What is Malt?
There are two types of malt and two forms of malt. The two types are diastatic malt and non-diastatic malt. The two forms are powder and syrup.
Diastatic Malt is made by sprouting a grain like wheat or barley, stopping the growing process after a few days. The sprouted grain is then carefully dried, the small roots rubbed off and the cleaned seeds ground (milled) into a powder. The resulting powder is then packaged for sale. The malt can also be converted to a syrup. Diastatic Malt contains a collection of enzymes that help the yeast to grow by breaking down starch into sugar. Since the yeast has more available sugar to feed on, it can grow faster and better, which enhances the rise and volume of the loaf.
Non-Diastatic Malt is a substitute for sugar and does not contain the enzymes to enhance the breakdown of starch into sugar. This malt is used as a source of sugar, so in a sense is it a substitute for the starch-into-sugar-converting ability of the diastatic malt. It helps the rise of the dough, but only in so far as it is a sugar. In syrup form it adds a slight tan color to the dough. Of course, being a sugar, using too much of it may reduce the rise or adversely affect the taste of the bread or both.
Sources of Malts
The best source I’ve found for Non-Diastatic Malt, the sugar malt with the nice color, is the Eden Malt sold at Whole Foods Stores in the US, but I’m sure there are others that are just as good. I have used this for a long time and have come to trust it. If you use this malt, be sure to keep the top of the jar and the cap clean. If you let the malt get on the top threads of the jar, you will have a devil of a time getting the cap off the next time you use it. This stuff is very sticky! Store the opened jar in the refrigerator.
Diastatic Malt is usually sold as a powder. There are many sources of diastatic malt powder, ranging from the King Arthur store (expensive) to home brewing shops (reasonable). You may find liquid (syrup) diastatic malt at your homebrew store or in the catalog. I’ve used the Edme brand and found it very reliable. A word of advice here. Diastatic malt syrup is a living organism and the syrup is packed in cans. The malt will expand a bit and cause the ends of the can to bulge out a bit. I’m told that this is normal and that the product is not infected with bacteria, as would be the case with a bulging can of tomatoes. If you find liquid diastatic malt and the can is bulged a bit, ask the store person to explain it to you. I repeat, this is what I have been told. I have used cans of diastatic malt that were bulged and lived to tell the tale; as in so many things, use your common sense.
How to Use the Malts
You can use Non-Diastatic Malt as a sugar substitute or an additional sugar. It will add a bit of color to the dough. I think it adds a bit of flavor, but I’m not sure; my taste buds aren’t that good. In any event, it does seems to add a certain “something” to a dough and the resulting bread, so I use it when it’s called for.
Diastatic Malt is a different ingredient. I have taken to using diastatic malt in small amounts in a lot of my breads, especially in breads that have high percentages of whole wheat or rye flour. By small amounts I mean a pinch for 2 pounds / 1 kilogram of flour. This seems to add a bit of rise and loft to the loaf and counter the effect of the whole wheat to limit the rise. If you get some, try it; I think you’ll like it.
Making Diastatic Malt Step 1, Testing the Seeds
Yes, Virginia, you can make your own diastatic malt. It’s not difficult, but it does take time — not your time, but the passage of time. Here’s a short course in making malt. You may decide this isn’t worth the effort, but I like to work things out on my own. If you decide to follow in my — admittedly shaky — footsteps, here’s how to do it.
Checking to make sure you have viable seeds.
1. Buy some whole wheat berries or barley. The barley should not be pearled barley, since that won’t germinate. I recently found whole barley at Whole Foods in the bulk section. It’s next to the pearled barley, so be sure you buy the correct one. By all means, try to find barley, since it’s the traditional malting grain.
2. At home, soak 25 of the seeds in warm water for 3 hours, then drain the water off, let the seeds sit for 2 hours, then soak for another 3 hours, then drain the seeds and place them on paper towelling on a plate.
3. Put the plate in a plastic bag and put it in a dark, warm place for 12 hours.
4. After the 12 hours, check to make sure that the seeds haven’t dried out; add a bit of water if necessary, keeping the seeds damp, but not wet.
5. Repeat this process for two of three days. You should see small hair-like roots start to form by day two, maybe day three. Keep the process going.
6. After about six days, remove the seeds from the bag and count the number of seeds that have sprouted. Multiply this number by 4 to get the germination rate. You should have sprouted 21 or more of the seeds, which is a germination rate of 84%, not a great number if you had bought the seeds for planting, but good enough for our purposes. If the number is below 17, you may have a problem, but there will still be some benefit to the malt.
7. Very low germination, 10 or 12 or even lower, one of two causes: Faulty technique or bad seeds. Try again. If the results are still really low, give the seeds a few more days and see what happens. If they still don’t germinate, get different seeds and try again.
How to Make Diastatic Malt Step 2, Actually Making It
1. Place a double handful of seeds in warm water and let them soak for 3 hours. Then drain them and let them sit for 2 hours. Soak them for another 3 hours, then drain.
2. Cover a baking sheet with paper toweling and place the drained seeds on the toweling. Place the seeds in a plastic bag and and put it in a dark place for 12 hours.
3. After 12 hours, check the seeds to be sure they are damp, but not wet. Repeat this for 2 or 3 days. You should see small roots appear within three days.
4. When the roots are about as long as the seed itself, remove the seeds from the plastic bag and place them on fresh paper towels and allow them to dry out. You will have to turn the seeds over several times to assure even drying. The trick here is to get good growth on the roots but to stop the growth before the plant begins to emerge from the other end of the seed. (Roots on one end, plantlet on the other.) If the plantlet begins to emerge, the seed will have used up quite a bit of the energy contained in it and will be less useful for our purposes.
5. After a day of drying, place the seeds on a baking sheet and place in an oven at about 150F / 65C and let them heat up and dry out for 4 to 6 hours, turning every hour. The purpose of heating is to kill off the seedlet but to keep the enzymes intact. In making malt for brewing, the heating can be anywhere from 120F / 50C to 220F / 105C. The higher temperatures make a darker malt, one suitable for ales and stouts. Yum!
6. When the seeds are dried out, remove them from the oven and let them cool. When they are cool, rub them vigorously to remove as much of the roots as possible.
7. Grind the seeds in a coffee grinder, bag and store in the refrigerator.
This process makes what I call whole grain diastatic malt, since I use the whole grain berry, husk and all.
That’s the short course in malt. You can find a lot more on the subject on the web. Look for brewing, malting, diastatic malt or similar subjects.