What Is Malt Flour And How To Use It For Bread

Published on
07 January 2022
Gareth Busby
Gareth Busby

You may have seen malt flour in the ingredients of a bread recipe or packaging? It’s one of the most common dough improvers in home and commercial bread baking. One of the reasons for this is because it’s a natural product and is really easy to get hold of. Just search for “malt flour” on Amazon and you’ll find many choices of brands and sizes (or just click this link). Malt flour is found in many baked goods like pastries, pies, muffins, and more. If you have questions such as “what is malt flour”, or “how to use malt flour in bread?”, this guide is for you.

What is malt flour made from?

Malt flour is made from malted barley. After harvesting, barley grain is left to sprout in water. After the barley has sprouted it is then dried. During the drying process, the malt produces an enzyme called amylase, in abundance. Once the grains have dried out, they are ground up into a powder form, which becomes malt flour.

The role of amylase

Amylase is an enzyme that breaks down starch into sugars. It’s produced by yeast cells, but not in a high concentration. Both alpha-amylase and beta-amylase work together, performing slightly different duties. Complex sugars are broken down into simple sugars such as maltose or glucose. These are then processed by yeast cells to increase overall carbon dioxide production.

The water-binding carbohydrate, dextrin is also produced when amylase is active in dough. Dextrin is also a popular additive in soft bread itself. It binds water to produce a soft, moist crumb.

Types of malt flour available:

Diastatic (activated) malt flour

Diastatic malt flour is simply ground malt. It contains a high quantity of amylase. Its purpose is to improve the quality of the flour and/or the dough. This version is not a substitute for regular flour and must be utilised in very small quantities.

Non-diastatic (deactivated) malt flour

This type of malt flour is kiln-dried where the amylase enzyme is deactivated. Non-diastatic malt is used for flavour in bread and other bakery products. It’s extremely rich in the reducing-sugar, maltose. The extra sugar sweetens the bread and provides a browner crust. The flavour of non-diastatic malt flour is a slightly sweet, roasted-nut smell that’s perfect for wholesome baking styles.

Malt flour is reasonably high in protein (7-10%) so will offer some binding properties, similar to gluten.

How is malt flour used for baking bread?

When flour has little hypodiastic activity it will be slow to break down starch into sugars. This makes the dough rise slowly. Including a little diastatic malt produces cereal amylases which accelerate the denaturing of the starch. This leads to bread that rises faster in the first and second rises and benefits from an enhanced oven spring. The dextrins produced by the extra amylase form a softer and more moist texture to the bread.

As diastatic malt flour speeds up the supply of sugars available to the yeast. It’s use is a popular way to accelerate fermentation without the extra calories that sugar provides.

Because of the carbohydrates produced it will change the colour of the crust to a dark, reddish tan. The extra browning of the crust during Maillard processes, will perfume the loaf to enhance flavour. Additionally, malt flour helps improve the shelf life of bread, keeping it fresher for longer.

Deactivated malt flour is added in bolder quantities for flavour. It is usually 40% as sweet as sucrose meaning it is often used in conjunction with sugar in sweet bread types. Its flavour is often complemented with other sweet flavours, such as sugar, beer, seeds or rye. It’s popular in seeded loaves and shortly-fermented bread as it provides a warming, mature flavour. Too much can leave a slightly bitter taste.

When to use malt flour for baking bread

Non-diastatic malt can replace a portion of the wheat flour in a bread recipe. Diastatic malt flour has three core uses:

  1. Activated malted barley flour is often added at the mill to improve the quality of bread flour. You may notice this on some flour sacks in the ingredients list.
  2. Included at the start of dough mixing to accelerate the rise of quickly fermented bread.
  3. When prefermented flour is used in longer bulk fermentation cycles it is incorporated as the preferment is added for mixing. This is to keep the fermentation rate going. This is an advanced trick that I learned from Raymond Calvels best work, The Taste Of Bread (I really recommend this book if you’re an experimental baker btw!).

How much malt flour to use in bread dough

Based on the percentage of the total weight of the flour used:

Diastatic malt flour: 0.2 – 9%

Non-diastatic malt flour: 0.5-2.5%

Bread typeRecommended baker’s percentage
Crusty rolls1.25 %
Wheat rolls2.7 %
Light rye bread0.5 %
Pumpernickel1.6 %
White pan bread0.5 – 1.5 %
Sweet goods1.5 – 3.0 %
French/Italian bread0.5 – 2.0%
Whole wheat bread5.0 – 9.0% 
Sourdough bread0.2 -1%
Source: https://bakerpedia.com/ingredients/diastatic-malt/

Can I use too much diastatic malt flour?

When too much diastatic malt flour is used it creates an excessive amount of sugars. These retain water and inhibit the supply of water to the yeast through osmosis. This produces an excessively gummy bread crumb and slows down the rise of the bread.

Is malt flour suitable for every type of bread?

