There are a wealth of sweeteners available as substitutes for highly processed sugars such as granulated cane sugar and high fructose corn syrup. Barley malt syrup and brown rice syrups are both liquid sweeteners that are relatively unprocessed and nutritionally superior to most mainstream sugars. However, their flavors and textures are dissimilar aside from their sweetness and liquid state. The choice of whether to use brown rice syrup or barley malt syrup should depend on the type of dessert you are preparing, the availability of these sweeteners and your personal preference. In addition, barley contains gluten so it should be avoided if you follow a gluten free diet.
Brown rice syrup has a caramel flavor that is similar to butterscotch. Barley malt syrup has a deeper, more complex flavor that is somewhat similar to molasses. Brown rice syrup is preferable if you are using it in desserts that you will feed to people accustomed to mainstream commercial sugars because its flavor is less overpowering. Barley malt syrup can be preferable in desserts that you will be serving to people who are accustomed to the flavors of healthier, more wholesome foods. The flavor of barley malt is also reminiscent of malted milk balls, malted milk shakes and beer.
Both barley malt and brown rice syrup are thick and sticky. However, brown rice syrup is about as sticky as honey while barley malt is even thicker and stickier. This stickiness makes brown rice syrup a better choice if you don't have the time, patience or supplies to clean up exceptionally sticky spills. The stickiness of barley malt makes it a better choice if you are using it as a binder. It can turn a pile of granola into a granola bar or a bowl of popcorn kernels into sweet, sticky popcorn clusters.
Both brown rice syrup and barley malt syrup are healthier than refined sugars such as sucrose. Because they are relatively unprocessed, they have a wider array of nutrients and enter your bloodstream more slowly than table sugars, a consideration that is especially important for diabetics. However, brown rice syrup contains maltose which, like table sugar, causes blood sugar spikes. In contrast, barley malt syrup takes longer for your system to absorb and is one of the healthiest sweeteners available.
Baking is a process that involves chemical reactions, and baking substitution is more complicated and finicky than simply swapping one sweetener for another. Unlike granulated cane sugar or even the granulated forms of barley and rice sweeteners, barley and rice syrups need to be mixed with the liquid ingredients of a cake or cookie batter rather than with solid ingredients such as flour. Using a liquid rather than a granulated sweetener may require you to adjust the quantities of solid ingredients to avoid creating a batter that is too wet. Brown rice syrup can also make cookies too crispy and not sufficiently soft.
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