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Although some people may consider beer brewing an art, there is also a considerable amount of science in the brewing process.
There is chemistry involved in how various enzymes work to convert grain starch into fermentable sugars. One of the crucial processes is the debranching of amylopectins in the mash.
This article discusses how the mashing process works and how certain enzymes break down amylopectins that will later be used during the brewing process.
How Mashing Works
Mashing is the process of steeping the barley in hot water to activate the malt enzymes necessary for converting the grain starches in the barley into sugars.
There are different enzymes involved in the mashing process. Each enzyme works differently depending on the temperature and pH level of the mash.
For example, the beta-amylase enzyme helps produce maltose, a sugar composed of two glucose molecules.
On the other hand, the alpha-amylase enzyme helps produce other sugars like glucose, maltose, and maltotriose (three glucose molecules).
By adjusting the temperature and pH level, you can customize the taste and purpose of the wort extracted after the mashing process.
Malted and unmalted grains usually have their starches locked in a protein and carbohydrate matrix. This matrix keeps the enzymes from interacting with the starches and converting them into fermentable sugars.
You may grind, crush, or roll the grains to unlock the starches and help the enzymes interact with the starch. Once accessed, the starches can easily be hydrated when you place them in the mash.
After hydration, the heat or a combination of heat and enzyme action makes the starch soluble or gelatinized. The enzymes can then convert the soluble starch into fermentable sugars.
Sometimes, a holding period, known as “doughing in,” is included in the process to let the compounds rest, allowing the temperature to equalize.
Doughing in soaks and saturates the grains, allowing more time for the enzymes to break down the starch chains.
The recommended dough-in temperature varies among brewers. One source suggests performing the dough-in at around 104°F (40°C) for 20 minutes. The debranching enzymes are active at this period and temperature.
However, debranching also occurs during the modification process, when proteins break down and release the starch further.
The starch resulting from the modification process is then converted into sugar during the saccharification process. The amylase enzymes start working to turn the starch into sugars.
Specifically, the amylase enzymes hydrolyze the starch chain bonds between the glucose molecules making up the starch chain.
The amylase enzymes need to break down two types of starch chains. A straight starch chain is called amylose, while a branched starch chain is called amylopectin. Amylopectins are composed of several amylose chains.
What Are Amylopectins?
Amylopectins are highly branched molecules that are a significant component of starches. Because of their branched structure, amylopectins are less susceptible to gelation, retrogradation, or syneresis.
Gelation is the tendency of starch to turn into a dense, transparent, gel-like structure. Retrogradation is when gelatinized starch realigns itself when it cools after being cooked. Syneresis is when the gel shrinks and releases water.
How Amylopectins Are Debranched
During conversion, alpha- and beta-amylases work to hydrolyze the chain starch bonds. However, these amylases work a little differently from each other.
Think of debranching amylopectins as a process similar to trimming hedges and bushes in your yard. Alpha-amylase acts like a pair of branch clippers, while beta-amylase works like a hedge trimmer.
Beta-amylase enzymes can only remove one maltose unit (two glucose molecules) at a time. Thus, on straight amylose chains, beta-amylase works sequentially.
However, beta-amylase can simultaneously remove multiple maltose ends on amylopectins, just like a hedge trimmer.
While beta-amylase does an efficient job in this regard, it only works on the “twigs” at the end of the starch chain but not on the “root,” just like a hedge trimmer.
Alpha-amylase works better in breaking up larger starch chains into smaller ones. By cutting the larger “branches” or “roots,” alpha-amylase provides more twig ends for the beta-amylase to break up.
To determine whether all the starch has been converted to sugars, try applying one or two drops of iodine to a wort sample.
If the sample turns black, it means the starch has not been completely converted. Sufficiently modified starch must show no change in color or only add a slight shade of red or tan.
The applicability of the enzymes and varying temperatures in beer brewing can determine how you can customize the fermentability of your wort.
For example, lower temperatures may yield thinner, drier beers. Higher temperatures may create sweeter beers. Consider experimenting with varying temperatures to discover your preferred beer.
When brewing, remember to maintain proper sanitation to avoid contamination and other health risks.
Talk to experienced homebrewers, professional brewers, or brewmasters for more tips and information on beer brewing at home.