Why malt?

Malt’s purpose in baking, brewing, distilling and more

Many consumers have heard of malt sometimes being an ingredient in their milkshakes, know that it’s in beer and whiskeys, and have seen that it can even wind up in their favourite pizza dough. But what is malt specifically? Simply, malt is what results when barley grains go through the malting process. While a number of cereal grains can be used to make malt, barley is the most popular. Malt can be used in a number of different ways because the malting process causes the complex carbohydrates in barley to break down into simple sugars, resulting in a sweet taste. The enzymes in malt are also useful for various fermentation processes, which is why it’s a popular addition to breads, whiskeys, vinegars and beer. In a nutshell, a simple way to think of malt is as a sweet-tasting (yet also nutty, bread-like or even raisin-like) nutrient-rich substance with numerous uses for foods, desserts and beverages. Here are the most popular ways of using malt.


Brewing beer and distilling whiskey

Malt is integral to the beer-brewing process — only after barley is converted into malt can fermentation take place. Yet in addition to being an important ingredient for making beer, malt also affects beer’s colour and taste. A lightly roasted malt will result in a pale, subtle beer where as a dark roasted malt will result in a stout or lager that tastes prominently of malt.

Malt extracts might also be added to beer to create an even stronger malt taste. Like beer, malts are also used in whiskeys for both the fermentation process and for flavour. By law, Canadian whiskeys are made from a fermented mash of cereal grain and then aged in wooden barrels for at least three years.


Cooking, baking and food flavouring

Because of malt’s sweet, nutty flavour, malt powders and syrups are easy to incorporate into desserts to add sweetness and a distinctive flavour. Old-fashioned malt milkshakes, for example, are made with malt powders or syrups, yet malt can also be added to savoury meals to add texture, enhance flavour or elevate the complexity of the dish — malt perfectly compliments flavours like coffee, chocolate and nuts.

Malt powders and flours are available in two forms: diastatic (which contains active enzymes) and non-diastatic (which does not have active enzymes). While non-diastic malt powders are more popular for adding malt flavour to both sweet and savoury dishes, diastic malt powders are popular when baking with yeast.

The active enzymes aid the rising of bread and pizza dough, decreasing proofing time and can also help to achieve that desirable, dark colour on crusts. Specialty malt powders and flours tend to have a more prominent malt taste than standard malt powders and flours.


Health benefits

Because it is made from barley, malt extract can be consumed for its nutrients and vitamins. Like barley in its unmalted form, malt is a source of B vitamins, folate, niacin, riboflavin and thiamine. Additionally, malt contains phosphorus and magnesium, so when malt is combined with calcium (in milk, for example), it can support bone health.

And though not a significant protein source, malt does also contain essential amino acids. Keep in mind that malt does have nutritional benefits, but is still high in sugar so it should be part of an overall healthy diet.


Uses for malt

Malt barley is all about taste—and that taste is mainly used to flavour beer and spirits. Malt extract is also used around the world in many foods (from cookies and cakes to beverages and baby foods) to enhance flavour, colour, fermentation and aroma, improve food texture, extend shelf life as well as enrich nutritional content.

Malting barley is a demanding crop. It requires a combination of precise production, harvest conditions and storage (see list below). If all of these can be achieved and the grain meets maltsters’ strict quality specifications, malting barley can command premium prices and later be processed into malted barley.


How is malt made?

Malt or malted barley is the processed grain, while malting barley refers to the unprocessed grain.
The malting process takes the raw form of barley, malting barley, through a series of steps in order to produce the final product, malted barley. These steps include barley grading, steeping, germination and kilning followed by a final cleaning and grading. At the end of the process, the malt is ready for use.


Alberta’s malt industry

Due to its ideal growing conditions for malting barley, Alberta is the top malt grower in Canada. In fact, nearly half of Canadian malt exports are from Alberta. Besides having access to great malting barley, Alberta has two major malting plants: Rahr Malting Company in Alix; and Canada Malting Company in Calgary.


Alberta’s microbreweries

With access to great local malt, it’s no wonder the microbrewery industry is thriving in Alberta. This return to craft brewing is something to be celebrated, which is why you’ll find great information from local brewmasters, industry experts and chefs
on our blog.

More about malt