What is Malt, how it is produced, and what the market offers. Know the differences to use it competently.

7 Jun 2024 | the Diastatic Malt | 0 comments

The advent of social media has brought the use of diastatic malt in baked goods to the attention of the people of the net, as if it were the novelty of the century. In fact, malt extract is the oldest leavening aid, which has always been used by many artisans and food industries. The exact definition that correctly describes a diastatic malt extract is:
“technological adjuvant”
, in fact it is an ingredient that, although natural, boasts very important chemical properties.
The more observant will have noticed that up to now I have been talking about “malt extract” and not malt in generic terms, this is because there are dozens of types of malt, diastasic or non-diastasic, in flour form or liquid and crystallized, but
the only true leavening aid is diastasic malt extract
(in paste or crystallized form) and not malted flour.
Yet if we go to Amazon and type in “diastatic malt,” we will find that the best-selling is precisely that made from malted flour, generally obtained from low-value grains or mixed in low percentages with non-diastatic crystallized malt powder.
The question arises, why? The answer to this controversial choice lies mainly in the collective ignorance on the subject, but perhaps also in the lower costs and not least in its increased popularity because of its convenience in use and packaging. But this is a topic I will discuss in more detail in a dedicated article.

Maltazione del Frumento

The malting procedure consists of steeping each type of wheat in order to trigger the germination process and related transformation of starches into sugars

Thus, we come to the original question, namely:
“what is diastatic malt?”
It is a grain that has undergone a process of enzymatic activation and subsequent stabilization and preservation of the active enzymes. The most commonly used cereals are barley, soft wheat but also rice and corn, each of which gives different properties, and while it is true that barley malt is the most valuable, sometimes the best results in terms of technology are obtained from blending more than one cereal.
Let’s now try to understand how it is produced and how it is stabilized, so that we come out with a product that can really bring to our dough all the enzymatic processes and not only organoleptic properties, which then is the substantial difference between a domestic malt and one intended for White Art.
In fact, it is precisely the complexity of the production cycle that has the greatest impact on the cost of the product, I expand a little on this aspect because it is precisely the selling price that can give us the first indications on which malt to choose. You are probably unaware that a product such as malt can harbor pitfalls, yet you will have to take my word for it when I tell you that malt is subject to multiple risks of adulteration.
This is also a topic that deserves a separate article, if you do not find it in the index of this blog keep following me because I will definitely write it. I end this digression of mine by saying that I find it really stupid to go cheap on a product that marginally affects dough costs, given the small amount that is used, especially if we buy a high-quality product.
Let’s return to the malting cycle: the first stage is the activation of enzymes in the cereal grain, called “Malting,” which occurs through a germination process. You wet the grain and let it rest just as it does in nature after planting. Moisture activates the first enzymes that convert starches into food for the germ. Time, humidity and temperature are crucial for proper development of “the army of enzymes” ideal for use in breadmaking, and this is the first of the key steps that diversifies a good Diastatic Malt from a very ordinary malt.
The second step is the drying of the grain, which is a very delicate step because the enzymes may become deactivated if exposed to excessive temperatures. This is the second key step, which is crucial for enzyme stabilization. Once the ideal moisture content is reached, it is ground, thus obtaining Diastasic malted flour.

Da Farina Maltata a Estratto di Malto

Malt extract is obtained through a step of processing, filtering and concentrating the wort composed of water and Malt Flour
What the malted flour is used for we will find out later but, as I wrote at the beginning, what we need in baking is malt extract so we proceed to the third step, that of sugar extraction. The flour is soaked again, and thanks to the enzymes present, just as happens inside a dough, the starches in the flour are converted into sugars. Also at this stage, humidity, temperature and time are crucial to obtain a highly technological extract, that is, rich in sugars (simple and complex) and in enzymes (not only Alpha and Beta amylase). Filtration is then carried out to separate the liquid solution from the fibers.
Here, this is the big difference between malted flour and extract, although both have high values in Pollak units, the former is a flour rich in starches, fiber and Alpha and Beta amylase, while the latter is a real concentrate of different sugars. In addition, the extract has accrued an additional concentration of enzymes of other types, such as proteolytic enzymes, which are essential for improving the digestibility of gluten products.
But the processing is not yet finished, because what we get from filtering is a liquid that needs to be stabilized for proper storage. If we were to obtain a product intended for human consumption, for example as a sweetener, it would suffice to subject it to pasteurization, but in a product intended for use in the white art we have to keep the enzymes active, which at temperatures above 70-75 degrees are completely deactivated. A kind of low-temperature, high-pressure cooking is then carried out using “concentrators,” huge pressure cookers that yield a product that is about 80 percent concentrated and bacteriologically pure, thus able to keep for extended periods of time. The real difficulty in producing a good pure Malt Extract with high diastatic power lies in keeping the highest possible percentage of enzymes active, values that we find in the certification of Pollak Units.

Da Estratto in Pasta a Estratto Cristallino

Crystallized Malt Extract is obtained through an additional step of concentrating the Paste Extract
Ended here? Macché….. I also mentioned crystallized extract to you, remember?
The crystallized malt extract
is obtained from an additional step in the same processing of the wheat grain. A portion of the paste extract production continues the low-temperature, high-pressure cooking route to near 100 percent dehydration.
What you get is a product with an impalpable sugar-like consistency that is highly hygroscopic and completely soluble. Its value in Pollak Units is always lower than in paste, but this does not mean that it is a qualitatively inferior product, far from it! In fact, The Crystalline Extract is a true concentrate of sugars and proteolytic enzymes. As I mentioned earlier, several enzyme activities develop during the starch processing stage, and those that are deactivated during the third crystallization stage are mainly Alpha and Beta amylases, which are the ones that determine the Pollak value. The crystalline extract thus has low activity by Alpha and Beta amylase, but very intense activity by proteolytic enzymes, which, as I have already mentioned, are the ones responsible for the breakdown of gluten, much feared by devotees of exaggerated development and alveolus, but highly appreciated by those who like looseness and crispness in their baked goods.

La solubilità dell'Estratto di Malto

PURE Malt Extract, either paste or crystalline, is a 100% soluble product because it is composed of only sugars and enzymes

The aspect of solubility, which belongs exclusively to paste and crystalline PURE malt extract, is the first aspect to analyze when we buy malt extract, especially crystallized malt extract, because the market is full of products sold as “extract” that are actually Blends, which are mixtures of malt flour and small amounts of crystalline extract. It is very difficult to protect yourself from false labeling, but suffice it to say that a “GOOD” diastatic blend costs about the same as a high-quality malt extract, so be wary of all cheap products.

So we have covered raw materials and production steps, touched on some aspects about the differences in the various products obtained, and digressed a bit on the technological characteristics and value of the same, these topics I will elaborate on in future articles, because there is still a lot to be said about malt…

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