What is the difference between a milkshake and a malt? is a question you might ask your server at any 1950s-style diner or throwback soda fountain, and you might receive all sorts of answers, but the only significant difference is the addition of malted milk powder to the one beverage. But what does it taste like, and where did each one come from? We’ve got those answers too.
The Origins of Milkshakes
A milkshake—as we know it—is a glass of blended ice cream, milk, and other mix-ins or flavorings. (A malt or malted milkshake is simply a special kind of milkshake that includes the addition of malted milk powder.)
The first recorded use of the term “milkshake” was in 1885, when it was described as a sturdy, healthful eggnog type of drink with eggs, whiskey, and more, served both as a tonic and as a treat. By 1900, people thought of milkshakes as wholesome drinks with chocolate, strawberry, or vanilla syrups.
General Store Milkshake Glasses, 4 for $27.43 on Amazon
Serve your shakes (or malts) in charmingly old-fashioned glasses for the full soda shop effect.
The milkshake made it into the mainstream when in 1922, a Walgreens employee in Chicago, Ivar “Pop” Coulson, took an old-fashioned malted milk (milk, chocolate, and malt) and added two scoops of ice cream. That concoction caught on quickly, becoming part of pop culture (ha!) for teens socializing at malt shops by the 1930s. Eventually, malts took on an old-fashioned, retro sheen, but milkshakes stayed current (although, wow, did Kelis really release “Milkshake” all the way back in 2003?).
Malt & Malted Milk—What Are They, Anyway?
Malt, the stuff inside Whoppers—you know, those chocolatey balls you buy (or lust after and don’t buy) at movie theaters—is a sweet, toasty syrup or powder made from barley or other grains that have been steeped, germinated, and dried. Malted barley is used to make beer. (So when you’re eating something that has malt in it, it’s kind of like you’re eating beer. Cheers!)
Malted milk is malted barley, wheat flour, and whole milk evaporated into a powder. Some flavors of Ovaltine contain malt. Carnation also makes a malt mix, in chocolate and plain flavors. Any of these can be added to ice cream or baked goods for that grainy-sweet malty taste. You can buy pure dry malt online, too, as well as malt syrup.
Soda Fountain Malted Milk Powder, $13.50 on Amazon
Try a spoonful in your favorite shake, and add it to cakes, cookies, and other desserts too.
Look for malted milk powder, the key ingredient in malted milkshakes, next to the powdered chocolate milk and other drink mixes at your local grocery store. (Or if you have all the other ingredients, just make a milkshake. We wouldn’t want to leave you hanging. It’s still drinkable ice cream. And ice cream is good.)
If you do have malted milk powder on hand, you add it after you’ve mixed your shake, according to CTL Foods, a Colfax, Wisconsin-based company selling malt powders, syrups, and slushes. Malted milk powder enhances the flavor of the other ingredients, giving you a sweetish, richer-tasting malt with that signature buttery-toasty note. One rounded teaspoon per shake is enough. You can add it to any flavor of milkshake to enhance the experience.
Hamilton Beach Metal Drink Mixer, $39.99 on Amazon
Because the best part of a milkshake is knowing there's overflow left in the metal mixing cup.
Milkshake & Malt Recipes
Try some of our milkshakes and malts and turn your own kitchen into a soda shop.
Look for Hershey’s Whoppers, which should look familiar if you’ve ever ordered food at an American movie theater concession. Or try other brands. They’re critical for upping the awesomeness of this shake. Get our Chocolate Malted Milkshake recipe.
It’s minty fresh but with a chocolate infusion with a little booze to smooth things over. This is no children’s shake, but it may make you feel playful. Get our Grasshopper Milkshake recipe.
Grab your favorite stout or porter beer for an adult milkshake full of rich and malty overtones. To achieve this, buy some malted milk powder. Get our Stout Chocolate Malt recipe.
Have you ever looked at your oatmeal cookie and thought, “This is good, but it would be even better if I could drink it …”? No? Well, it’s a good idea, proved by this recipe. Vanilla ice cream, crunchy cookies, cinnamon, and caramel—clearly a great idea. We’d wager a dash of malt would only improve the experience. Get our Oatmeal Cookie Milkshake recipe.
Milkshakes have more flexibility than we give them credit for. If you miss the lovely, honeyed, crackling crunch of the sugar cone, you can have that plus drink your shake too. Roasted, salted peanuts contrast the sweetness of the fudge so it’s not too cloying. Get our Drumstick Milkshake recipe.