Snack cakes
Malt not only impacts color of baked goods, it can also reduce staling as it retains more moisture.

Clean up the label

Probably the most significant appeal of malt extracts and honey — and the main driver to bakers using them as sweetener alternatives — is their clean label appeal. For several years, consumers have been moving toward products made with ingredients they recognize, even more so ones they can find in their own kitchens.

“Consumer trends are working in honey’s favor, whether it’s clean label or a return to simple, natural foods,” Mr. Seiz said. “All of those things are really aligning well with honey. It has always been used in baking since ancient times, and its use is only growing.”

Honey and malt fall into the category of ingredients that consumers recognize when they see it on a label. Each one brings its own identity to the finished product: honey as premium and natural and malt as indulgent. And both ingredients go through limited processing, making them more than just perceived simple ingredients.

“Honey is about as simple as you can get,” said Jon Bodner, vice-president of food technology for Sweetener Supply Corp. “The Food and Drug Administration’s rules don’t allow you to add or take too much out of honey and still call the ingredient ‘honey’. It’s mostly just some filtration to get rid of particulates that were present in the beehive.”

Malt extracts also don’t require much in the way of processing.

“Time, temperature and water are the only variables in making malt,” Mr. Kappas said.

Barley is steeped in water and germinates to release enzymes. After germination, the sprouted barley is kilned to develop a range of flavors and colors, milled into malt flour or ground into a grist, and more water is added to create a mash. The liquid part of the mash is then separated from the husks of the grain and concentrated. The resulting extract contains maltose, dextrins and enzymes, which allow for its multifunctionality as an alternative sweetener, flavor and dough conditioner.

As long as their identifying flavors aren’t an issue, malt extracts and honey can be used to replace artificial sweeteners, which have fallen out of favor with today’s consumers.

“Fructose and glucose are the primary sugars in honey like in HFCS, so in many cases you can replace most of the HFCS in a formulation with honey,” Mr. Bodner said.

Malt extract can also be the sole sweetener used in a bakery or bar application where its flavor can be used to complement a range of flavors including nuts, grains, fruits, spices and even savory profiles. In other instances, malt can be used in tandem with other natural sweeteners like stevia to balance the flavors out.

“We’ve had some customers combine stevia and malt to reduce added sugars, while the malt helps mask and round out some of the bitter, astringent and licorice notes that some consumers experience with stevia,” Mr. Kappas said.

While the honey and malt flavors are strong in a formulation, there are ways to work around these overwhelming flavors.