Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Homemade Brown Rice Syrup Blues, Part 2

I tried making another batch of brown rice syrup last night, changing up a few things. The result? Another jar of mud.

It was not a total failure. The fact that I got eight ounces this time, rather than two, means that homemade brown rice syrup will be economical when all is said and done. By rough calculations I figured that this eight ounce jar cost me $1.21 to make (not counting labor and electricity). So a full sized jar (16 ounces) would cost $2.42. I still haven't been successful at converting all of the starches so when I do, the yield will go up even more and the cost will come down.

Even though this turned out muddier than the last one, it is sweeter and less bitter. The reason it's muddier is because I ground the rice into flour and so some of the unconverted starches were small enough to slip through during the straining process.

Here's what I did this time. I ground a cup and a half of rice into flour with my coffee grinder, then cooked it in nine cups of water for about twenty minutes. I let it cool until the temperature in the center of the pot was below 150 degrees Fahrenheit. Then I added the sprouted barley.

This time I also did something different with the barley. On various websites that talk about how to malt barley, they say that once the barley is sprouted it's dried in order to halt the process at the right point. I haven't been doing this, since I was using the barley immediately and didn't think it mattered. But this time I dried the barley in the oven for several hours (keeping the temp below 150F at all times). Whether this is a critical step or not, I don't know. But it did have one obvious benefit--when it was dried I could grind it into a fine powder in the coffee grinder. That made it possible to disperse it more uniformly in the rice mixture.

So I mixed the barley powder ( 1/4 of a cup) into the rice mixture and put it in the oven, where I kept the temperature somewhere in between 140 and 150 degrees. I let it cook for seven hours then turned the oven off and left it there overnight. (The only reason I didn't cook it longer is because I was heading to bed). In the morning I strained it. This time instead of using cheesecloth I strained twice through my regular mesh sieve and twice more through a really fine sieve (one of my little two-inch diameter tea strainers--a little tedious!). Still, some of the starches were fine enough to get through. This yielded six cups of liquid, which seemed like a promising amount to start out with. From that I was hoping to yield at least twelve ounces of syrup.

It took about forty-five minutes to boil it down and in the end, as I said, I got eight ounces. It's the sweetest batch so far and also the least bitter, so I know I'm on the right track. I really think the bitterness is coming from the unconverted starches rather than the barley. There still was quite a lot of rice sludge that I filtered out--at least a cup, maybe a cup and a half.

So, next time... (while I was working on this last night my friend John called and I told him there wasn't going to be a next time, but he launched into the "What if Thomas Edison had given up after a few tries, what if Albert Einstein had given up after a few tries" spiel. I told him it's not quite the same--this thing has already been invented. There's really no need for anyone to do it again. But, sigh, I am quite a persistent little bugger so I will probably keep at it until I figure it out.) Anyway, I was saying, next time I'm going to up the amount of barley maybe to as much as half a cup and I will also let it cook indefinitely. The worst thing that will happen if it goes too long is that the sugars will start to convert to alcohol. If I keep tasting it as I go, I should be able to tell when that starts to happen. Then I'll know for the next time to stop just short of that.


  1. I made a batch using malted barley from my health food store, in the home beer brewing supplies. I used 3/4 cup of rice and 4 1/2 cups water (I wanted to start small) and 1/4 cup of barley. I ground the rice and barley in my coffee grinder and cooked it in my rice cooker because my oven doesn't go down past 170. I got about 4 oz of syrup that is sweet but not very sweet at all. It would never sweeten baked goods or anything like that. Do you have any ideas on how I could increase yield and sweetness? Mine wasn't bitter at all, just hardly sweet. Thanks!

  2. Thanks for sharing your experience. These brown rice syrup posts are my most popular posts, so I know a lot of people are trying to figure this out as well. If everyone would experiment and then tell us about it here in the comment section, we might all eventially figure it out!

    Your 4 oz. yield seems on par with what I've been getting, but I bet you were left with a lot of rice sludge as well. It seems like we could do a lot better. I haven't had a chance to do any more experiments, but I have a few more things I'll try in the near future.

    The type of rice might be significant--long, medium, or short grain. I read somewhere that one of those is far starchier and that's what they use for making sake. I forget which one though; I'll have to look that up again.

    And using store-bought malt is smart, as it knocks out that whole variable. You don't have to worry about how long to sprout it or dry it. I've wondered, the descriptions I've read about making malt they say they winnow off the little nubs of sprouts. Maybe the nubs are what has been turning my batches bitter.

    I hope you keep trying to figure this out as well, Goodsellfamily. Let me know if you get anywhere.

