By Jane Dummer, RD
Barley malt is created when specific varieties of barley grains go through a process called malting. Once the grain has reached its optimal growth through sprouting, then it is dried and roasted. After it is roasted to the desired colour and flavour, then the grain is mashed. At this stage, the malt can be used create powders, extracts and syrups for different food production applications.
Simple sugars plus nutrients
The malting process causes the complex carbohydrates in the barley to break down into simple sugars, giving it and its ingredients a sweet taste, plus a neutral caramel brown colour. Both attributes are very desirable in food production. Even though barley malt is made up of simple sugars, it also provides nutritional benefits. Like barley in its original form, malt is a source of B vitamins, iron, potassium and calcium. Malt is not a significant source of protein; however, it does contain essential amino acids.
Barley malt and its ingredients
Barley malt and its ingredients including powders, extracts and syrups are used in several food production applications. This includes aiding in beverage and food fermentation, providing natural colour and flavours, plus offering desirable textures and supplying a subtle level of sweetness. The most well-known use of barley malt is in both beer and whisky making. It is also used to create malt vinegar, bread and baked goods, cereals, chocolate and confectionary, along with the classic malted milkshakes. Let’s explore these uses.
Beer and whisky
Once the barley grain is converted into malt, alcohol fermentation is possible. Consumers often understand that barley malt is a key ingredient in brewing beer and whisky. For example, single malt whisky only uses barley malt, whereas blended whisky can contain corn, rye and even wheat as the base. In addition to fermentation, barley malt influences the taste and colour of these beverages. Different roasting techniques and times, during the malting process, result in different outcomes. For example, a lightly roasted malt will produce a pale-coloured, mild tasting beer, while a dark roasted malt will produce a stout beer with rich colour and bold malt flavour.
Malt vinegar is created by taking the first fermentation of malted barley in beer making, then fermenting it a second time to create a vinegar. Malt vinegar has a nutty-malty flavour and can range in colour from light to rich caramel brown colour. It is an especially popular condiment both in Canada and the UK. Malt vinegar is usually found in condiment or bakery aisles at the grocery store. Additionally, malt vinegar is one of the main ingredients in Worcestershire sauce.
Bread and baked goods
In baking, powdered barley malt is added to flour and used to make bread, bagels, waffles, pretzel buns and tortillas. It is often labelled diastatic malt powder which contain active enzymes used in these applications. This malt powder format feeds the yeast efficiently causing the dough to rise quickly. In addition to the fermentation aspect, the diastatic malt powder creates an appealing texture which provides a great spring to the bread.
Bakers have always appreciated how amino acids and sugars in barley malt extract and syrup (also known as maltose) combine to produce a brownish colour known as the Maillard reaction. An appetizing caramel brown is an important colour in the food industry, especially in baking. And when this colour can be produced naturally from barley malt extract and syrup, it’s a win-win for both food producers and consumers.
Cereals and granola bars
Barley malt extracts and syrups are used in breakfast cereal and granola bar production. The malt flavour and colour can range from mild to robust. An example includes coating of cereal pieces. It provides an appealing golden colour and gives a mild-malt sweetness. Plus, it is a consumer-friendly ingredient to help cut down on the overall added sugars, added colours and flavours in this category. Another application for barley malt syrups includes as a binder in granola bars. It provides a mild sweetness and good viscosity.
Chocolate and confectionary
As well as baked foods, barley malt extracts and syrups can be used to add colour, flavour and texture to chocolate and other confectionery. Malted milk balls are a nostalgic chocolate confectionary treat that are still popular today. The texture of the malted centre is light and airy with a melt reaction once it hits the tongue. Barley malt extract is also advantageous for use in hard caramels because no artificial flavours or colours need to be added. Malted powders, extracts and syrups are used directly in chocolate chips and chocolate chunks. This helps with the colour and browning (Maillard reaction) when added to candies and desserts. Additionally, it provides the distinctive malty-sweet taste which creates delicious products.
Another nostalgic product is the classic “malt”, also known as a malted milkshake, popularized in the 1920s. It is a traditional milkshake recipe with the addition of malted milk powder, which is a combination of malt powder plus milk solids. It is a pale-yellow powder with a milky, nutty flavour that is used to make malted milkshakes, plus other sweet beverages and foods. Modern day “malts” can be made with barley malt powders or syrups, forgoing the malted milk powder of the classic original.
Final thoughts for barley malt and its ingredients
From aiding fermentation and providing desirable textures to offering natural colours and flavours, barley malt, powders, extracts and syrups are beneficial consumer-friendly ingredients in food production. The distinct subtle sweetness, along with a touch of nutrition, makes these malt ingredients extremely useful in several applications beyond beer and whisky making.