The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

How do I tell if my malt syrup is diastatic?

hokietoner's picture

How do I tell if my malt syrup is diastatic?

I'm trying to find diastatic malt to make a sourdough starter. All I could find in a store is Eden Organic's barley malt: traditional malt syrup. I've found conflicting sources online indicating malt syrup is or is not diastatic. The recipe for barm sponge starter in "Crust and Crumb" calls for barley malt powder or liquid which indicates liquid malt can be diastatic.

Yet this site: says "Yet malt syrup is what's called nondiastatic malt, which is techo-speak for malt that has no active enzymes in it (the roasting of the grain deactivates them)."

However, this product page for malt syrup says "Barley Malt is also an outstanding source of over 100 naturally occurring enzymes." which indicates their syrup has the enzymes.

Can anyone give any insight into this puzzle? The thing is even if I use non-diastatic malt I'm sure the starter will still work, so it seems there's no way to really tell if I used the right stuff.

nbicomputers's picture

simply as i can get

Malt can be diastatic or non-diastatic.
Non-diastatic is simply added as a sweetener,
diastatic malt breaks down the starch in dough to yield sugars on which the yeast can feed. 

Having some around in long fermented breads is very important.

put some of your malt in a yeast solution and see how fast it grows.  if the yeast can use it for food it will grow and bubble very quickly would mean it is diastatic

if the yeast grows slowly it is non-

Pro Baker for over 25 years-----Ret

kayemme's picture

you can use some brown sugar instead of diastatic malt. there's a difference, i'm certain, but when you've got no other choice, brown sugar will hit the spot.  

king arthur flours (.com) sells diastatic malt in 1lb package, too... so next time you have some stuff to order, put it in yer basket.



hokietoner's picture

Well, this is to start a permenant sourdough sponge. The recipe I'm using from "Crust and Crumb" by Reinhart says that if I use the diastatic starter I will get some extra flavor from the sugars produced by the enzymes and the flour starch. So kayemme I can't just substitute brown sugar because I'm not adding it for the sugar, but for the enzymes.

It looks like most malt syrups are non-diastatic (based on a Q&A I found with Reinhart on this site) and I'll have to get the powder. I found out that Bob's Red Mill carries Malted Barley Flour ( which they explicitly say is diastatic. Now the trick is finding a store which carries it... I could order online but shipping is double the cost of the product! If I don't find it tomorrow I'll just order it. 

I could also use sprouted wheat flour but I haven't seen that either.

JMonkey's picture

I've not done it myself, but here's how The Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book recommends making it.

You can use either wheat or hulled whole barley (which isn't all that easy to find, but a health food store or food co-op might have it in their bulk section). Both can be used to make diastatic malt, though barley is usually preferred.

(I'm paraphrasing, so any errors are mine, not Laurel's)

Rinse the grain with tepid water, and let it stand 12-18 hours, depending on whether it's a cool room (low 60s) or warm (70+). From then on out, rinse every 12 hours so that they get enough water and don't mold. Let them grow about three days, until the sprout is about as long as the grain itself. Rinse and drain well, the gently dry with a towel. Spread the sprouts on a baking sheet and put them in a warm, well ventilated place at about 120 degrees F until the grains are completely dehydrated, which will take a day or two.

Grind it up in a grain grinder when they are completely dry. One cup of grain will make 2-3 cups of diastatic malt powder.

If you don't want to dry and grind them, Laurel says you can puree 1/4 cup of sprouts with part of the liquid for a 2-loaf recipe

bwraith's picture


So, when you say you can make diastatic powder with wheat, is it literally the same wheat berries I would buy to mill, for example HRW "Milling Wheat" berries from Heartland Mill that would work? Now that I'm doing home milling, I could try this with wheat berries I have on hand, if it's the right stuff to use. I haven't obtained any "hulled barley" so far. I'll have to look and see if that product is available from my current typical sources of berries, i.e. Heartland Mill and Wheat Montana. Maybe I will add a few pounds of hulled barley to my next order if available, although at this point I have enough berries to last a few months.


proth5's picture


I too, have considered making my own malt powder.  But think about the Falling Number results you are getting on your flour - They are well within acceptable ranges- I don't think that you would need to malt any of your flours to get better baking results, but you never know.

