August 1, 2006
Bread-making, beer brewing, early attempts at wine cultivation. What these all have in common is a beginning with barley, and, more particularly, the technique of barley malting. Some 10,000 years ago, the Sumerians were cultivating barley to make cakes of dried and compressed grain that, when reconstituted with water, could be used either as a basis for bread dough or as a mash for fermenting alcohol. In fact, much scientific debate has ensued over whether civilization owes its birth to the discovery of making bread or beer.
In broad terms, malt and the malting process have become somewhat intertwined. Malt is a general label for a variety of malt ingredients (almost entirely barleys) that are responsible for contributing key attributesincluding texture, flavor and colorto breads, other baked products and alcoholic beverages. They also supply various nutrients, such as essential minerals and vitamins. They contain high quantities of protein, are low in fat and are a source of whole grains. Produced conventionally or organically, they are label-friendly.
If barley is soaked in water and constantly stirred to maintain high oxygen levels, it will germinate. This generates high quantities of both alpha and beta amylase, the two enzymes responsible for translating starch into sugar. The procedure is referred to as malting, and results in the ingredient known as malt. Malting produces a sugary fermentation that forms the basis for making bread, or beverages such as beers and whiskeys.
After malting, the barley can be used in two ways: It can be dried and sold as dried malt, or it can be given a high-temperature treatment that caramelizes some of the sugar to produce a pleasant-tasting flavoring which, confusingly, is also referred to as malt. If processors extract this with water, it is then considered a malt extract. Dark beers can be made from malt that has been heated so much it is almost burned black, hence the dark color.
Malted barley also can be found in a wide range of foods, including breakfast cereals and baked goods. In baking, the key is to choose the correct class of ingredient for each specific formulation. These can take the form of malt extracts, malted powders and malted flours. Each type of malted product is characterized by its specific function. There are six types, or classes, available: flour, diastatic (incorporating active enzymes), nondiastatic (inactive enzymes), extract, specialty or conventional.
For bakers and several other food processors, malts principal advantage is as an additive.
An instance is the way activated-enzyme malt helps to mellow the gluten in wheat flour, notes Joe Hickenbottom, vice president of sales and marketing, Malt Products Corporation, Saddlebrook, NJ. It is very useful in mixing and dough proofing.
As more and more bakers turn to artisanal bread-making, they are making more use of malt, especially organic and GMO-free malt extract, he says.
Whether produced in a dried or liquid form, malt extracts have the distinction of being the bakers original starch-derived sweetener. Predating the advent of corn syrups, malt extracts offered food processors a sweetening agent composed of nothing more than grain and water.
Malt extract is essentially a modification of the brewing procedure, and instead of being used in the beer-fermenting process, it is transformed into a sweetened viscous liquid or dried into powdered form.
Malt extracts exhibit carbohydrate characteristics that compare favorably with high-maltose syrups. Where the malt extracts differ is in their nutritional profile. In contrast to starch-based sweeteners, they are richly endowed with minerals, vitamins and free amino acids, as well as with heavy concentrations (up to 6%) of proteins. Indeed, malt extracts nutritional wealth makes it fit for use as a browning or yeast-food ingredient. As a sweetener, malt extract comprises about half maltose and some 10% glucose in its profile. The bulk of the solids are subjected to yeast-activated fermentation, says Hansen. A baker who incorporates malt extract in a formulation is able to add these sugars without adversely influencing the enzyme content of the dough.
Malted diastatic barley flour
Malted diastatic barley flour contains the active forms of alpha- and beta-amylase enzymes. Its value for bakers is that its high enzymatic content makes it a potent dough conditioner, even though it accounts for barely 1% of total ingredients, contributing negligibly to the color and the flavor of the baked product. On the other hand, its benefits include more-intense crust browning, better machinability and enhanced fermentation.
The fact is that bakers naturally want their flour to be stable, says Bob Hansen, technical service manager, Briess Industries, Inc., Chilton, WI. Adding the malted barley flour helps to stabilize the flour mixture, in addition to contributing to the dough conditioning.
Specialty malts are available in either diastatic or nondiastatic form. Diastatic specialty malts exhibit almost the exact opposite character of malted flour. By being given additional drying, they incorporate more intense flavor and color. Their additional drying reduces their enzymatic activity, so much so that baked goods formulations can use them in quantities of up to 3%. Therefore, the diastatic specialty malts can add a strong cookie or nut-type flavor and more intense color to dark breads, brownies and other baked goods. They are often included in pizza doughs and various dough products based on yeast fermentation.
In contrast, the nondiastatic specialty malts are processed at much higher drying temperatures that effectively destroy all enzymes. Exemplified by intense colors and flavors, the nondiastatic specialty malts contribute dark hues and caramel-type flavors, even though no enzyme activity is involved. Using nondiastatic malt gives the added benefit of helping to preserve the structure of the dough during proofing. Benefits of nondiastatic specialty malts include rich color, improved texture, a wholegrain ingredient, better fiber content and more intense flavor.
Also included in this class are the dark-roasted, nondiastatic specialty malts often seen in chocolate cake and chocolate cookie formulations.
Martin Schultz is an experienced consumer and trade magazine writer with a special interest in food and food-technology topics. He can be contacted at [email protected].
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