The Difference Between a Shake and a Malt

If you’ve ever sat down at a classically run diner, you may notice that malts and milkshakes are listed separately. That they’re two different drinks. What makes the two different? You may feel like, after ordering, they look essentially the same.

The difference between a milkshake and a malt is that a malt contains malted milk. Milkshakes and malts are made with the same basic ingredients: milk, ice cream, and flavoring. The malted milk powder is what thickens your milkshake, into that classic malted mixture.

So while they may appear to be similar, you’re looking at two different types of beverages. Milkshakes and malts have been a classic dessert drink for years. With a variety of flavors, mix-ins, and specialties, there’s something for everyone to enjoy. They’ve been around so long, you probably aren’t even sure where they came from.

Where Did The Malt and Milkshake Come From?

Both malts and milkshakes, are a classic American dish. Except back then, they weren’t family friendly. Milkshakes, first found around the early 1800s, actually contained whiskey, for its flavor. It was more similar to what we know today, as eggnog. By the 1900s, though, the whiskey was replaced with syrup, making it available for all ages.

Milkshakes weren’t an easy feat, back then they were hand stirred. Having to mix everything together took a great deal of work and muscle. In 1922, that all changed. The blender was invented by Steven Poplawski, which significantly cut out work time. This new invention allowed for the malt to be invented in turn. Ivar “Pop” Coulson, a Walgreens employee at the time, created the first malted milkshake by mixing ice cream into a malted milk drink.

“Until then, malted milk drinks were made by mixing milk, chocolate syrup and a spoonful of malt powder in a metal container, then pouring the mixture into a glass. On one especially hot summer day in 1922, Pop Coulson set off his revolution. To the basic mixture, he added a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream, then another.” – Ivar “pop” Coulson

This popped off the milkshake and malt craze, with both being served at restaurants and diners all across America.

What is Malted Milk Powder?

Malted milk powder contains barley, dried evaporated milk, and wheat flour. Barley is a member of the grass family and is commonly found in cereals. In terms of using it in milk powder, however, barley, once ready, is dried and ground to create a powder. Which is then added to the mixture of dried evaporated milk and wheat flour.

Malted Milk is believed to be invented by William Horlick. Though we’re not sure if he was the sole founder. The idea behind malted milk was a type of milk that had a long shelf life. One that wouldn’t spoil.

Horlick, and his brother James, originally promoted their milk as a “super-food.” Barley and wheat were seen as healthy, and incredibly nutritious for the body. This contributed to the Horlick brothers advertising it as a great supplement for food and selling it as both a tablet and a powder. It was marketed as a drink for infants or children who had suffered from illness. Said to bring back any health lost in the process

As it grew though, it was used for not only infants. It was used to treat digestive issues, as rations for emergency services, and even used for mealtime on military expeditions. It was also a stand-alone drink, “malted milk,” which was mixed with milk, and chocolate syrup.

Now we see it commonly in malted milkshakes. These can be served anywhere. While often served in old-school fashion diners, they’re also served in fast-food places like Sonic, or Culvers. This is even what inspired what you may know as a “concrete” drink. A milkshake so thick that you can turn it completely upside down without any spillage. You may have seen this even demonstrated at Dairy Queen, where they popularly flip their concrete mixers before handing them to you, to show the thickness.

Malt vs. Milkshake

While we know the fundamental differences between a malt and a milkshake, there are some other differences too.

Malts are not only thicker than milkshakes, they’re also sweeter than milkshakes. The malt powder is actually savory by itself, but when mixed with the rest of the ingredients in your classic milkshake it makes the malted drink sweeter than the original dish. The malted powder also creates a thicker, smoother texture, than the milkshake would by itself.

Due to it being a grain, and an additive, malts tend to be less healthy than milkshakes. While you may not be consuming a malt, or a milkshake, for its health benefits. It is important to note the difference in calorie count. The average milkshake is about 356 calories, while the malt holds a little over 700. Malts also tend to be a bit pricier, because of this mix-in.

Malted Milk Powder in Other Dishes

Malted milk may be known for it’s additions to the milkshake, but it can also be used in many other dishes!

Malted milk is the main ingredient of the popular candy Whoppers. Which you can not only purchase, but make yourself. Malted milk can also be used in other baked confectionaries such as cakes, puddings, fudge, and toffee.

It’s incredibly versatile, whether you’re using it to make a topping, or using it to make a drink, it’s going to add sweetness to any type of dessert you make.

It could also be used to make bread, which is what malt was commonly used for. The milk powder creates a sweeter taste to the bread and is commonly used in creating wheat bread.

Malted Milkshake Recipe

Now that you’ve learned more about the malt, here is a classic malt recipe for you to try!


  • 1 cup milk (low-fat)
  • 1 cup ice cream (slow-churned or reduced-fat)
  • 4 tablespoons malted milk powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract


  1. Collect your ingredients: It’s best to have everything you need in one spot before you begin!
  2. Combine your ingredients into your blender:
  3. Blend for 10 to 20 seconds, or, until creamy
  4. Transfer to tall glass
  5. Insert straw, and enjoy!


Being part of a really big family, cooking for big groups of people is just how we do things. Cooking, baking, and outdoor cooking have all been huge parts of my life, and I love sharing what I've learned with you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Recent Posts