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Food and Drink For Members

Why the Ovomaltine drink is a true Swiss classic

Helena Bachmann
Helena Bachmann - [email protected]
Why the Ovomaltine drink is a true Swiss classic
A wide range of Ovomaltine products. Photo: Ovomlatine press service

If you have never tried Switzerland’s famous malt-based beverage, you may want to give it a try. It is just what the doctor ordered.

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In more ways than one, Ovomaltine has a lot of ‘Swissness’ in it: it first saw the light of day in Bern, has a chocolaty flavour, and is consumed with milk.

If you are partial to chocolate drinks like Caotina or Suchard, the less sweet taste of Ovomaltine may not tickle your fancy as much, especially if you are discovering this beverage as an adult.

The Swiss, on the other hand, develop a taste for it in childhood, drinking it hot for breakfast or cold for zvieri / quatre-heures — a traditional snack the kids have in the afternoon when they return from school.

A perfect after-school drink. Photo: Pixabay

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What exactly is Ovomaltine?

It is a – cocoa flavoured powder made from malt extract and dried eggs, which is dissolved in cold or hot milk — pretty much the same way as instant chocolate powder is.

However, it is less sweet than a traditional cocoa drink, with a distinct malty flavour.

Ovomaltine is a brainchild of a chemist Georg Wander who lived in the second half of the 19th century.
The only blemish in this Swiss success story is that Wander was actually German. However, as many German immigrants then and now, he was naturalised and settled in Bern, where he opened a laboratory which manufactured tinctures, ointments, oils and beverages.

This is how we got interested in malt, and in how its extracts could be used in various edible forms.

However, it was only after his death that Wander’s son, Albert, perfected his father’s recipe, launching the early version of Ovomaltine in 1904.

It was originally marketed as a doctor-recommended health drink, although how much of this is actually true is debatable.

Strengthening Switzerland’s defences

According to House of Switzerland organisation, “though Ovomaltine was never strictly proven to have medicinal properties, the product began to conquer all sorts of new consumers and markets, including nursing mothers, exhausted factory workers, stressed motorists and sports people. Next the Swiss wonder drink was adopted by the armed forces, where it was deployed to 'strengthen Switzerland's defences'." 

For decades, Ovomaltine had been sold in large orange tins, though over the years the original powder morphed into a wide variety of products, including candy, biscuits and chocolate spread.

And if you think the world ‘Ovomaltine’ sounds vaguely familiar, that’s because its sweeter version is sold in foreign countries under the ‘Ovaltine’ label.

These are some other typically Swiss foods:

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How can we explain the Swiss obsession with the drink Rivella?

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