How One Jersey Company Is Feeding the Plant-Based Craze With Malt
You might already have learned that there’s more in plant-based proteins than the Power of Nature. What you might not know is that one of the essential ingredients of plant-based proteins is an ingredient produced by a local family business. Amy Targan is now at the helm of Malt Products Corporation in Saddle Brook, but it was her now 93 year-old father Ron Targan who bought the company in 1957. (In case you’re unfamiliar with malting, here’s a video of how it works.) And while operations were small in the beginning—her father malted himself and sold to local bakeries—63 years and at least one plant-based protein movement later, its marquee MaltRite line is distributed to businesses all over the country, even internationally. We caught up with Ms. Targan herself to ask how our plant-based meat cravings have impacted her bottom line and what we can expect from malt in our food and beverage lives in the year(s) to come.
Table Hopping: Your father started the company in 1957. Can you tell us a bit about him?
Amy Targan: My father was born and bred in Atlantic City. His father owned a small bodega-type store, and my father always had a little bit of that entrepreneurial blood in him. He actually trained as a lawyer. When he got back after WWII, he used the G.I. Bill to get a law degree from Rutgers. But there was still always that entrepreneurial blood from the Atlantic City upbringing. He was out on the Boardwalk hawking things at five years old!
TH: How did he go from law to malting?
AT: He’d actually done work for the owner of this business as a lawyer and saw its potential, so he offered to buy it from them. If you knew my father, it was the kind of thing where people said, “What are you, crazy?” But he was all in! He would buy barley from local farmers and would literally make little beds behind the factory to malt it.
TH: For those of us un-malt-savvy, can you explain what malting is?
AT: It’s the same thing you do for beer—you take the germinated barley, add hot water, and mash it up so you break down the starch into simpler sugars, mostly maltose. For beer you would take that and ferment it. My grandfather would sell the malt syrup to little local bagel shops, Italian bakery shops.
TH: You guys moved to a big factory in Dayton, Ohio, so I have to assume there’s no more malting being done behind the factory in Maywood?
AT: Yes, our executive offices are still in New Jersey. Marketing, accounting, a lot of important things are still happening in New Jersey. But actual production has moved to Dayton.
TH: It’s not often you think of a big factory business as being a family business. When did you step in as president?
AT: I was actually also a lawyer. I worked in a law firm and raised a family. But I always had a little finger in the business. When my father turned 75, I had to start thinking about the future. We just needed the next generation to come on.
TH: Does your father still come into the offices every day? What does he like to do?
AT: Yes! And next week is my father’s 93rd birthday! He’s really just advising. He’s here bouncing off ideas. He’s a special guy, an unusual guy. He’s not just business, he’s creative. I have to give a lot of credit to Atlantic City on that one. He was hustling out on the Boardwalk at that little age—I think it helped shape him!
TH: Why is malt extract at all necessary for a plant-based protein?
AT: When you go into plant-based proteins, things like soybean isolates, they need some flavor masking. Malt works very well for that. And because of the proteins themselves in the malt, along with maltose, there is a Maillard reaction, where you get that reddish-brown color when the protein hits a heat source.
TH: When did you notice a rise in demand?
AT: We really started seeing it in research and development two years ago. Plant-based protein businesses were sampling our malt products left and right. Of course, they don’t like to tell you what they’re doing with it.
TH: Businesses come to you guys, so you must have some insight into certain food trends. Anything on the rise?
AT: One big thing we’re seeing is sugar reduction. It’s everywhere these days. We’re still a sugar—maltose. We can’t say we’re not! But we’re a sugar that provides more. The sugar part of it is less than half of what’s in there. There’s protein, amino acids, and more antioxidants than broccoli and blueberries. In fact, sports recovery is definitely a big growing area with malt-based drinks. We’re seeing people developing smaller drink brands, similar to the kombucha market. There’s been research showing malt [does] help in sports recovery.
TH: Is malt having a “moment,” then?
AT: It’s really coming back as a health food. If you Google “malt extract,” at the turn of the century, you’ll see they used to sell it as a tonic to pregnant women. I’m not saying it should have been sold that way! In Europe they used to give a tablespoon to every child. It has a long history as a health food. If you went really way back, Hippocrates and Pliny, they talk about barley and malt as health food. Also way back to the gladiators—their name was “Barley Men.”
TH: Do you still sell to bakeries, like your father did?
AT: Absolutely. Not only can you use malt extract in bread, it was always considered the best food for the yeast. They prefer it! And it’s all about what the yeast like! Bugs and yeast and people—we all like things with nutrients in it.
In fact, we’re actually seeing a lot of bakeries—not very, very big ones, but more artisan bakeries—they’re more interested in going back to a natural process. We’re seeing them looking at malt extract again. It’s like way back to when my dad started the business, making malt extract for the bakeries. What’s old is new again!
Malt Products Corporation sells its MaltRite line to a variety of businesses, including plant-based proteins. They also sell oat extract, which Ms. Targan says surged heavily last year. The company is still proudly Jersey-based, though they also sell internationally.