The world of malt is a fascinating one for brewers and bakers alike, only for different reasons. For bakers, malt adds flavor, complexity, and even rising assistance, but it is not essential. For brewers, barley malt is almost impossible to avoid. Bagel makers, however, might argue that they, too, cannot go without barley malt. So, what is there to know about diastatic vs non-diastatic malt powder, and why should you, as a baker, care?
What Is Malt?
Malt is the term we often use to describe the ground or condensed version of barley grain. Barley is an ancient grain that has been used by humans for thousands of years to get color, flavor, and sugar into their products, be they bread or beer.
If fact, when you break it down, there is really not much difference between beer.
Barley and/or wheat grains are toasted and ground and turned to flour or boiled into a mash. Yeast is added for fermentation or rising, and then left to ferment or baked.
In the end, you have a product of grain and yeast that is either drinkable or edible.
And almost every time, everyone is happy.
Malt is the single ingredient that has stood the test of time for both beer and bread alongside yeast. It has become almost essential to both.
Today, many bakers are still unaware of the power of malt and how it factors into their baking.
In baking, malt powder can be used in a variety of ways, and those ways circulate around how powerful the diastatic enzyme inside is, and whether it is activated or not.
What Is Diastatic Malt Powder?
All malt has the diastatic enzyme, which boosts yeast activity by helping the yeast convert the sugar in the dough to alcohol and carbon dioxide.
Diastatic malt powder still has this active ingredient intact. With diastatic malt, the barley grain is not kilned. Rather, it is dried at a low temperature, which keeps the diastatic enzyme active.
When diastatic malt powder is added to any baked good, it will help the dough rise more quickly.
A word of caution though: too much diastatic malt will produce a gummy dough with a chewy consistency. A little goes a long way.
What Is Non-Diastatic Malt Powder?
Non-diastatic malt powder, in contrast, is kilned, so the grains are subjected to high heat. That heat deactivates the diastatic enzyme, so you still get all the benefits of malt, like color and flavor, but you will not boost the yeast activity in your dough.
Many bakers prefer the non-diastatic malt so they don’t have to worry about the consistency of the dough coming out overly gummy. Especially in a product like bagels, where the dough is already a bit gummy, you can overdo it quickly with the diastatic enzyme and end up sorry, even potentially throwing out the entire batch.
Barley Malt Syrup as an Additional Consideration
Instead of malt powder, you could also opt for a barley malt syrup, which is like non-diastatic malt powder that has been boiled and concentrated down. You can add the syrup to the boiling solution for color and flavor. Just a little goes a long way.
Bagels with malt syrup tend to have that nice brown crust on the outside, giving them that quintessential bagel look and crunch on the outside while allowing them to remain soft and chewy on the inside.
What Is Malted Milk Powder?
Drastically different from the diastatic or non-diastatic malt powder and the malt syrup, but still in the same ballpark, you will find malted milk powder.
Malted milk powder also uses barley malt, but it is not used in baking for color and flavor but instead for sweetness.
Think of it like sweetened condensed milk only in powder form, so do not confuse it with the other barley powders and syrup.
Summing It All Up
In the end, while baking is certainly a careful craft that requires attention to detail and precise measurements, it also demands a level of flexibility and experimentation with various ingredients and measurements so as to create something new.
While you learn the rules and the functions of each ingredient and process, you are also learning to break those rules in the interest of finding your own baking magic.
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