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The chameleonic history of malted milk powder

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21.08.2021

The typical person is said to change careers between three and seven times in their life. The reinvention of the individual is commonplace, but this kind of rebranding often happens in the world of ingredients, too. Consider malted milk powder, for one.

Malted milk powder's story begins in the mid-1800s. British food manufacturers and brother duo James and William Horlick created malted milk powder as a nutritional supplement marketed for "infants and invalids." The broader process of malting refers to the germination of grains through soaking them in water, followed by dehydrating with hot air to halt further sprouting. Such grains can be used in alcohol production, as with whiskey, but by grinding a barley-wheat blend then combining it with evaporated whole milk, the Horlicks concocted a more virtuous elixir.

The idea was for malted milk powder to be mixed with hot water and consumed to combat health issues like malnutrition and poor digestion. The powder also happened to be entirely shelf-stable, unlike fresh milk, which helped expand its appeal for use in emergency survival situations, to everyone from soldiers to Arctic explorers. Generally, medicinal drinks get a bad rap for taste; nevertheless, a cup of Horlicks (which by the 1880s had relocated to Wisconsin, but is presently based in its home country) departed from the norm, tasting less like a treatment and more like a treat.

It wasn't long until drugstore soda fountain counters in the U.S. started selling drinks chock-full of milk, chocolate syrup, and the malted powder, since it was not only palatable but nonalcoholic and considered healthful — a perfect solution for folks participating in the Temperance Movement of the time. This was just the beginning. "What if I added two big scoops of vanilla ice cream?" a fountain clerk named Ivar "Pop" Coulson posited (if not in those specific words) on a hot summer day in 1922. And in that little Chicago drugstore called Walgreens, the malted milkshake was born. Smart........

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