Malted barley, or malt, is the basic ingredient used in the production of beer, providing complex carbohydrates and sugars necessary for fermentation, as well as contributing flavors and colors that are uniquely characteristic of beer. Those same benefits are equally effective in the production of yeast-fermented dough systems, baked goods, bars, cereal, granola, prepared foods, snack foods and other finished food products. And because malt is made from whole grain and minimally processed, it is an all natural ingredient that helps achieve product claims like natural, healthy, Kosher and non-GMO. Making malt requires only a cereal grain, usually barley, and water and a three-step process: steeping, germinating and kilning.
Steeping starts with raw barley that has been sorted and cleaned, then transferred into steep tanks and covered with water. For the next 40-48 hours, the raw barley alternates between submerged and drained until it increases in moisture content. The absorbed water activates naturally existing enzymes and stimulates the embryo to develop new enzymes.
Steeping is complete when the barley has reached a sufficient moisture level to allow uniform breakdown of the starches and proteins. One visual indicator that the maltster uses to determine the completion of steeping is to count the percentage of kernels that show "chit".
In a process called "steep out," the chitted barley is transferred from the steep tank to the germination compartment. Germination, which began in the steep tank, continues in the compartment where the barley kernel undergoes modification. Modification refers to the break down of the protein and carbohydrates, and the resulting opening up of the seeds' starch reserves. Good modification requires the barley to remain in the compartment for 4-5 days. Germination is controlled by drawing temperature-adjusted, humidified air through the bed. Turners keep the bed from compacting and rootlets from growing together, or felting.
Germination is halted by drying. If germination continued, the kernel would continue to grow and all of the starch reserves needed by the brewer would be used by the growing plant. Base or standard malts are kiln dried. typically with a finish heat of 180-190° F for 2-4 hours. This develops flavors ranging from very light malty to subtle malty. Specialty malts are dried in a kiln at higher temperatures for longer periods of time, roasted, or both. Varying the moisture level and time and temperature of drying develops the flavor and color characteristics of each specialty malt.