But that doesn't mean you shouldn't make your own malt - don't get me wrong... it sounds like fun and I'm sure you could use it for other applications...


bwraith's picture


You're right that I seem to achieve better results, so far, by not malting my freshly milled flour. I think that has something to do with the fact that I have typically soaked all of the flour overnight, whether in the overnight rise of the levain or in an overnight refrigeration of the remaining ingredients in the final dough. I think the soaking provides enough time for the enzymes to do their job, even though the falling number is up in the low 400 range. Maybe malt powder would be more relevant if I mixed the final dough from dry flour.

I'm still curious to give making my own malt a try at some point, just to see how it works.


hokietoner's picture

I know it's not absolutely necessary to have diastatic malt powder for my starter but maybe I'm just slightly OCD :)

I went out today to 8 different specialty food stores, and none had the malt powder. I discovered that Bob's Red Mill sells a malted barley flour so I was hoping to find that at places which sold his products but none did. I ended up buying some whole hulled barley, whole rye, and whole spelt. I'm going to try sprouting each and see how it goes. I don't think I'll need to dry it out before grinding since it's going into a wet starter right away and I'm not making any extra. 

It's funny that you say barley is usually preferred, because in the book the person who tought him how to make the starter said malted or sprouted wheat is preferred since it's the same grain as the rest of the flour. I've also heard that sprouted rice has the enzymes. Since spelt is a strain of wheat I'd imagine it would work, as well as rye. I could not find whole wheat berries. 

bwraith's picture

OK, more power to you. Enjoy making or finding malt powder. I've usually used KA's product obtained through their web site when I've tried adding malt powder to organic flours that didn't have any malt added to them.

I think the main argument for using barley powder is just that it is a very rich source of the enzymes needed. I don't remember seeing commercially available "malted wheat powder", but "diastatic malted barley powder" is not hard to find on the internet. I don't remember seeing it ever at a grocery store, just as you've found.

The amount of barley powder typically added to flour is tiny, something like 1 tsp per Kg of flour. The difference between using wheat and barley is probably very subtle. The argument about wheat being better because it's the same grain seems like real hair-splitting, but maybe you would notice a difference of some kind using one vs. the other.

JMonkey, if you've done this with wheat, do you have a suggested quantity to use? I'm picturing you would use more malted wheat than malted barley to get the same effect?


hokietoner's picture

When I bought the barley, the guy at the store said that I should buy hulled if I wanted to sprout it... but on this site: it says that hulled barley won't sprout. I have the barley, spelt, and rye all soaking so if it's true the hulled barley won't sprout, do you guys agree spelt will probably do the job just as well (since it's technically a type of wheat)? What about rye?

*edit* I see jmonkey's recipe uses hulled barley so I guess I'll just have to wait and see what happens

JERSK's picture

   Barley malt syrup can be used without much fear of it interfering with gluten development. It is barely sweet, so it would be good for sourdough I presume. gives good color, has moisture retaining qualities and adds a depth of flavor. Brown sugar contains sucrose which can interfere with gluten development. Using malt powders can be tricky I've heard and not really necessary. Essentially all white flours in the U.S. are already malted. Organic flours are the exception. I 've used Eden's malt syrup and have had no problems with it.

bwraith's picture


Adding one more edit  a little later...

edit... I realize the actual question was how do you tell if it is diastatic. I don't think I've ever seen a diastatic malt powder that didn't have the word "diastatic" in the label. If it doesn't say explicitly that it is diastatic, it's probably non-diastatic.

There are all kinds of barley malt syrups and powders. The syrups rarely have active enzymes in them. The process used to make syrups heats them and deactivates the enzymes, so the enzymes in malt syrups won't have the desired effect on your flour.

Diastatic malt is usually in powder form, but you can also find non-diastatic malt powder.

The idea behind diastatic malt powder is to add active enzymes that can break starches down into sugars in your flour. Any given wheat flour may or may not have enough active enzymes in it to provide the needed breakdown of starches into simpler sugars. Most commercial flours have had malt added to them so they are "enzymatically balanced", i.e. you don't need to add any malt powder. However, it is often the case that organic flours have not had any malt added. They may benefit from a small amount of diastatic malt powder. The simple sugars broken down from starches in the flour are used as a food source during fermentatation. Some of the sugars left in the dough at the time of baking will carmelize in the crust, resulting in good flavors in the crust and browning of the crust.

