Honey’s simplicity is appealing to consumers looking for ingredients they recognize when reading the ingredient labels.

Honey and malt have been a part of baking for a long time — as in thousands of years. These ingredients have lent their flavor, sweetness and functionality to baked goods for almost as long as humans have been able to harvest and turn them to their own purposes. With today’s consumer obsession with all things natural and a back-to-basics mentality, honey and malt extract fit right into the hottest trends of the day.

While other sweeteners such as high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) are losing favor in the eyes of consumers, honey and malt extracts have experienced a resurgence in popularity as natural alternatives.

“A lot of sweeteners out there are being scrutinized by consumers and consumer watchdog groups,” said Keith Seiz, ingredient marketing representative, National Honey Board. “Honey is one of the few all-natural sweeteners that still has a positive perception.”

Not only can these ingredients’ inherent flavor and sweetness enable them to act as alternatives to artificial sweeteners and even refined sugars, but they also bring some functionality benefits.

“Malt extracts can be used in baked products that contain reduced or no added refined sugar to enhance the overall external/internal baked product characteristics while contributing to a unique and desirable flavor profile,” said Paul Bright, innovation manager, AB Mauri North America.

These functions along with the ability to clean up an ingredient list make honey and malt extracts proven sweetener tools in a baker’s toolbox.

Functional flavor

Malt and honey perform several functions in baked goods’ formulations, including assisting in browning and color, structure development, mouthfeel and shelf life extension.

“Bread, rolls and cereals will always be a sweet spot for honey,” Mr. Seiz said. “Those are the applications where we are going to get the most usage just because of the functions honey performs in those applications, not just the sweetness but also the mouthfeel and extending the shelf life.”

Honey is a natural shelf life extender in that it holds onto moisture. Moisture migration is a major aspect of staling, and honey’s affinity for holding onto moisture keeps it from moving throughout the product. Honey also has a high acidity, making it a natural mold inhibitor.

In the bar category, one experiencing growth and where honey is making inroads, the natural sweetener can also act as a binder.

“It does a great job of binding the ingredients together, especially if it’s a seed- or nut-dense bar,” Mr. Seiz said.

Color is another factor in formulating that both honey and malt extracts contribute to — one of their biggest contributions, actually. Honey aids the Maillard reaction, which is responsible for the browning that occurs when some products are baked. Most sugar-based ingredients assist with this reaction, and honey is no different.

Malt extracts also have an impact on the Maillard reaction and lend their colors to the finished product. The natural enzymes in malt extract enhance Maillard browning by liberating sugars and providing amino acids to products. While malt extract is used primarily as a dough conditioner, flavoring and sweetener, it also imparts its dark color onto whatever baked good it’s being used in. This allows bakers to eliminate caramel color from the formulation.

“In pumpernickel bread, black malt extract adds an aroma and smoother crust and reduces oven time,” said Jim Kappas, vice-president, sales and marketing, Malt Products. “Those are all functional benefits, and an additional benefit is that it actually adds a deep brown color. Caramel color becomes redundant when you use black malt extract, and you can clean up your label that way.”

Malt’s enzymes also help enhance dough development and contribute to the unique flavor profile, Mr. Bright said. The enzymes promote the yeast in dough to be more active, which leads to increased gas production. This makes malt helpful in developing the crisp exterior and soft interior found in artisan hearth bread, bagels, pizza crusts and pretzels.

However, bakers need to be aware of the enzymatic activity of malt, Mr. Bright warned.

“High levels of enzyme-active malt can contribute to gluten weakening during fermentation, resulting in smaller, irregular baked products,” he said. “In addition, high levels of naturally occurring enzymes may contribute to an overly moist, gummy crumb characteristic after baking.”

AB Mauri’s line of malt products includes varying degrees of enzymatic activity.