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Health food with a twist

July 6, 2009

by Ivan Raconteur

Some discoveries can have unexpected, yet delicious, results.

London pharmacist James Horlick had been developing a nutritional supplement for infants.

He came to America to join his brother, William, who was working in Racine, WI.

In 1873, the brothers formed a company to manufacture their brand of infant food.

Malted milk was (and is) made from an extract of wheat and malted barley combined with whole milk and evaporated to make a powder.

The Horlicks originally marketed their product as Diastoid, but realizing that this name was not exactly one to grab the imagination of consumers, they trademarked the name malted milk in 1887.

This is where the unexpected results come in.

It started out as a health food supplement for infants, but it soon became popular with other groups.

In those days, explorers were still wandering around discovering new places, and they became big fans of malted milk because it was lightweight and easy to transport, it was non-perishable, and it contained a lot of protein and calories (this is actually a good thing if one is climbing mountains or hacking one’s way through remote jungles).

William was a supporter of antarctic exploration, and, as a result, Admiral Richard Byrd named a mountain range in Antarctica after him.

Unlike some health supplements, malted milk was delicious, and people started buying it just because it tasted good.

In the early days, Horlick’s malted milk was sold in drug stores, both as a powder and in tablet form.

The stores discovered that the ultimate use for malted milk was a brilliant treat that can be created by combining malted milk powder with ice cream, milk, and flavorings.

Some credit Ivar “Pop” Coulson, a Walgreens employee, as the first to add ice cream to the standard milk, chocolate syrup, and malt powder formula in 1922.

There are many options, of course, but for some people, there is really only one choice.

The best malted milk shake or malt, as they came to be know, is made with premium vanilla ice cream, milk, chocolate, and malt powder.

Today, it is possible to buy chocolate-flavored malt powder, but it is best to buy the original malt powder and chocolate separately so one can control the blend to get the perfect balance.

If one takes these ingredients and whips them up in a blender or drink mixer, pours the delicious result into a tall, heavy malt glass, and tops it off with some real whipped cream and a cherry for style, one is right in business.

It is traditional to add a sugar wafer or two on the side to push the sweetness to the limit.

A good straw is also a necessity. A flexible straw is preferred, because they are safer and because one can still look one’s date in they eye, rather than at the table, when using one, but a straight straw is acceptable in a pinch.

Malts became extremely popular after the invention of the electric blender in the 1920s.

Other companies, such as Carnation, got into the malted milk business and eventually overshadowed Horlick’s.

When I was a lad, my friends and I spent many happy Saturday afternoons walking a mile to the local theater (this was back in the ancient times when kids used walking as a means of transportation).

We would watch a movie and then walk over to the nearby Bridgeman’s restaurant for malts.

It always seemed like one was getting a good deal with a malt, because it didn’t all fit in the serving glass, and the server always brought out the remaining malt in the tall stainless steel mixing container as a sort of bonus.

These were malts made the way malts were meant to be made.

One can buy a whole range of other products that are called malts today, but whatever they are, they aren’t malts.

These concoctions of air and additives might be enjoyable enough in their own way, but they have very little in common with the original.

It may be a stretch to call malted milk powder a “health supplement” when it is combined with ice cream and chocolate, but there is no denying it is delicious.

When researching this column, as is often the case, I discovered some new things.

I learned that malted milk powder can be used in a variety of recipes for things other than beverages.

Using malted milk powder in one’s pancakes, for example, adds not only a touch of sweetness, but a decadent richness.

And you can forget about your scented oil candles. Whipping up a batch of malt cakes makes the kitchen smell delightful.

Malt powder can also be used in baked goods such as biscuits, muffins, cakes, and cookies.

Malted milk may have evolved from its original application as a nutritional supplement for infants, but why should they have all the fun?

If it was good enough for old Admiral Byrd, it’s good enough for me.

We can pretend we are modern-day explorers while we are enjoying a good malt, and, whether it is healthy or not, it would be tough to find a better accompaniment for a burger and fries.