Malt is a food product that results when barley and certain other grains are specially treated. In the United States and Canada, beer makers use 95 percent of the malt that is produced. It is also used in distilling, and as a source of flavor or aroma in a variety of baked goods, candies, cereals, and infant formulas.
In the malting process, manufacturers steep grain in cool water for 20 to 50 hours. They then spread the grain on large, ventilated floors and allow it to sprout and grow for 4 to 6 days. Temperature and moisture are carefully controlled. Next, large kilns (ovens) dry the grain for 2 or 3 days. After drying, the malt is cooled and the rootlets, which are used in animal feed, are removed from the sprouts. Finally, after cleaning, the malt is aged for 4 to 8 weeks before manufacturers use it.
During the malting process, certain chemical changes take place in the grain. Malting releases enzymes called amylases. These enzymes bring about the conversion of starch in the grain to sugars. Malting also produces enzymes called hydrolases, which are involved in breaking down proteins and nucleic acids.