For flavoring, it's true that other sweeteners could be substituted. For example, you might use honey, brown sugar, or molasses as a substitute, but the flavor of malt syrup is somewhat different and hard to duplicate exactly.

You can't substitute other sweeteners for diastatic malt powder if you are trying to get the active enzymes added to your flour. For that, you need diastatic malt powder with active enzymes in it.

Having said all of the above, I rarely add malt powder to organic flours. You can tell if you've added too much diastatic malt powder by a slight gumminess in the crumb.

One last thing - I wouldn't worry that much about adding diastatic malt powder when starting a starter. You can definitely start up a starter without using diastatic malt powder.


foolishpoolish's picture

Slightly off topic...(perhaps) 

I managed to find some malt extract a while back which I have used on occasion in sourdough recipes.  I have no reason to think that the extract was diastatic but I do know that it makes my wild yeast go crazy (dramatic overnight rising even in the refrigerator). 

I can only guess this is because the yeasties like maltose more than sucrose (I usually use plain 'ol sugar for sweetening).

Luber's picture

I can add a bit more info to the already thorough replies, mainly of interest to true geeks like myself ;-)

Skip to the bottom if you just want to buy some.

The reason barley malt is preferred over wheat is that barley has a lot more enzymes. As a brewer I use malted barley to make beer by "mashing" it, basically soaking crushed barley malt in hot water. The enzymes convert all the starch to sugar (maltose, fermentable by yeast) and malto-dextrins (not fermentable but adds sweetness and body to beer). Barley will self-convert and is strong enough to enzymatically convert added starch in the form of adjunct grains such as wheat, rice or corn to the mash. Wheat and rye can be malted (sprouted and dried under low heat to preserve the enzyme activity), but only have enough enzymes to self-convert, and weakly at that.

If there's a homebrew store near you (there's a bunch of em online too), you can buy crushed barley malt and separate the husks then grind the grits into flour, but it's a huge pain in the butt (I did that last time, never again). Instead I'd buy wheat or rye malt; barley is sprouted in the husk, but the others are not (or maybe they take the husk off later, not sure) so you could just grind them to flour and use that for enough enzymes for adding to bread dough. The husks are actually good to have in brewing cause they form a filter bed when you drain the mash, but you sure don't want to eat them, believe me.

In baking you DON'T want to convert all the starch to sugar, just enough to keep the yeast going. The great thing about using a pinch of diastatic malt in baking is that it not only gives the yeast a burst of sugar from the malt to get it started, but keeps on giving a slow conversion to feed the yeast continually. The bacteria in a sourdough culture also provide enzymes to help keep the yeast fed, which is why sourdough works at all; adding diastatic malt just "turbocharges" your starter, great for reviving an old one.

So I ran out of malted barley flour today, and KA is out of stock. I went to Bob's Red Mill site and they charge a lot for shipping. Tried my local store, which carries Bob's, but they said they couldn't get the MBF. Amazon has an 8-pack for $28 including S&H

so I'm going to order one. That's way more than I need, so if anyone wants to split it with me let me know and I'll sell it for $3.50/bag + my actual mailing cost to you.

Update 11-23-08
I had to order two cases of four bags to get it cheaply; I gave away two bags, kept two, and I've hardly used any of the first one I opened (seriously, it just takes a pinch - ignore the label about adding a teaspoon per loaf, the enzyme action will seriously degrade the starch and give you a gummy loaf). It's much more powerful than the homemade stuff I had, probably because that was made from "2-row" barley, the best for brewing, and Bob's is probably made from "6-row" barley", which has more enzymes.

If you want to just improve sweetness, texture and browning, go to the homebrew store or health food store and get regular malt extract syrup or powder - this is just malt sugar (yeast will happily eat that too so it will give a boost to your starter, but just doesn't have the enzyme activity to continually convert starch to sugar like the diastatic does.)

So I still have an unopened case of four for sale. $14 plus mailing cost to wherever you are.

gaaarp's picture

If you're willing to break the case, I'd take one bag. E-mail me at, and I'll send you my address.