Tips & Tidbits – Caramel, Cara, Crystal
Caramel, cara and crystal (referred to as crystal hereafter) are synonymous terms for a large group of malts made by changing the process following germination. All malts are kiln-dried to arrest germination. Crystal malts are produced by adding a key step known as saccharification before kilning. During saccharification the moist unkilned malt is held at about 158 degrees for one to two hours with minimal ventilation while the starch inside the barley kernel is converted to sugar just like mashing. After the saccharification step, the malt is dried and roasted at various temperatures and time creating the lovibond (L) range.
Crystal malts contain a high concentration of Mallard reaction products. Mallard reactions are the most important source of color in beer. They occur in a hot moist environment as reducing sugars react with free amino acids. When sugars participate in the Mallard reaction they become unfermentable. That’s why using a higher proportion of crystal malt will increase the final gravity of a beer.
Mallard reactions are responsible for color and aroma contributed by crystal malts. Typically the color contribution of crystal malt ranges from about 10L to about 120L. The flavor imparted changes as the lovibond increases. The lightest crystal malts have a light honey and caramel character. The midrange crystal malts contribute a toffee-like character. Brown sugar, raisins, nutty and/or biscuit-like characteristics are contributed by the darkest crystal malts. These malts also contribute body and mouthfeel. They contain no enzymes. It is believed that the mallard reaction is responsible for the improved mouthfeel and foam stability contributed to the finished beer by crystal malts.