November 19, 2022

Some of our recipes, such as the Chinese BBQ Pork (Char Siu) and the Fried Squab, call for maltose. But what exactly is it, what role does it play in Chinese cuisine, and can it be replaced by anything else?

In this short piece, we’ll discuss that and more.


A natural sweetener, maltose (mài yá táng) is made by fermenting grains like barley and rice. The consistency of maltose is somewhere in between that of sugar and syrup, despite its other names. In terms of consistency, it’s considerably closer to a solid than a liquid, and its sweetness is lower than that of sugar or honey.


Maltose is a common ingredient in Chinese roasts and is also used to crisp the skin of birds before frying, such as with fried squab. Chinese barbecued pork and roast duck both benefit from the sauce, since it gives the meat its trademark glossy/shiny texture and a hint of sweetness.

At room temperature, its dry, stiff, thick nature and high stickiness can make it difficult to handle. It is difficult to measure out a certain quantity because a spoon has a hard time breaking through it, and when you do get a mouthful, it tends to cling together. Although difficult to manipulate at room temperature, heating improves its malleability. If maltose has grown too stiff and dried out from storage, add a couple of teaspoons of water before heating it to rehydrate it and make it more workable.

However, it is also widely used in traditional Chinese baking (mooncakes, breads, and pastries) and candy manufacturing. However, we rarely utilize it, opting instead for items that are more often found in home kitchens.

Kids would also enjoy a spoon or chopstick covered in sticky maltose.


Maltose is a sugar that can only be obtained in Asian markets. Photos below show that a sizable tub may be had for $1.50 to $2.00 (500g, or a little over a pound).

It might also be available for purchase online, albeit with a much heftier price tag. Make sure to keep them in a cold, dry area like a pantry.


While honey can be used as a suitable replacement for maltose in most recipes, it is crucial to keep in mind that honey is significantly sweeter than maltose and may cause the final product to be too sweet. Honey’s flavor profiles expand to include flowery and fruity notes, whereas maltose’s flavor profile is more muted.

It’s also possible to use brown rice syrup in its place. It’s widely available at natural grocery stores, gourmet markets, and the web. Sweeter than maltose but not as sweet as honey, brown rice syrup is an alternative sweetener. Alternative sweeteners include barley malt syrup.

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