are of course there to benefit the seeds in which they occur—to mobilize food for the growing seedling; but long ago people found that they could use them also to break up starches from other sources. This process (usually called malting) became the first step in making beer and liquor out of starchy foods such as potatoes, maize, rice, or sorghum (see page 168).
What has been overlooked to a large extent is that malting can be used for more than just brewing. Indeed, it is probably the key to making cheap, digestible, liquid foods with little effort and no extra cooking fuel. These foods are particularly promising for children facing the life-threatening dietary switch from mother's milk to solid foods.
Adding a tiny amount of malted grain turns a bowl of hot starchy porridge into a watery liquid. The resulting food matches the viscosity of a bottled baby food, such as those sold in American supermarkets. A child who is too small or too weak to get down solids can then get a full meal—and get it out of the food its mother is preparing for the rest of the family.
The germinated grain acts as a catalyst to liquefy any of the world's major starchy foods: wheat, rice, maize, sorghum, millet, potatoes, cassava (manioc), yams, and the rest. Moreover, it does more than turn those staples into liquid form: it predigests the starches, making the food easy for a body to absorb, and (by releasing sugars) it renders even the blandest staples palatable. The malted grain is readily available, cheap, and safe to eat. It should develop healthy bodies and fully functioning brains in the millions of children whose health and happiness is now jeopardized by malnutrition.
Of all the world's cereal grains, finger millet is second only to barley in its ability to hydrolyze starches (''malting power"). And it has the inestimable value of growing in the latitudes where malnutrition is rife. (Barley is strictly a temperate-zone resource.)
But for all its potential to benefit the malnourished, not much attention has been paid to malting internationally. Only in India and Nepal have malt-based children's foods been intensively studied. In both countries, food scientists have created malted-grain products that can overcome malnutrition. And in almost every product, malted finger millet was the prime ingredient.
The fact that malting is a cheap and widely understood process that can be easily accomplished in the home or village and requires no fuel or special equipment is a major benefit. This means that top-quality weaning foods can be made by the poor, who cannot afford to buy commercial baby-food concoctions.