There are several types of rice syrup available in natural food, Oriental food, and grocery stores around the world. Their quality varies from Mitoku's Uchida-style brown rice malt syrup to white rice syrup that is made with enzymes and added sugar. The most common variation of the traditional method is made by substituting laboratory-produced enzymes for the sprouted barley.
Naturally occurring digestive enzymes, such as those in sprouted barley or koji, are part of a living cell, but by themselves they are not alive. In the laboratory, enzymes are isolated from the rest of the cell and are, therefore, no longer attached to a living system. Producers who use enzymes can control the percentage of maltose and glucose in the final product, and the process is much quicker and more economical.
However, traditional makers of rice malt syrup contend that there is a distinct "qualitative" difference between their product and enzyme-converted rice syrup. "In nature, a cell wouldn't let you use just one or two enzymes," explains rice-syrup authority Jim Allen. "With koji or sprouted barley many enzymes are at work holistically digesting proteins and fats as well as carbohydrates." Gunichi Uchida claims there is a difference in the taste. He feels that with laboratory-produced enzymes you simply cannot get the full range of tastes that you get with sprouted barley.
If you are confused about which rice syrup you are buying, simply read the label. Look for sprouted barley in the ingredients list. Authentic rice or brown rice malt syrup, such as the Uchida products sold under the Mitoku label, contains whole grain rice, sprouted barley, and water. Enzyme-converted rice syrup usually lists rice and water as the only ingredients. Another grain can be substituted for the rice. For example, the Uchida Toka Company makes the ultimate sweetener (especially for a healing diet) by substituting hato mugi (Job's tears) for brown rice in the malt recipe.
Rice malt syrup is a natural food in every sense of the word. The process begins with whole grains and simply lets nature take its course. With gentle warming and occasional stirring, rice malt syrup actually makes itself. No wonder the ancient Japanese considered rice malt syrup to be a gift from the gods. It is!