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Malta Drinks

  • j

There was a thread a little while back about Blenheim's Ginger Ale. I thought I'd share my thoughts on another soft drink people might like to try.

There are various non-alcoholic beverages known as "maltas." I first got turned on to these when I lived in a Cuban neighborhood in LA thirty years ago. One particular brand, "Malta Vita," had a very complex flavor. Looking at the list of ingredients I saw hops, honey, licorice, everything but the kitchen sink! I haven't seen "Malta Vita" for some time, although there is another malta from Denmark called "Vita Malt" which has a similar label but is not nearly as good.

The most popular brand of Malta these days seems to be Malta India, which is OK but doesn't approach the sublime level of flavor and complexity I experienced the first time I drank Malta Vita on that day in LA thirty years ago.

The taste for these sort of malt drinks in this country seems to be confined to Carribean immigrants, and you can find them in stores that cater to this clientele, but I have discovered they are very popular among Africans as well. On my first visit to Nigeria eight years ago I found that the local Guinness brewery puts out an excellent Malta (there are numerous local brands as well).

I have discovered a place in Chicago that actually carries Guinness Malta imported from Nigeria. It is a Latin American/African grocery on Broadway a block or two north of Argyle St (sorry, the name escapes me, but it's on the east side of the street). Whenever I'm in Chicago I pick up a case or two, when they have it in stock. They also have some African versions of familiar sodas like Fanta that are subtly different from from the versions here, I suspect because they're made with real cane sugar as opposed to the corn syrup crap they use in this country.

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  1. A few years back I obtained a recipe for a Puerto Rican-style malta from a former brewer at a brewery that produced quite a bit of malta.

    Ingredients were pale and caramel malt, dark brown and white sugar, Brewers Caramel Color and a small amount of hops.

    So, what you have is carbonated beer wort (i.e., unfermented beer) with very low bitterness, with non-malt adjuncts accounting for about 1/4 of fermentable material.

    I have been told that malta was devised as a nutritional source in Germany during the Second World War. (It's quite common for brewers to down a glass of wort in the morning.)

    My source told me that malta traveled to Latin America with Germans emigrating after the war. He noted that there is no growth in malta; it's consumed by older people, while youths prefer mainstream sodas.

    1. My reply may take this conversation even further from "Chicago," but here goes-
      I happened to buy a "Sunchy" brand Malta just a couple
      of days ago.It is bottled at the Sunshine Bottling Co., Miami, FL. I am posting from Inverness, Florida.
      It has been years and years and years since I tried a
      Malta, and I don't really remember much about the taste.
      At this point in my career, I do evaluations at a DUI
      agency, and later in the week, I am taking this
      Malta to work to "prove" there is no alcohol in this
      beverage (and the label states as such.) A "situation"
      came up where we want to resolve any question on this
      possibility, so I will pour cups of Malta for my
      staff colleagues, and then break out the Breathalyser
      straws and blow into the little instrument in the name
      of "science." Actually, even if this label says this Malta is a "pasteurized non-alcoholic cereal beverage,"
      it may be interesting if it had trace amounts of alcohol, as do O'Doull's and other so-called "non-alcohol" beers. I will let you know how my experiment goes.

      4 Replies
      1. re: Ric

        I don't think you'll find measurable alcohol in malta because, unlike NA beers, it's not fermented. I believe (haven't seen a container of malta in a while) the govt requires malta to be labeled as having 0.5% or less alcohol by volume.

        1. re: Jim Dorsch

          The Malta Experiment was conducted on Friday, and none of my colleagues would try it, but I got their interest when it was time for me to blow into the "breathalyser" (actually called "Alco Sensor" in this case). NO NUMBERS! (i.e., "NO ALCOHOL!") The particular brand and label says nothing at all about any alcohol, under .05% or otherwise, and this little exercise seems to confirm it...no alcohol in Malta.

          1. re: Ric

            How many cans/bottles did you drink?

            1. re: Jim Dorsch

              I just drank one, and not the whole thing- its an Anglo tastebud thing, I guess- Malta is an acquaired taste that I have not acquired. For our purposes, even "mouth alcohol" that would evaporate in a few minutes, would be picked up by the Alco-Sensor, so drinking ten bottles to get a trace amount of alcohol wasn't really the goal. If there was any alcohol at all, we would know in the first bottle. It's all in a day's work! I brought up the issue of Malta in my DUI class last evening, and a few people confirmed the story of using Malta to fatten up babies.

      2. I think the store on Broadway you're referring to is the Old World Market.

        3 Replies
        1. re: Madd

          Thank You! That is correct.

          1. re: John Beadle
            d
            David Hammond

            The Wife and I were driving to Argyle for Pho last Saturday,and I did a big U-turn when I saw a grocery touting African and Jamaican goods. This is the store you're referring to, the Old World Market, and for those who need an address (which does not seem to have been posted yet):

            Old World Market
            5129 N. Broadway
            312-989-4440

            I bought several beverages (including malt) but so far have tried only a Yerba Mate softdrink, which was nice but not outstanding. Old World has a truly immense selection of "flours" -- rice, bean, etc. -- and a lot of spices that I haven't seen before. Bought a can of palmnut soup, which was also a new one on me.

            1. re: David Hammond

              I'm glad you liked Old World Market. They have all kinds of things used in African cooking. For instance, various types of "False Peppers" (that is, pepper-like spices that are not actual members of the peppercorn family), like "long pepper," "alligator pepper" (also known as "grains of paradise," which was used quite often in medieval European cooking but has since fallen out of favor) and one called "uziza," which I'm not sure of exactly.

              Also, as you mentioned, various kinds of flours for making "fufu," pounded yam, green banana, etc. Also, assorted grades of gari (fermented cassava grains, also used in Brazilian cooking), palm oil and different types of dried fish.

              So, if you're interested in exploring this particular cuisine (or Brazilian, or caribbean, etc), I'd say Old World Market is a good "one stop shop."

        2. As the father of a half-Cuban two year old, I can tell you that the Cuban tradition of using malta to fatten up little kids continues. We go through a lot of malta. We swear by Hatuey (in the Red Stripe-style bottle only), although my Puerto Rican friends insist on Malta India. Both are preferable to the horrible Goya. Other barands abound. Interesting choices can be found among the Brazilian pop and definitive collection of panettone at the Mercado on Grace & Southport.