Malt extract, the post-war tonic for children, has been relaunched.
Aah! That delectable smell of malt extract: all sugar and yeast and… umm, fish livers.
As I hold the tablespoonful of sweet, treacly gloop in front of me, it takes me back to my happy childhood: my mother standing before her three small daughters, bottle of Radio Malt (as it was branded) in one hand, large spoon in the other, cajoling us into swallowing the magic elixir, which was supposed to ward off colds and winter illness while building up our weakling bodies. But it hasn’t been widely seen for decades.
The gloop is a product of the brewing industry, derived from barley grains. Malt extract is packed full of sugars and some nutrients, including vitamin A and riboflavin. Though now mainly used in flavoured drinks and confectionery, after the war it was popular as a cheap dietary supplement for a generation of undernourished children who needed a high carbohydrate feed as well as more vitamins. Back then, its rich, sweet flavour was often combined with unpalatable but nutritious cod liver oil which, with high vitamin D levels, could protect against rickets. Small wonder that in The House at Pooh Corner, Kanga gave Roo and Tigger malt extract as a “strengthening medicine”.
Now Potter’s Herbals, the UK’s only supplier of malt extract, has relaunched its original version to coincide with the company’s 200th birthday, offering malt extract with cod liver oil (hence the fishy smell) in three flavours: butterscotch, honey and natural, as well as malt extract alone.
So is malt extract the supplement answer to our winter prayers – or just a nostalgic blast from the past?
Dietitian Sian Porter, spokeswoman for the British Dietetic Association, says: “Malt extract contains some protein, calories, vitamins and minerals and easily digested, simple sugars.” A tablespoon “would give some nutrients and it wouldn’t be harmful”, she adds.
Dr Sovra Whitcroft, consultant gynaecologist at the Surrey Park Clinic, Guildford, is more cautious. She says a spoonful taken first thing would cause a surge in blood glucose, just as sugary breakfast cereals do, triggering an increase in the hormone insulin (which regulates blood glucose). This can lead to a slump in energy levels, a craving for more sugar and, in the long term, an increased risk of type 2 diabetes.
“If you do want to use it or give it to your children, make sure you combine it with a protein-rich breakfast, such as scrambled eggs, which will take longer to digest, leaving the body less vulnerable to blood sugar surges,” says Dr Whitcroft.
Cod liver oil also contains the omega 3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, essential to normal growth in children and also associated with other health benefits. So if malt extract is still the most palatable way to get some fish oils into our kids, perhaps it’s time to break open a jar. Just brush your teeth afterwards.
Potter’s Herbals Malt Extract, 450g, £4.65, stockists: pottersherbals.co.uk
Adults and adolescents over 12 years: Half to one tablespoon (15-30g) daily.
5-12 years: One to two teaspoonfuls (10g-20g) daily.
1-5 years: Half to one (5-10g) teaspoonful daily.
Where to buy
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