Unique features of malt

Malt refers to cereal grains that have been allowed to germinate or sprout by soaking in water. The process – known as ‘malting’ – is then halted by drying out the grain with hot air.

When the grains begin to germinate, they start to break down their stored starches, resulting in the production of maltose, or malt sugar, and more complex sugars known as maltodextrines.

This means there are actually several different ingredients which may be referred to as ‘malt’ – the malted grains themselves, the sugars and enzymes produced during the malting process, or even a product called malted milk, which is created by adding evaporated milk to the grains.

Thanks to its naturally high enzyme content, barley is the most commonly used grain to produce malt, but oats, wheat, rye, corn, and rice can also be used.

What is malt used for in products

Malt can be used to help doughs rise and improve browning, mask bitter flavours, improve the nutritional profile and fibre content of a food, and add a subtle caramelly sweetness to products.

Aside from converting starches into sugars, the malting process also breaks down proteins which can be used by yeast. This is why brewer’s malt is often used in beers and whisky, as it results in a higher alcohol content.

Malt is often widely used as a flavouring agent. One of its interesting historical uses was to make cod liver oil more palatable to children!

Malt extract is still used as a nutritional supplement, although its most common use is now in brewing and baking. Barley malt extract and barley malt syrup are produced by evaporating most of the water after the malting process is complete.

Products that contain malt

Malt, barley malt extract, and malt syrup are used in a wide range of products, including:

  • Malt vinegar
  • Beers, ales, lagers, and some pilsners
  • Whisky and malt liquors
  • Flavoured malt beverages, ‘malternatives’ and alcopops
  • Malted milk and malted milkshakes
  • Alcohol-free beers and soft drinks like Malta
  • Baked goods like bagels, malt loaves and Rich Tea biscuits
  • Confections and chocolates like Maltesers, Whoppers, and Lindor chocolate truffles
  • Flavoured drinks like Horlicks, Milo, and Ovaltine
  • Malted barley is added to blended flours in the production of many yeast breads
  • Dried malt extract is sometimes used as an alternative to traditional table sugar
  • Some breakfast cereals like Rice Krispies and Corn Flakes

Types of malt

Diastatic and nondiastatic malts

Diastatic malt contains active enzymes, so is used to boost fermentation. Nondiastatic malt is heated to ‘killing temperature’ to deactivate these enzymes.

Base and specialty malts

In brewing, base malts are used to create extra food for the brewing yeasts. Speciality malts, on the other hand, are used mainly to add flavour, aroma and colour.