A Journey Into Bread Baking World

Rye and other malts

What is malt exactly? Wikipedia states:

Malt is germinated cereal grain that has been dried in a process known as “malting”.

When grains (or most of seeds in general) are soaked in water, they start to germinate. This is the first stage of a growing process of a plant. Germination process develops enzymes, which start to break down complex saccharides like starches into simpler ones like sugar and glucose. The same is true for complex proteins present in the grains as well. Simpler variations of carbohydrates and proteins are then used as an energy source and building blocks for a new plant.

This process is halted midway to stop grains from growing into new plants and to get access to all of the enzymes which became available. These enzymes can then be used in multiple different ways for all kinds of products, including bread and beer.

Malt uses in bread making

Malts and malt products are split into two categories in bread industry: diastatic and non-diastatic. Diastatic malts and malt products like diastatic flour contain plenty of active enzymes while non-diastatic malts and products like syrups undergo a process which destroys enzymes. Usually enzymes are destroyed using high temperatures over +90C.

There are three main uses for malts in bread making:

  • enzymatic breakdown of dough ingredients;
  • food for bacteria and yeasts and sweetening;
  • flavouring.

Enzymatic activity of malt breaks down complex carbohydrates and/or proteins in the dough altering bread structure, texture and flavour. It can also be used as a way to increase bacteria and yeast activity without adding additional sweeteners. While enzymes can be beneficial to the dough development, they can also destroy the dough pretty quickly and turn it into a sweet soup instead. Thus breads from grains rich with enzymes like rye usually require enzymatic activity retardation.

Malts for flavouring, sweetening and as a micro-organism food are obviously non-diastatic. Malt sweeteners are usually produced in the form of a liquid extract, barley malt syrup being the most famous one I believe. Such extracts are great alternatives for refined sugar in many products due to their specific malty flavour and acidic pH level. They are also beneficial for bread baking as a bacteria and yeast food since they are usually rich with maltose and maltose is preferred food for these micro-organisms. Maltose and low pH are the reasons why malt extracts can be found in many rye bread recipes.

Malts have a very wide range of flavours available from light yet earthy and floury flavour of a fresh malt, to heavy malty flavour of a syrup, to an extremely pronounced rye bread flavour of a fermented rye malt. That made malts a very important flavouring ingredient in many cultures.

Rye malt and its varieties

Rye malt is used heavily in rye bread making. It historically made sense for many cultures to malt the same grain as was used for baking and rye malt perfectly compliments rye breads. Rye malts are usually used in the following forms:

  • non-roasted and non-fermented (raw) - as a source of an enzyme called amylase;
  • roasted and non-fermented - as a flavouring agent with a low maltose content;
  • roasted and fermented - as a flavouring agent with a medium maltose content.

Non-roasted and non-fermented rye malt (usually simply called non-fermented rye malt or raw rye malt) can be purchased from any home brew shop as a rye malt with EBC range of 4 to 10 (I’m using this one). It is used in many scalded rye bread recipes as a source of amylase which breaks down scalded flour into simpler saccharides. Such process is called saccharification and it is a specific variant of hydrolysis. These saccharides are then used in the sourdough as an additional food source for micro-organisms. This additional food helps lowering sourdough pH level quickly and helps yeast to rise stiff rye dough. I find it ironic that rye itself is rich with amylase to the point that it needs amylase retardation with sourdough to prevent complete destruction of the final dough, yet part of the flour is broken down in advance with even more potent amylase source to create additional food for sourdough micro-organisms so that they can fight the amylase more effectively.

Two latter types of rye malt are used as a flavouring agent and as an additional although limited source of maltose. Roasted but non-fermented malt can be bought at bakery shops and home brew shops at different roasting levels. Fermented rye malt is a lot harder to find outside of Northern Europe. Some bakers suggest replacing it with roasted malts like Crystal Rye Malt, but sadly their flavour profiles are completely different. If you happen to live in EU, you can order high quality fermented rye malt from Germany. It is possible to ferment fresh malt, but it takes quite a lot of time and effort. But you can give it a try (English subtitles will guide you through the process).

If you live outside of Europe, then you might be able to find fermented rye malt on eBay. It is usually sold from Ukraine and delivery costs will be high. Search for “solod” keyword and check packaging photos. It should say “Житнiй солод ферментований” which translates to “Rye Malt Fermented” from Ukrainian.

When searching for fermented rye malt on eBay check that packaging says "Житнiй солод ферментований"

Other malts

Since any grain can be malted they all can be used in bread baking. But in most cases only rye and barley malts are used. Barley malt is used quite a lot in Central and Southern Europe in all kinds of breads and pastries. Diastatic barley malt is usually used as a flour and added in very low amounts to improve bread texture and colour. Roasted barley malt is used in some breads as a flavouring agent and barley malt syrup is used as a sweetener, colourant and flavouring not only in breads, but also in many kinds of pastries. Barley malt products are easier to obtain across the world, but they can not be used as a direct replacement for rye malt due to different enzymes present in the grain and different flavour profile.

Further reading

If you wish to learn more about malts and enzymes, I’d suggest to start with the following Wikipedia articles: Diastase, Amylase and Malt. I will try to add more links to this list in the future.