You may have seen malt flour in a bread recipe or packaging ingredients. It’s one of the most common dough improvers in home and commercial bread baking. One reason is that it’s a natural product and is easy to source online. It’s a controversial ingredient as many bakers choose not to bake without it, and plenty of others are classing it as an “artificial dough improver” and resisting its use.
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 malting barley. Barley grain is harvested and left to sprout in water. After the barley has sprouted, it is then dried. Once the grains have dried out, they are ground into a powder and packaged as malt flour.
The role of amylase
During drying, the malt produces an abundance of the amylase enzyme. Amylase is an enzyme that works as a catalyst (an accelerant) to break down a starch called amylose. The other starch found in flour is amylopectin. Both alpha-amylase and beta-amylase work together, performing slightly different duties to break down amylose and amylopectin.
The action of amylase means each amylose molecule is broken down into simple sugars, maltose and glucose. Amylopectin is broken down into glucose, as is the produced maltose. Yeast cells process the glucose sugars to produce carbon dioxide alongside other yeast fermentation properties.
Dextrin is a water-binding carbohydrate produced when amylase is active in bread dough. Dextrin is also a popular additive in soft bread itself as it binds water to produce a softer and more moist crumb.
Is amylase safe to eat?
Of course, adding enzymes and ingredients you’d not normally find in your kitchen cupboard sounds scary. However, amylase is perfectly safe to eat. It already exists in flour and is also produced by yeast cells. By adding malted barley flour to a recipe, you are adding more of an existing ingredient.
How is malt flour used for baking bread?
Every type of flour is different, depending on the wheat grown, its growing conditions and growth at the point of harvest.
When flour is deemed to have low hypodiastic activity, it will be slow to break down starch into sugars, making the dough rise slowly.
How does malt flour improve bread?
There are many reasons malt flour can be used to change the characteristics of bread. It is used in many baked goods like pastries, pies, muffins, and more. Here are the key features of malt flour when used in bread production:
Sugars are broken down faster, making hypodiastic flour more usable and accelerating the rise of all flour grades.
More sugars are available to supply the yeast during the early stages of baking, enhancing oven spring.
Dextrins are produced, which bond water to leave a softer and more moist bread texture.
Increases sugars without the extra calories of adding extra sugar.
Produces a darker crust due to the extra sugars causing caramelisation and Maillard processes. These also perfume the loaf and enhance its flavour.
A notable reddish tan is found when malt powder is used in high quantities.
It improves the shelf life of bread, keeping it fresher for longer.
Reasonably high in protein (7-10%), it offers binding properties similar to gluten.
Types of malt flour available:
Diastatic (activated) malt flour
Diastatic malt flour is ground malt powder and contains a high quantity of amylase. Its purpose is to improve the flour and the quality of the dough. It is not a substitute for regular flour and must be used in small quantities to avoid negative effects.
Non-diastatic (deactivated) malt flour
This type of malt flour is kiln-dried to deactivate the amylase enzyme. Non-diastatic malt is used for flavour in bread and other bakery products.
It’s extremely rich in the reducing sugar, maltose (a polymer of two glucose sugars). This sweetens the bread and browns the crust. The flavour of non-diastatic malt flour is a slightly sweet, roasted-nut smell, perfect for wholesome baking styles.
Deactivated malt flour is added in bolder quantities. Its richer flavour is often complemented with other sweet flavours like sugar, beer, seeds or rye. It is usually 40% as sweet as sucrose, so is often used in sweet bread types.
It’s popular in seeded loaves and shortly-fermented bread, providing a warming, mature flavour. A bitter taste is left on the palate if too much is added to a recipe.
Cereal amylases are sometimes listed as an ingredient in wheat flour. They are added to improve the hypodiasticity of weak flour and are often a form of activated malt flour, but they can be sourced from other processes, such as fruit.
When to use malt flour for baking bread
Diastatic malt flour has three core uses:
Activated malted barley flour can be added at the mill to improve bread flour quality. You may notice it on flour sacks in the ingredients list.
Included at the start of dough mixing to accelerate the rise of quickly fermented bread.
When prefermented flour is used in longer bulk fermentation cycles, malt flour is incorporated when the preferment is added for mixing to keep the fermentation rate consistent. I learned this advanced trick from Raymond Calvels’ The Taste Of Bread (I recommend this book if you’re an experimental baker!).
Non-diastatic malt can replace a portion of the wheat flour in a bread recipe.
How much malt flour to use in bread dough
Using the baker’s percentage, based on the total weight of flour used, recommended dosage levels of malt flour are:
As diastatic malt powder breaks starch into sugars, an abundance of sugars appears when too much is used. Sugars retain water and inhibit water supply to the yeast cells due to osmosis which means over-using diastatic malt powder creates an excessively wet and gummy bread crumb and slows the rise of the bread.
When using malt flour for the first time, start with a small amount and increase usage based on your findings.
Is malt flour suitable for every type of bread?
As yeast provides amylase, adding malt flour to every bread dough is not essential.
A little malt flour will speed up the process of sourdough production, as in sourdough bread, lactic bacteria outnumber the yeast cells in the starter, meaning starch is slower to break down into sugars.
Many bakers find prefer a longer bulk fermentation over the use of malt flour as more flavour and structural benefits are found. In this line of thought, malt flour can decrease the quality of sourdough bread.
Malt flour will enhance aerobic respiration to make lighter, softer bread when following a quickly-risen bread recipe.
In all cases, remember that too much malt flour will lead to a gummy crumb!
Is malt flour healthy?
Malt flour is gaining popularity among health-conscious bakers. It is gluten-free, 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.
It is best to store malt flour in an airtight container to prevent it from becoming stale. It can be kept for several months, but after that time has passed, its flavour will diminish and 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 vital to include it. If you don’t have any on hand or don’t want to bother buying it, use high-quality bread flour.
If you’re looking for an alternative to malt flour, there are a few things you can try using oat flour instead of malt flour. Oats are naturally sweet, so they will add more sugar to your recipe. You could also try a teaspoon of table sugar per loaf to speed up yeast fermentation.
Malt flour is not gluten-free, so it should not be used in recipes meant for those who have celiac disease or gluten intolerance. However, if you do not have any allergies or sensitivities to gluten, malt flour can be a healthy addition to your diet.
Malt flour is primarily used in the brewing process to make whiskey and beer. It gives rich dark beers those strong powerful, yet sweet flavours. Sometimes malt flour is also toasted to give the beer an even darker colour and richer flavour.
Malted barley and malt flour are both made from germinated barley grains, but the two terms are not quite interchangeable. Malted barley is simply germinated barley grain. Malted barley flour, otherwise known as malt flour is made by drying malted barley and grinding it into flour.
No, malt flour is not Marmite. Malt flour is a type of flour that is made from germinated barley. Marmite is a food spread made from yeast extract with a dark brown colour, and a strong, salty flavour. Malt flour has a similar strong flavour but is made with different ingredients.
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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!
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.
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.
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!
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
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, 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.