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Malt facts for kids

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Malt is cereal grain that is sprouted and then dried by hot air. It is sometimes used in brewing. Malt is high in sugar because when the grain sprouts, much of its starch changes to sugar. If the malt is dried with fire, it can have a smoky flavor. The sugar from the malt can be fermented into beer and whisky.


Samanu for 7 sin
Samanu decorated with pistachio

Malted grains have probably been used as an ingredient of beer since ancient times, for example in Egypt (Ancient Egyptian cuisine), Sumer and China.

In Persian countries a sweet paste made entirely from germinated wheat is called Samanū (Persian: سمنو) in Iran, Samanak (Persian: سمنک), (Tajik: суманак); (Uzbek: sumalak) or Sümölök (Kyrgyz: сүмөлөк), which is prepared for Nowruz (Persian new year celebration) in a large pot (like a kazan). A plate or bowl of Samanu is a traditional component of the Haft sin table symbolising affluence. Traditionally, women take a special party for it during the night, and cook it from late in the evening till the daylight, singing related songs. In Tajikistan and Afghanistan they sing: Samanak dar Jūsh u mā Kafcha zanēm - Dīgarān dar Khwāb u mā Dafcha zanēm. (meaning: "Samanak is boiling and we are stirring it, others are asleep and we are playing daf"). In modern times, making samanu can be a family gathering. It originally comes from the Great Persian Empire.

Mämmi, or Easter Porridge, is a traditional Finnish Lenten food. Cooked from rye malt and -flour, mämmi has a great resemblance (in recipe, colour and taste) to Samanū. Today, this product is available in shops from February until Easter. A (non-representative) survey in 2013 showed that almost no one cooks mämmi at home in modern-day Finland.


Highland park malting floor
Barley is spread out on the floor of a malthouse during a traditional malting process

Malting is the process of converting barley or other cereal grains into malt, for use in brewing, distilling, or in foods and takes place in a maltings, sometimes called a malthouse, or a malting floor. The cereal is spread out on the malting floor in a layer of 8 to 12 cm (3 to 5 inch) depth. The malting process starts with drying the grains to a moisture content below 14%, and then storing for around six weeks to overcome seed dormancy. When ready, the grain is immersed or steeped in water two or three times over two or three days to allow the grain to absorb moisture and to start to sprout. When the grain has a moisture content of around 46%, it is transferred to the malting or germination floor, where it is constantly turned over for around five days while it is air-dried . The grain at this point is called "green malt". The green malt is then dried and pre-toasted in an oven (or kiln) to the desired colour and specification. Malts range in colour from very pale through crystal and amber to chocolate or black malts.

The sprouted grain is then further dried and smoked by spreading it on a perforated wooden floor. Smoke, coming from an oasting fireplace (via smoke channels) is then used to heat the wooden floor and the sprouted grains. The temperature is usually around 55 °C (131 °F). A typical floor maltings is a long, single-storey building with a floor that slopes slightly from one end of the building to the other. Floor maltings began to be phased out in the 1940s in favour of "pneumatic plants". Here, large industrial fans are used to blow air through the germinating grain beds and to pass hot air through the malt being kilned. Like floor maltings, these pneumatic plants are batch processes, but of considerably greater size, typically 100 ton batches compared with 20 ton batches for floor malting.

As of 2014, the largest malting operation in the world was Malteurop, which operated in 14 countries.


Barley is the most commonly malted grain, in part because of its high content of enzymes, though wheat, rye, oats, rice and corn are also used. Also very important is the retention of the grain's husk, even after threshing, unlike the bare seeds of threshed wheat or rye. This protects the growing acrospire (developing plant embryo) from damage during malting, which can easily lead to mold growth; it also allows the mash of converted grain to create a filter bed during lautering (see brewing).


Diastatic, and nondiastatic

As all grains sprout, natural enzymes within the grain break down the starch the grain is composed of into simpler sugars which taste sweet and are easier for yeast to use as growth food. Malt with active enzymes is called "diastatic malt". Malt with inactive enzymes is called "nondiastatic malt". The enzymes are deactivated by heating the malt.

Base and specialty

Malt is often divided into two categories by brewers: base malts and specialty malts; base malts have enough diastatic power to convert their own starch and usually that of some amount of starch from unmalted grain, called adjuncts, while specialty malts have little diastatic power, but provide flavor, color, or "body" (viscosity) to the finished beer. Specialty caramel or crystal malts have been subjected to heat treatment to convert their starches to sugars nonenzymatically. Within these categories is a variety of types distinguished largely by the kilning temperature (see mash ingredients).

Two-row and six-row

In addition, malts are distinguished by the two major cultivar types of barley used for malting, two-row and six-row. The most common varieties of barley used for malting in the U.S. from 2009–2013 are two-row AC Metcalfe and Conrad; and six-row Tradition and Lacey cultivars.

Malt extract

Homebrew Malt Extract
Homebrewing malt extracts: liquid in a can and spray dried
Malt syrup
Barley malt syrup being slowly added to flour in a bagel recipe

Malt extract, also known as extract of malt, is a sweet, treacly substance used as a dietary supplement. It was popular in the first half of the twentieth century as a nutritional enhancer for the children of the British urban working class, whose diet was often deficient in vitamins and minerals. Children were given cod liver oil for the same reason but it proved so unpalatable that it was combined with extract of malt to produce "Malt and Cod-Liver Oil." Malt extract was given as a "strengthening medicine" by Kanga to Roo in The House at Pooh Corner, and was also Tigger's favorite food in the book.

The 1907 British Pharmaceutical Codex's instructions for making nutritional extract of malt do not include a mashout at the end of extraction, and include the use of lower mash temperatures than is typical with modern beer-brewing practices. The Codex indicates that diastatic activity is to be preserved by the use of temperatures not exceeding 55 °C (131 °F).

Malt extract production

Malt extract is frequently used in the brewing of beer. Its production begins by germinating barley grain in a process known as malting, immersing barley in water to encourage the grain to sprout, then drying the barley to halt the progress when the sprouting begins. The drying step stops the sprouting, but the enzymes remain active due to the low temperatures used in base malt production. In one before-and-after comparison, malting decreased barley's extractable starch content by about 7% on a dry matter basis, and turned that portion into various other carbohydrates.

In the next step, brewers use a process called mashing to extract the sugars. Brewers warm cracked malt in temperature-modulated water, activating the enzymes, which cleave more of the malt's remaining starch into various sugars, the largest percentage of which is maltose. Modern beer mashing practices typically include high enough temperatures at mash-out to deactivate remaining enzymes, thus it is no longer diastatic. The liquid produced from this, wort, is then concentrated by using heat or a vacuum procedure to evaporate water from the mixture. The concentrated wort is called malt extract.

Liquid malt extract (LME) is a thick syrup and is used for a variety of purposes, such as baking and brewing. It is also sold in jars as a consumer product.

The LME may be further dried to produce dry malt extract (DME) which is crystalline in form similar to common sugar.

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