History of Malting
Cereal grass crops were first developed in the Fertile Crescent of the Near East, regarded as the cradle of civilisation, approximately 12,000 years ago. In addition to being the region where the evolution of seed crops began, this area, incorporating the Levant and Mesopotamia, also spawned most of the important species of domesticated animals, including the sheep, goat, cow and pig.
The roots of malting and brewing are believed to go back more than 6,000 years ago to Mesopotamia and Egypt. It is reasonable to assume our ancestors discovered the benefits of accidental grain germination quite early during this era. The changes in the flavour and texture of the sprouted grains were found to be pleasing to the palate and to have unexpected secondary functionalities. Once the benefits of sprouted grains came to light, the art of bread making quickly evolved.
In ancient bread making, the flour of unmalted grains was mixed into a dough, along with sprouted grains, and then fermented, most likely by naturally occurring yeasts. The dough was then baked into a simple bread. Over time, it was discovered that this bread, when mixed with water, would undergo a natural fermentation, resulting in intoxication when consumed. From there, beer making spread rapidly throughout civilisation, with ingredients and processes as diverse as the people who developed them. By the end of the B.C. period, a 'brewing' industry had developed, complete with separate pots or jars for soaking the barley, boiling and fermentation.
The rise of city-states, primarily in Europe, led to specialised of malting and brewing. By 500 A.D., wooden steeping tanks, floor malting turned by hand and natural draft kilns for drying malt were commonplace.
At the turn of the 20th century, the malting process evolved with the invention of modern mechanical equipment including fans, turning machines, furnaces and forced-air, heated kilns for 'pneumatic' maltings. Since that time the industry has continued to refine the process thanks to ongoing advancements in technology, biochemistry and other sciences.
Today's modern malting process is capable of taking grains from diverse locations to create a malt stream of uniform quality. This is a far cry from the days when the ancients, piqued by mankind's evolving curiosity, chewed on the first germinated grains and pondered the internal transformations that had taken place.