It wasn’t until recently that I was introduced to malt soda. Now that we’ve grown quite well acquainted, it’s hard to imagine a time in my life when such a treasure wasn’t there. Tucked away with ready access in the Mexican or Latin foods aisle of the supermarket, malt soda (or “malta” as it’s referred to in Latin American countries) is basically beer that hasn’t been allowed to ferment. Brewed from the same wheat, hops, barley, and water that go into the beer production process, this mixture is then sweetened, carbonated, and enjoyed most commonly over ice.
The beautiful part about malta (well, one of the many beautiful parts) is that it’s a delicious, alcohol-free alternative for adding the depth of flavor that beer imparts in dishes like stews and chili. Malta’s sweetness is similar to that of molasses, so it pulls out the complexity of deep flavors like coffee, chiles, and roast meats. Still being a “malt beverage” also means that its crisp flavor and lighter mouth-feel make it a really interesting substitute for root beer in sweet indulgences.
Malt soda’s flavor is truly tough to explain beyond saying that it’s flavored like malt. For those feeling averse to it being a “soda”, fear not. Its depth and complexity of flavor cuts through any tones of being overly sweet. It’s truly a “must try” for any enthusiast of beer, root beer, or something a bit off the beaten path. Aside from enjoying it on its own over ice, try incorporating malt soda into your cooking repertoire with these recipe ideas:
As I mentioned before, malt soda is a delicious way to bring the flavor-boosting power of beer to your next pot of chili without adding any alcohol. Pick out a chili with lots of hearty flavors, like Rachael’s Touchdown Chili , which is loaded with beef, chiles, and spices. Swap out the beer for malta and you’ll be on a cloud nine so delicious, you won’t even miss the alcohol.
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Malt Soda Float:
Malta is to Latin American countries what root beer is to Americans - and what’s our favorite way to enjoy root beer? Loaded with ice cream, of course! Pick up a pint of Cinnamon or Dulce de Leche ice cream and put a Latin twist on your next nostalgic treat.
As a Glaze:
My grandma used to love preparing a ham steak dinner. Problem now is, it always came with a cloyingly sweet pineapple and brown sugar glaze that I loved as a kid but have a hard time holding down as an adult. After searing off your favorite meat for an easy skillet supper (this is great with ham, chicken, or beef), deglaze the pan with some malt soda. Toss in some citrus peels, a crushed clove of garlic, and a sprig of rosemary and simmer it until the liquid is reduced by about half. Glaze the meat with the sauce and enjoy a grown-up version of a vintage classic.
As a Syrup:
While few things in this life are more delicious than maple syrup, it’s fun to switch things up a bit every once in a while. Next Sunday morning, slather your pancakes in a malta syrup. Just bring a bottle of the soda up to a boil in a heavy-bottom pot and reduce it by about 2/3. Remember - when it’s still boiling hot it will be very runny, but the syrup with thicken up while it cools. Don’t reduce it too much or you’ll end up with a pot of malta tar (delicious, but not what we’re going for). The crisp, not-too-sweet, syrup is a great match for multi-grain or buckwheat flapjacks.
Patrick W. Decker’s life revolves around food. Always has. Probably always will. As a graduate of The Culinary Institute of America and past member of the culinary team on Rachael’s daytime talk show, he now works as a food stylist and producer in NYC by day, and a food writer and recipe developer at his home in New York’s Hudson Valley by night. You can see what he’s up to by following his latest twEATs on Twitter at @patrickwdecker or visiting his website at patrickdecker.com.