.bl.uk/learning/artimages/bodies/xray/roentgen.html
- Cyran, Pamela; and Gaylord, Chris. "The 20 most fascinating accidental inventions." The Christian Science Monitor. (May 16, 2014) http://www.csmonitor.com/Innovation/2012/1005/The-20-most-fascinating-accidental-inventions/Potato-chips
- Food Timeline. "FAQs: Bread." (May 16, 2014) http://www.foodtimeline.org/foodbreads.html
- Jay, Emma. "Viagra and other drugs discovered by accident." BBC News. Jan. 20, 2010. (May 16, 2014) http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/8466118.stm
- Kahn, Jeffrey P. "How Beer Gave Us Civilization." March 15, 2013 (May 16, 2014) http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/17/opinion/sunday/how-beer-gave-us-civilization.html
- Krok Leslie. "Accidental Discoveries." NOVA. Feb. 27, 2001. (May 16, 2014) http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/body/accidental-discoveries.html
- The Leon Levy Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Library. "Discovery and Publication." (May 16, 2014) http://www.deadseascrolls.org.il/learn-about-the-scrolls/discovery-and-publication
- The Leon Levy Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Library. "Introduction" (May 16, 2014) http://www.deadseascrolls.org.il/learn-about-the-scrolls/introduction
- The Mariner's Museum. "Pedro Alvares Cabral" (May 16, 2014) http://ageofex.marinersmuseum.org/index.php?type=explorer&id=60
- Nobelprize.org. "Sir Alexander Fleming – Biographical." (May 16, 2014) http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/medicine/laureates/1945/fleming-bio.html
- ÖZGENEL, Lale. "A TALE OF TWO CITIES: IN SEARCH FOR ANCIENT POMPEII AND HERCULANEUM" 2008, (May 21, 204) http://jfa.arch.metu.edu.tr/archive/0258-5316/2008/cilt25/sayi_1/1-25.pdf
- Popsicle. "The Popsicle Story." (May 16, 2014) http://www.popsicle.com/article/detail/107646/the-popsicle-story-popsicle-ice-pops
- Portland Works. "Portland Works and the Invention of Stainless Steel." (May 16, 2014) http://www.portlandworks.co.uk/history/the-tale-of-portland-works-and-the-invention-of-stainless-steel
- Royal Museums Greenwich. "Christopher Columbus." (May 16, 2014) http://www.rmg.co.uk/explore/sea-and-ships/facts/explorers-and-leaders/christopher-columbus
- Suddath, Claire. "A Brief History of: Velcro." Time. June 15, 2010. (May 16, 2014) http://content.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1996883,00.html
- Thomas, Katie. "Facing Black Market, Pfizer is Looking Online to Sell Viagra." The New York Times. May 6, 2013. (May 16, 2014) http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/07/business/pfizer-begins-selling-viagra-online.html
- White, L. Michael. "The Essenes and the Dead Sea Scrolls." Frontline. (May 16, 2014) http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/religion/portrait/essenes.html
HowStuffWorks tells the story of Ron Stallworth, the black police officer who infiltrated the KKK, and the subject of the movie 'BlacKkKlansman.'