Horlicks Malted Milk - Gastro Obscura
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Ingredients & Condiments

Horlicks Malted Milk

This powder proved essential to Arctic exploration, war, and the ice cream parlor.

James Horlick was a chemist at a London-based baby formula company in the mid-1800s. The new nutritional innovation packed substances rich in essential vitamins and minerals. Most notably, it contained ground malted barley. By soaking barley grains until germination occurred, then quickly drying them (and, thus, stopping the germination process), formula-makers converted the barley’s carbs into easily-digestible sugars. Horlick used this process to create his own proprietary nutritional powder in the 1870s, but it wasn’t until 1883 that he revolutionized the world of food and drink via malting.

Failing to find financial backing for his first nutritional powder, Horlick set off for the United States, joining his brother, William, who had already relocated to Chicago. They locked down American investors and launched “Diastoid,” which they marketed as “Infant and Invalids Food.” Before long, diners were adding a scoop of Diastoid in every glass of milk for optimal health. 

Unpasteurized milk, however, posed a threat. James realized that the raw stuff was a breeding ground for germs. Operating out of the company’s new base in Racine, Wisconsin, he changed his malting process, mixing milk with the soaked barley grains, then drying both until they became a sterile powder. All one needed to do was add water. He called the powder “malted milk,” and patented it in 1883. It was nutritious, nonperishable, and high in calories. Explorers took the powder to both the North and South Poles on expeditions in the early 1900s. Kids brought it to school in lunch boxes. Soldiers transported malted milk tablets to the front lines of World War II. When the Great Depression hit, American families turned to these tablets for a cheap, reliable source of calories.

The United States’ love affair with malted milk peaked in conjunction with the country’s soda fountain craze. Near the turn of the 20th century, the Temperance Movement pushed the abolition of alcohol and all its affiliated watering holes. In place of bars, thousands of outposts for fun, booze-free drinking emerged. Seen as both healthy and delicious, malted milk became a shoo-in at the countless ice cream parlors and soda fountains that sprang up across the country.

To this day, Horlick’s malted milk legacy lives on in both ice cream and icy mountains. After the company offered a $30,000 sponsorship to Richard Byrd’s expedition to reach the South Pole in 1933, Byrd rewarded his benefactors with a lasting honor. Situated just east of Antarctica’s Reedy Glacier are the Horlick Mountains.

Need to Know

The company, now based in the United Kingdom, has since dropped the apostrophe and now goes by "Horlicks."

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