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.
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Sociologist Arthur B. Shostak thinks stories of hope hold a critical place amid the teachings of the Holocaust. HowStuffWorks talked to Shostak to learn more.