Barley is the seed of the barley plant, it is a grain that is similar to wheat in appearance. It is harvested mostly in the United States and in Europe. Specific types of barley are used in the production of different types of beers, each strain imparts a unique characteristic taste and body that is suited for different beers. Malted barley is barley that has been allowed to germinate (sprout) to a degree and is then dried. This is accomplished industrially by increasing the water content of the seed to 40-45% by soaking it for a period close to 40 hours. The seed is then drained and held at a constant temperature (60 F) for close to 5 days until it starts to sprout. The barley is slowly dried in a kiln at temperatures gradually rising to 122 F for lighter malts and 220 F for darker malts. This kiln drying takes about 30 hours. Finally, the rootlets from the partially germinated seeds are removed.
The germination process converts starch, the seed's stored energy, into simpler sugars used in its initial growing stage. The conversion of starch to sugar is accomplished by diastase enzymes that the seed produces during this process. The germination and drying stages capture fermentable sugars, soluble starch, and the diastase enzymes for beer brewing. Malted barley is the eventual source of the fermentable sugar consumed by the yeast.
The next step to prepare the malted barley for brewing is termed "mashing." It is a process of grinding the malted barley into granular sized pieces. This ground malt is mixed with water in order to dissolve the starch, sugar and enzymes within the malted barley. The temperature of the "mash" is then raised to 150-160 F, the temperature at which the diastase enzyme is most active. The conversion of starches to sugars is completed and the husks and spent grains are filtered from the mixture. The remaining sweet liquid is termed "malt extract." And is a suitable ingredient for beer.
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