Looking for the secret to better malting barleys

Posted by Josette Dunn on 4th February 2010

U.S. Department of Agriculture’s principal intramural scientific research agency, the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) is investigating exactly what happens inside barley grains when they germinate in the malt house, as part of their cereal crops research.

Bales of Hay
Malt is the ingredient responsible for providing the smooth, rich taste in many popular foods and beverages, particularly breakfast cereals, beer, and confectionery.  By looking into malting barley germination, or sprouting – just one of the many steps in the process of producing malt – the ARS hopes to provide plant breeders with valuable information that will help them develop higher quality malting barleys.

Chemist Mark Schmitt is particularly interested in the specialized enzymes the barley grain creates during germination.  These enzymes break down the grain’s stored proteins into their component amino acids, and break down the stored carbohydrates into “simple sugars.”  The balance of this protein and carbohydrate conversion is important because it can affect the flavour and other qualities of the malt.

Some of the team’s current research into barley enzymes follows up on their earlier studies into this area.  The study could have important consequences not only for plant breeders, but also for food and beverage manufacturers who use malt in their products.