Malt's Many Faces
March 01, 2009
by Donna Berry
Neither a blended ice cream drink nor a "cold one," the malt discussed here is the secret ingredient of many bakers. Because in addition to providing sweetness to baked foods, malt ingredients serve a number of unexpected and very appealing functions. "Malt-enhanced baked products are legend," said Joseph Hickenbottom, vice-president, sales and marketing, Malt Products Corp., Saddle Brook, NJ. "Their extra palatability, richness and overall consumer acceptance lead to increased sales by bakers using them."
WHAT IS MALT? Malt is produced when cereal grains are sprouted to activate their enzymes. This is followed by germination and drying. The term malt has become synonymous with malted barley because this cereal grain is malted most often and is used in the production of beer. However, other grains such as wheat and rye can also be malted.
"Malted barley is considered a natural sweetener with a rich, distinctive flavor and aroma," said Mike DeLuca, vice-president, Domino Specialty Ingredients, West Palm Beach, FL. "This maltose-based nutritive sweetener is an excellent alternative to highly refined sugar and non-nutritive syrups."
Mr. Hickenbottom added, "Rather than contributing a strong malty flavor, malt enhances the natural flavors inherent in the flour, yeast, shortening and even other sweeteners used in many baked products."
For example, malt helps to buffer and round out the whole-grain bitterness found in many multigrain products, according to Mr. Hickenbottom. "The type of malt to use for this functionality is a nondiastatic liquid or dry extract, or a malt ingredient that has been blended with corn syrup," he said. He also pointed out a distinguishing characteristic of malt ingredients — the presence of enzymes, referred to as diastatic, and the absence of enzymes, commonly called nondiastatic.
The two vary in functionality. "Diastatic malt is used primarily by bakers to supplement the amylase in wheat flour. This provides sugar for fermentation, in addition to improving pan flow, crumb color and break-and-shred in bread-type products," Mr. DeLuca said. "Nondiastatic malts can replace up to 50% of the sugar in dough. They are valued as a flavoring and coloring agent for their sweetness and natural humectant properties. The nutritive elements promote vigorous yeast activity, accelerate dough conditioning and add flavor and aroma."
Bob Hansen, technical services manager, Briess Malt & Ingredients Co., Chilton, WI, added, "Diastatic malt that is dried more in the kiln during the malting process develops intense malty or nutty flavors while preserving some enzymatic activity. Such specialty diastatic malts can be used at up to 3% to contribute flavor and color to breads, pizza crusts and other yeast-fermented doughs.
"Kilning at higher temperatures and/or roasting results in specialty nondiastatic malts, which are characterized by pronounced flavors and colors," Mr. Hansen said. "Because they have no enzymes, these malts will not break down dough systems. Light roasting creates reddish hues and caramel/toffee flavors. Dark roasting imparts dark brown to black colors and coffee/cocoa flavors."
BASIC TO SPECIALTY. The most basic malt ingredient is malted barley flour. "Malt flour contains primarily ?- and ?-amylase but also protease, glucanase and many other enzymes," said Lutz Popper, head of R&D at Mühlenchemie GmbH & Co. KG, Ahrensburg, Germany. "Some of these (amylases and glucanases) may have a positive effect on the baking process, but some (proteases) can also cause damage, for instance, excess dough softening." Malted wheat, barley and rye have similar enzyme profiles.
"Because it is enzyme-rich, standard malted barley flour is used by bakers in very small quantities," said Judie Giebel, technical services representative at Briess. "Using 1% or less in yeast-fermented dough systems standardizes the enzyme level of wheat flour for consistent fermentation and proofing times, helping to keep continuous baking operations on schedule."
Paul Bright, product development manager, Fleischmann’s Yeast, Chesterfield, MO, said, "There are several recognized functions of malt in yeast-raised baked foods. Most importantly, the baker needs malt to provide flavor substances that contribute to a distinct, sweet caramel flavor and aroma. Malt also contains relatively high levels of the sugar maltose, as well as the enzyme amylase. Both of these components help promote vigorous yeast activity, which leads to shorter proofing times and increased baked size. Another benefit of the reactions with maltose is a warm, welcoming color, which improves the overall appearance of the baked product."
Mr. Hickenbottom added, "The natural brown color of malts, both liquid and dry, diastatic and nondiastatic, adds to the perception of a rich finished baked product, making all such products more desirable by the consumer.
"Further, oven times are shortened since crusts brown faster with malt," Mr. Hickenbottom continued. "Bagels, for example, when made by the boiling method, achieve a very bright crust sheen and darker color from being boiled in water containing a few ounces of nondiastatic malt — usually liquid, but dry can be used, too."
Malt ingredients are now being used across a wide variety of applications. "Similar to yeast-raised baked foods, malt can enhance flavor and color development in pizza and tortillas," said Mr. Bright. "Flavor enhancements might include distinct profiles such as sweet, caramel or nutty. This happens through the Maillard reaction, a chemical reaction between amino acids and reducing sugars that takes place during baking."
Varying the malting process of the grain or additional minimal processing creates a number of other malt ingredients. "Fleischmann’s Yeast has been able to develop different levels of enzyme-active malt products for specific baked food categories," Mr. Bright said. "These malts perform the same functions of flavor and color yet are tailored to the application."
