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The small world of malt

and its functions in the dough

30 March 2022

Friends of Erre4m good morning and welcome to this new post. Today we are talking about MALT.

The fact that this ingredient is useful, if not indispensable for some types of dough, as we will see in this post, is not for everyone.

The main functions of malt in bread doughs, and in some cases also in cakes, are to facilitate the fermentation of the dough itself and to improve the taste, aroma and colouring of the crust.

Malt is an ingredient derived from the germination of cereal grains. The most suitable cereal grain is barley. The process of transforming cereal grains into malt is called malting and consists of germinating the grains previously soaked in warm water to trigger the growth of the germ. The grains are then dried, separated from the seedling and eventually ground.

When the cereal grain begins the germination process, a number of chemical reactions take place within it that promote the nourishment and growth of the seedling. Among these chemical reactions, the main one is the saccharification of starch, i.e. its transformation into maltose by the enzyme diastase.

As mentioned above, the main conditions for grain germination are primarily hydration but also the presence of oxygen. Generating a warm, moist environment activates all the enzymes present in the grain, including diastase. The prevailing amount of chemical components in the cereal is starch, and through its saccharification, a considerable amount of maltose is obtained.

Germination is continued until the maximum maltose content is reached in the grain. Subsequent drying and milling of the grain produces the malt flour, which in addition to maltose sugar also contains enzymes, among which (as we have seen in previous posts) amylases are of considerable importance. That said, malt is not only a source of sugars but also of enzymes, primarily alpha and beta amylase.

Yeast feeds on sugars whose abundance in the dough favours fermentation activities. To achieve this, the sugar, be it maltose or sucrose, must not simply be added to the dough but must be continuously produced by the saccharification of the starch in the flour through the work of amylases. The activity of the enzymes present in malt is precisely what determines its value.

Various types of malt are commercially available for professional activities:

  • Malt flour, which, as we have seen, is obtained by grinding germinated cereal grains. It is easy to use compared to the malts we will see later, has a high diastatic power but contains little maltose.
  • Malt extract in syrup is obtained by saccharification of malt flour has a high diastatic power and a high maltose content. In contrast, it is very sticky and viscous.
  • Malt extract concentrate in syrup is a concentrate of the former malt with very similar physical properties but a higher content of diastatic power and maltiness.
  • Malt extract powder is obtained by drying malt extract in syrup. It contains a lot of maltose but the drying process halves the diastatic activity.

For the non-professional, finding malt is rather easy and the choice is very wide. Large supermarkets, but especially organic food shops are usually well stocked with it; especially the one in syrup.

Let us now see from a practical point of view what merits this ingredient brings to the dough:

  1. it produces a more active fermentation of the dough
  2. the bread has a more intense taste and fragrance produced by the Maillard reaction, which binds the sugars remaining after rising with the amino acids to form fragrant volatile substances
  3. the product has more developed alveolation and is consequently lighter and more digestible this is due to the more active fermentation 
  4. a more golden colouring of the crust due to caramelisation of the residual sugars from leavening.

The use of malt tends to be always recommended but becomes indispensable in doughs prepared with the indirect method because after so many hours of fermentation of the pre-dough the amount of sugars is low.

In conclusion, this little-known ingredient in the amateur world is always present and much used in the professional environment as it brings all those improving aspects seen above. So if you are a bread lover and have not yet used malt, my advice to you is: TRY IT!


Blog by Enrico Gumirato pastry chef and trainer