It is normal to think that crystal malt and caramel malt refer to the same product because the distinguishing factors are quite confusing. The term crystal malt was introduced originally in the European markets during the 19th century. Today, crystal and caramel malts differ in the way they are produced, texture, sweetness, etc.
Crystal Malt vs Caramel Malt
The main difference between crystal malt and caramel malt is that all crystal malts are caramel malts but not the other way around. While crystal malts involve the one manufactured by roasting, caramel malts involve both producing processes, roasting and malting. The sugar crystals in crystal malt are harder than in caramel malts.
Crystal malts are one of the traditional British malts apart from black, brown, and chocolate malts. While they are processed, the crystal malts are moved wet (with a moisture content of 50%) from the kiln to a roasting drum. Crystal malts are roasted at very high temperatures (known as the curing stage). Crystal malts do not contain any enzyme and they have a hard grain texture.
Caramel malts are responsible for adding a caramel flavor to the beer. While producing caramel malts the endosperms are mashed, unlike in crystal malts. This is done so that the starch gets converted into a sugary liquid and more flavor is extracted. Caramel malts are conventionally produced from green malts using a process called kilning.
Comparison Table Between Crystal Malt and Caramel Malt
|Parameters of Comparison||Crystal Malt||Caramel Malt|
|History||Crystal malt came around the 1880s and was originally from England.||The term caramel malt came later into use especially in the American market when the homebrewing market was legalized in 1978.|
|Order||All crystal malts are caramel malts as they are just caramel malts produced in a roaster.||All caramel malts are not crystal malts as they include both types (roasting and kilning).|
|Ingredients||The main ingredient for crystal malt is barley.||The main ingredient for caramel malt is either rye or wheat.|
|Sweetness||Crystal malts are very rich in terms of sweetness.||Caramel malts are less sweet.|
|Hardness||90% of the grains in crystal malts have a hard glassy texture.||Caramel malts have a comparative software texture.|
|Processing||Crystal malts are roasted in a drum roaster starting at 150°F till 300°F.||Traditionally, the caramel malts are produced in a kiln where the grains are evenly spread on the floor of the kiln.|
|Mashing||Crystal malts do not need any mashing for extracting the flavors.||Caramel malts are mashed and before that, they are caramelized into long chains.|
What is Crystal Malt?
Crystal malts are made from the grains of barley and they are heated in a closed system (roaster) at a very high temperature. In this process, the moisture is not allowed to escape which leads to the breakdown of the starch interiors to sugar crystals. The amylase enzyme present in barley is responsible for the process.
Crystal malts are extensively used in beers but the amount varies with different types of beer. The color of the drink becomes darker if more crystal malt is used. While using crystal malts, they should be broken down into fine pieces but not grinding into flour.
The types of crystal malts are often rated based on their color depth when used in beers. This specific character of the malt is expressed in Lovibond whose value ranges from 20 °L to around 200 °L. The most common crystal malts are found in the range of 30 °L to 40 °L. The variety of color shades in crystal malts depends on the way they are produced.
What is Caramel Malt?
Crystal malts fall under the category of caramel malts. Caramel malts are produced using two processes, kilning and roasting. Those produced by the latter process are often referred to as crystal malts. Caramel malt is produced from green malt through the process of kilning.
Although the terms crystal and caramel malts are used in the market interchangeably, they are different. In the US market, caramel malts became very famous especially after homebrewing was legalized.
Their texture is much softer than the crystal malts. One of the reasons behind this is after the crystal malts are formed, they are partially mixed with the Vienna/Munich malts or something similar to that. This brings a proper consistency to the caramel malts (50% hard grains while the rest half if softer). The amount of sweetness is also less in caramel malts.
Main Differences Between Crystal Malt and Caramel Malt
- Crystal malt came around the 1880s and was originally from England whereas the term caramel malts were introduced in the US market after almost a century.
- All crystal malts are caramel malts as they are just caramel malts produced in a roaster whereas caramel malts include both roasting and kilning.
- The main ingredient for crystal malt is barley whereas for producing caramel malts mainly rye or wheat is used.
- Crystal malts are very rich in terms of sweetness as compared to caramel malts.
- 90% of the grains in crystal malts have a hard glassy texture whereas caramel malts have 50% softer grains.
- Crystal malts are roasted in a drum roaster starting at 150°F till 300°F which justifies their hardness. On the other hand, the caramel malts are produced in a kiln where the grains are evenly spread on the floor of the kiln.
- Crystal malts do not need any mashing for extracting the flavors but caramel malts are mashed during the manufacturing process.
Roasting and kilning are different processes and hence the final product crystal/caramel malts cannot be considered identical. All crystal malts are a subset of caramel malts and not vice-versa because of the difference in their manufacturing process. Also, crystal malts become more famous in England whereas caramel malts are a result of the US manufacturers.
The process of malting (roasting/kilning) varies for different companies. For example, Briess, a US malt manufacturer doesn’t prefer kilning and hence they roast their caramel malts. The texture of the crystallized grains varies because of the process and so is the color depth when added to the beer.
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