As amylase is provided by the yeast it’s not essential in every type of bread dough. In sourdough bread, lactic bacteria outnumber the yeast cells in the starter. This means that starch is slower to break down into sugars. A little malt flour will speed up the process of sourdough production. Many bakers find a longer bulk fermentation time is best as it produces more flavour and structural benefits. In this line of thought, the use of malt flour will decrease the quality of sourdough bread.

When making long-fermented bread, malt flour is a sensible solution if you are concerned about the rate of the rise. Having said this, I prefer to look at raising the proofing temperature or increasing the activity of the sourdough starter first. An exclusion to this rule is when using a preferment.

If preparing quickly made bread, malt flour can almost always be used to enhance aerobic respiration.

In all cases remember to be careful of that gummy crumb!

Is malt flour healthy?

Nutrition of malt flour
Source: https://foodstruct.com/food/malt

Malt flour is gaining popularity among health-conscious bakers. It is high in fibre and contains minerals such as; magnesium, potassium, zinc, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and a high quantity of vitamin B-12. Its sweet flavour works as a replacement for sugar in a recipe.

Malt flour can also be helpful for people with diabetes. It has a low glycemic index, meaning it doesn’t cause a spike in blood sugar levels. This makes it a good choice for people looking for healthy ways to control their diabetes.

Where can I buy malt flour?

Malt flour can often be found in health food shops, but you’ll often find it online at a much cheaper price. You can find my choice of diastatic malt flour and non-diastatic malt flour on Amazon by clicking the links.

How to store malt flour?

It is best to store malt flour in an airtight container to prevent stale. It can be kept for several months, but after that time has passed, its flavour will begin to diminish, and it should no longer be used.

Conclusion – Do I need malt flour in bread?

Malt flour is a crucial ingredient in malted bread, aside from this, it’s not always vital to include it. If you don’t have any on hand or don’t want to bother buying it, just use high quality bread flour.

Frequently asked questions about malt flour

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Sabine Walter
Sabine Walter
6 months ago

I usually get a couple of lbs of “beer barley” at our homebrew store to mill and use for baking. I add a tsp to the hard white wheat that I mill for feeding my starter, and mill the beer barley by itself separately to use as a dusting flour instead of rice flour. This makes and awesome crust!

6 months ago
Reply to  Sabine Walter

That’s a great idea that I will steal, thanks Sabine!

Marian Romano
Marian Romano
6 months ago

I am curious about liquid malt. I once watched a baker use liquid malt from a local micro brewery in his bagels. They were as authentic as any NY bagel and deliscious. Can you comment on the difference in effectiveness of liquid malt vs dry malt flour.

6 months ago
Reply to  Marian Romano

Hey Marion, good question! Liquid malt or malt syrup contains around 20% moisture. From what I understand it follows the same manufacturing process as dried malt, just without kiln drying. Instead, it is reduced as a liquid. Many larger bread manufacturers prefer the liquid version, but I’m not sure why- possibly cost? The effects are known to be pretty much the same although I’ve not used liquid malt myself.

Sabine C. Walter
Sabine C. Walter
6 months ago

Right on! That’s why I told you. Let me know what you think after your first bite! 😉

6 months ago

Will do, thanks!

Sabine Walter
Sabine Walter
6 months ago

I’ve used liquid malt several times when we have a bit left after making a batch of beer, and I use it like I would honey–adding about 20g of it to my dough. It’s not as sweet as honey but has a more warm & malty flavor. It’s really tasty to mix a tbs of it with a bit of water or beer and brush that on your dough after shaping it, and the dip the dough into seeds. Makes an awesome crust!

gralion torile
gralion torile
9 days ago

Regards for all your efforts that you have put in this. very interesting info .

D Madison
D Madison
3 months ago

Great article with some omissions. All live seeds can be malted. In addition to barley malt, you can make wheat malt, rye malt, etc… all of which can be and are used in the beverage industry. Malted grains are often roasted to caramelize the sugars (maltose) that result from the sprouting action on the starches. The level of roasting has an effect on color and the amount of maltose left for flavor or for yeast to work on. dmp

3 months ago
Reply to  D Madison

Interesting points, thanks for adding!

Amanda McPherson
Amanda McPherson
2 months ago

hi, love the channel and the great techniques Im learning from you. I have a question…or two. I purchased some Briess brand Dry Malt extract powder (sparkling Amber). I understand that its a non diastatic malt extract powder. Just wondering:
1) when would I add it to my bread dough and How?
do i reconstitute in the poolish/sponge, or add directly to the flour?
I used hard white, Hard red spring and also hard white wheat berries in my bread recipes, Just trying something new. Your thoughts and advice would help.

thanks again!. A

2 months ago

Thanks, Amanda! I wouldn’t bother adding it to the poolish as you’ll speed up fermentation when really you want to slow it down. Just add it with the flour and it’ll incorporate as you mix the dough. I wouldn’t use too much to start with, possibly 0.5% or 1 tsp per loaf to start with and increase it as you wish.

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