Barley Malt (Mai Ya)

Hordeum vulgare sproutBarley malt, also called Mai Ya in mandarin, is known for its high nutritional value all over the world. So are its medicinal properties, which are equally remarkable and have been mentioned in details in a large number of ancient texts. As a vital ingredient in brewing and cooking, malted barley is equally essential to our health. If a grain of sprouted wheat is laid on hand, its small malt hidden in the bottom will just be easily overlooked. However, it is the tiny malt that contains all the nutrients a grain needed to grow into a wheat plant. Unfortunately, its nutritional value will be greatly reduced due to the malt has to be ground in mill for the easy storing of barley flour.

What is barley malt?

It refers to the dried mature sprouted fruit of Hordeum vulgare L., which is member in the family Gramineae. And other names include malted barley, malting barley, malt barley, Barley Sprout, Fructus Hordei Germinatus, Fructus Hordei Vulgaris Germinatus, Germinated Barley, Hordeum vulgare sprout, and so on. Medicinally the processing steps are to wash barley, soak them for 4 to 6 hours, fish out, keep them in appropriate temperature and humidity until sprouts grow to about 0.5cm, and dry in the sun or in low temperature. It is usually used raw, fried yellow, or stir-baked to brown.

Barley is an annual plant. Stalk it stout, glabrous, erect, and 50 to 100cm in height. Sheaths are loose and amplexicaul, and with large auricles on both side, 1 to 2mm long membranous ligule, and 9 to 20cm long and 6 to 20cm wide flat blades. Spica is 3 to 8cm (except awn) in length, 1.5cm in diameter, and with dense spikelets; each node has 3 developed spikelets, which are usually sessile and 1 to 1.5cm long (except awn). Caryopsis is with ventral longitudinal groove or invagination; apex is covered with pubescence, which is adhesive to lemma when ripe and hard to peel off. Flowering time is from March to April and the fruit time is from April to May.

Main chemical compositions are α-amylase, β-amylase, catalytic enzyme, peroxide isomerase, hordenine, hordatine a, b, adenine, choline, proteins, amino acids, vitamin B, D, E, and cytochrome C. And it still contains toxic called candicine.

Barley malt benefits

Is barley malt good for you? Apparently its health benefits are enormous. To begin with, it is high in fiber and protein, which is one of the reasons why it is considered a healthy food. It is easy to be added into cereals and other fortified foods. More importantly most people can easily digest malt. But adding it slowly is preferable since it is rich in fiber. Then, malt contains vitamins and minerals that are important to health. According to lab reports, every 28.5 grams of it are with nearly 10% of recommended day intake of iron. It is also the ideal source of vitamin B6, folic acid, magnesium, potassium and phosphorus. And every 28.5 grams of it still contain 4 grams of fiber and 8 grams of protein, but luckily they do not increase too much extra calories. Furthermore, many dieters are interested in and concerned about the calories of malt. As a matter of fact, the unsaturated fatty acid content in every 28.5 grams of malt is 3 grams, which provide only about 100 grams of calories. That’s to say, the malt is an integral part of a healthy diet that is low in fat and you don’t need to worry about the calorie thing. And since it contains no cholesterol but high fiber content, which is thus easy to make people feel full and suitable as a snack to resist hunger. Finally, there are many ways to use malt. It can be added to sauces but without affecting the original flavor. It is the ideal substitute for a lot of bakery flour and replacing part of the flour can add more nutrition in making bread, cookies, and more. Actually it is available in more forms nowadays, such as barley malt syrup, extract, powder, drink, tea, etc.

Modern pharmacological actions of malted barley

1. The amylase contained can break down starch into maltose and dextrin;
2. Its decoction can mildly promote the secretion of gastric acid and pepsin. In addition, a pancreatic amylase activator that aids digestion can be extracted from it;
3. The vitality of amylase in malt that is stir-baked to brown or decocted is reduced since the amylase does not survive high temperatures;
4. Its infusion taken orally can lower the blood glucose in rabbits and healthy people;
5. Its injection can lower blood sugar by 40% or more;
6. Raw malt can expand the female rat’s mammary gland and increase milk production. But the processed one has weaker effect;
7. The key of its bidirectional delactation and promotion of lactation lies not in the raw or fried matter but the difference between the doses. That being said, in small dose it promotes lactation while in large dose (over 30 grams) it helps delactation;
8. It has bromocriptine-like substance that can inhibit the prolactin secretion;
9. Hordenine resembles ephedrine on pharmacological effects. And hordenine A and B have anti-fungal effect too.

Selected malt barley herbal remedies

According to the Chinese Materia Medica, it is sweet in flavor and neutral in nature. And it goes to meridians of spleen and stomach. Main functions are helping digestion, increasing appetite, and delactation. Basic barley malt uses and indications include dyspepsia, diarrhea, abdominal fullness and distention, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, milk stasis, and breast distending pain. Recommended dosage is from 10 to 15 grams or even 30 to 120 grams in large doses in decoction, pills, and powder.

1. Hua Ji San from Bei Jing Shi Zhong Yi Cheng Fang Xuan Ji (The Anthology of Traditional Chinese Medicine Prescriptions in Beijing). It is combined with Shan Zha (Hawthorn Fruit), Shen Qu (Medicated Leaven), Ji Nei Jin (Chicken Gizzard’s Lining), Bing Lang (Betel Nut), and Qian Niu Zi (semen pharbitidis) to treat pediatric indigestion, a lump in the abdomen due to dyspepsia, sallow yellow facial complexion, loss of appetite, and abdominal bloating.

2. Hua Zhi Tiao Zhong Tang from Zheng Zhi Zhun Sheng (The Level-line of Patterns and Treatment). It is formulated with Bai Zhu (Atractylodes), Ren Shen (Ginseng), Fu Ling (Poria), Chen Pi (Citrus Peel), etc. to cure indigestion fullness.

3. Xiao Gu Wan from Za Bing Yuan Liu Xi Zhu (Incisive light on the source of miscellaneous diseases). It is matched with Medicated Leaven, Wu Mei (Mume Fruit), and Pao Jiang (Prepared Dried Ginger) to treat failure of digesting food, feeling of stuffiness in chest, abdominal bloating and rib-side distention, inappetence, and sleepiness.

4. Jian Pi Wan from Ben Cao Gang Mu (Compendium of Materia Medica). It is coupled with White Atractylodes and Citrus Peel to treat spleen deficiency causing poor appetite and abdominal fullness after eating.

Malted barley side effects and contraindications

The toxicity of barley malt is low. But it may cause poisoning when used as animal feed and fed in large amount because it contains a trace of malt toxin (candicine), which is a fast-depolarizing muscle relaxant. In addition, it may also cause the poisoning because of the bleeding of parasitic fungus during malt deterioration. So, safekeeping is necessary in order to keep it from exposing to the air.

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