  3. Have you tried using fresh sprouted barley rather than toasted? I've used green barley sprouts zapped to a pulp in my blender - the results were great!
    It seems to me that the toasting (malting) of the barley might be destroying the enzymes needed to convert the rice starch to sugar.

  4. Hi, I don't know if you still update this blog but I recently read about sugars in a food science book and am now very interested in grain syrups. I was wondering if you ended up trying a "next time" and if so, what were the results? This blog is the only place I can find anything about making your own grain syrups.

  5. Folks-

    My name is Shaun, and i'm a Craft Brewer. We use Rice and Barley to make maltose, which we turn into beer.

    Melanie, you're going down the right track and you'll see soon what the flavor and issue is.

    the husk of malted barley an enzyme (two, actually) called Amalayse. There is Alpha and Beta amylase, and they tear a starch (complex carbohydrate) into simple sugars. Now, its somewhat complicated but in short one is active from 136-144 degrees, and the other from 149-153. One of them whacks the starch molecule up into big chunks, and the other breaks up the chunks into smaller peices. IDEALLY, 148-149f would be ideal temp for converting starch to sugars, as BOTH enzymes will be active at the same time.

    Now, lets talk about our tools. The enzime is found ONLY in the husk of the barley, and the husk also contains TANNIN....something that tastes NASTY. You see where this is going. Tannin is extracted by contact with water at high temps. The closer to 170f, the faster tanins leach into your "mash".....mashing is the conversion of starch to sugar. Regardless, the longer the grain soaks the more tannin leaches into the final product. So you want to get the mash over with as soon as possible, certainly under 3hrs is attainable BUT you have to use the right tools.

    Having said that, there are 2 families of barley; TWO ROW and SIX ROW. This refers to how many rows of kernals are on a stalk. Two row barly has more starch but less enzyme, wheras six row barley has less starch but more enzyme.

    As we want RICE syrup, not BARLEY syrup, and the enzyme is onl in the husk, don't grind the barley. And buy six row barley "base malt" or "pale malt" don't buy crystal or caramel or anything else. Any home brew store will know what you want. Use about 3-1 so 3lbs rice to 1lb barley. Use about 1qt of water per lb of mix too.

    You will know when the conversion is done if you have a bit of iodine in the house, you can take a bit of the rice mash and put a drop of iodine in it, in a spoon. Iodine flashes to black from red in the presence of starch, but will remain red in sugars.

    HAVING SAID ALL THIS, YOU CAN ALSO BUY AMYLASE POWDER at your brew supply store-instead of using barley. I use Bootlggers in Brandon FL 813-643-9463 for my barley and yeast and such.

    I have also heard that you can boil down the rice into a mushy mix, cool it to 150f and then add the barley uncrushed or amylase powder. You can also use INSTANT RICE, which I am about to try today!

    You guys feel free to email me if you like, and we'll work out for your group the most efficient manner of making your own rice syrup.


    1. Hi Shaun
      Tx for your post. I'm from South Africa - Langkloof Eastern Cape. Would it be ok if I pick your brains sometime in the near future, as I would like to try and make some brown rice syrup myself, and it would be great to fix my mistakes with some know-how.

  6. I just wondered into all of this,,, I bought some rice syrup today and really appreciate the softer sweetness and mouth feel compared to honey, then thought,,, hmmm, how do they make this? =)
    A high starch rice (sticky?) and either amylase from beer making or some 6 row barley,,, 3:1 @ a controlled 148-149f,,, now if I use amylase I don't have to worry about tanic acids making it bitter so if I need it to cook a bit longer to get a good conversion of starches(depending on the rice) to sugar not such a big deal right?
    On the label of the syrup I bought it says the ingredients are brown rice and water,,, wonder how they did that one?
    Anyways,,, now I'm curious,,, =)

    1. Greg:
      I wonder if they either discount the barley/amylase because it is removed, or if the husk of whole grain rice (like wild rice?) also has the enzymes needed to convert the starch to sugar? Never tested it, but it's a thought.

  7. They do not use barley, their kodji (Japanese for starter) is rice based.
    Very good info here, thanks to all :)
    Gee (Bangkok)

  8. I'm from Brazil, thank you very much for publishing this work. It's helping me a lot.

  9. I'm from Brazil, thank you very much for publishing this work. It's helping me a lot.

  10. Hi Melanie. I'm from South Africa.Tx for trying and publishing your results. It helps a lot! Regards

  11. Melanie and Shaun,

    Thank you for your journeys into the art and science of rice syrup. How did it turn out following Shaun's "mushy rice" method?