One such example is malt extract. "Unrefined sugars such as malt extract are a rich source of vitamins, minerals and essential amino acids. This alone makes a very strong argument for its use in baked foods, especially when health-conscious consumers are desperate for a healthier alternative to refined sugars and syrups," said Andrew Fuller, product development technologist with Muntons PLC, United Kingdom, which supplies malt ingredients to Red Star Yeast Co. LLC, Milwaukee, WI.
"Malt extracts can be produced as diastatic or nondiastatic and are made when malted grains are mixed with water, allowing the enzymes to break down the starch," Mr. Hansen said. "They are then concentrated to make a viscous, stable liquid sweetener or dried to make a powder."
Malt extract can be made from any type of malted grain. However, similar to the term malt, the term malt extract, when unqualified, refers to an extract of malted barley.
"Malt extract is often used for browning, especially in par-baked items like traditional bagels, pretzels and pizza crust that require fast browning," Ms. Giebel said. "Extract has high levels of both amino acids and reducing sugars, which makes it perfect to create a browning effect."
"In biscuits, a small level of malt extract (less than 1%) produces a crunchy texture," Mr. Fuller said. "The amylase gives more volume and an open structure to breads, as well as the crust browning you would expect from malt extract. This works particularly well with breads such as ciabatta, in which an open uneven structure is desired."
Suppliers offer an array of specialty malt extracts that possess varying functionalities, including unique colors and flavors. "We are also looking at new grains and developing processes to produce ingredients with more flavor, different colors and textural benefits," Mr. Fuller said.
As mentioned, wheat and rye can also be malted. Like barley, they can be produced as diastatic or nondiastatic. "When produced as diastatic malts, these cereal grains have enzymatic benefits similar to malted barley but offer unique formulation, color and flavor characteristics," Ms. Giebel said. "For example, malted wheat flour is characterized by a creamy flavor, whereas malted rye has applications in rye-flavored breads and crackers."
Mr. Fuller added, "Malted wheat and rye flakes are simply whole malted grains that have been moistened, flattened and toasted. These can be added to bread recipes without soaking and give a fantastic rustic visual and a burst of savory malty flavor."
INNOVATIVE APPLICATIONS. "We are developing an ultrafiltered ‘super dark’ malt extract that offers a completely different set of benefits compared with traditional malt extracts. The dark color combined with a roasted taste is the perfect complement to chocolate products," Mr. Fuller said. "When about 2% is added to a formula, it provides a glossy cake crumb with dark chocolate color and enhancement of bitter chocolate flavors suggestive of a premium product. This product also gives an attractive dark appearance to rye breads."
It’s also now possible to develop rich chocolate flavor in brownies without any cocoa while adding whole-grain goodness from specialty malted barley flours. "A combination of whole-grain chocolate malted barley flour and caramel malted barley flour develops all the flavor and color in a prototype brownie recipe we developed. Because the grains are pure malted barley flour, the only ingredient to add to the ingredient deck is ‘malted barley,’ and it can help a manufacturer develop product claims like natural, whole grain and non-GMO," Ms. Giebel said.
These dark roasted malts can also be used to develop rich coffee and unique flavors in specialty teas, according to Ms. Giebel. They are caffeine free and, again, help manufacturers develop or retain a cleaner label.
"Caramel malt ingredients can also significantly improve the color and flavor of baked foods," Ms. Giebel said. "Caramel malted barley flour and caramel malt extract combined can be used in small quantities (less than 5%) in breads and crackers for natural golden to reddish colors. The caramel malt extract also adds yeast food for improved fermentation. Used together or alone they add an appealing layer of subtle flavor."
An intense roasting process was developed by Briess to produce a specialty malted barley flour that mimics the color and functionality of black cocoa. The company’s black cocoa replacer is 100% pure malted barley flour, produced without any alkali or other additives and is available as certified organic. "In addition to being a lower cost and more stable-priced ingredient than black cocoa, it is natural whole-grain flour made in the US from North American-grown malting barley. This can be flagged on product labels," Mr. Hansen said.
Using black cocoa replacer in dark cookies, breads, toaster pastries and cereals requires reformulation, and Briess recommends starting at a 25% replacement rate until the desired flavor, color and texture is achieved.
Gluten-free varieties of malt and malt substitutes are also being made. "Malted sorghum and malted sorghum syrup are available on a limited basis," Mr. Hansen said.
Sorghum syrup, which is unmalted and made from the cane of the sorghum plant, has been produced for many years as a natural sweetener. More recently, however, Briess developed and now makes commercially available grain sorghum syrup, which is unmalted and made from the grain of the sorghum plant. "This is significant because its carbohydrate profile is similar to malt extract, making it a gluten-free substitute for malt extract because of its ability to brown," Mr. Hansen said. This makes it possible for manufacturers of gluten-free foods to improve the appearance and flavor of crackers, flaked cereal and other baked foods.
This article can also be found in the digital edition of Baking & Snack, March 1, 2009, starting on Page 77. Click here to search that archive.