A tin of Bird's Custard powder and prepared custard in a measuring jug
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Bird's Custard is the brand name for the first powdered, egg-free custard. Custard powder or instant custard powder are the generic product names for similar and competing products. The product is a cornflour-based powder which thickens to form a custard-like sauce when mixed with milk and heated to a sufficient temperature.
In some regions, such as Australia and the United Kingdom, the popularity of this type of dessert is such that it is simply known as "custard". In such cases, general usage of the word may be more likely to refer to the "Bird's" custard rather than to the traditional egg-based variety.
In recent years, "instant" versions (containing powdered milk and sugar and requiring only hot water) and ready-made custard in tins, plastic pots and cartons have also become popular.
A food and drink survey carried out in 2000 found 99% of customers recognised the brand, which accounts for 45% of the custard consumed in the UK. Bird's Custard is also exported to several countries around the world, including the United States, where it is popular among several ethnic groups. Many ethnic and specialty stores across the United States sell the product. Bird's Custard can often be found in many popular grocery supermarkets.
In addition to the Bird's brand, generic cornflour-based custards are widely available.
Until 2009 many Bird's products, such as its instant custard powder, contained hydrogenated vegetable oil, a product now banned in some countries due to health concerns relating to heart disease. Since then all Bird's custards have moved to non-hydrogenated vegetable oil.
Alfred Bird and Sons Ltd.
After he discovered his custard was popular, Bird formed Alfred Bird and Sons Ltd. in Birmingham. By 1843, the company was also making the newly invented baking powder and, by 1844, was promoting custard powder nationally. By 1895, the company was producing blancmange powder, jelly powder, and egg substitute. In World War I, Bird's Custard was supplied to the British armed forces.
The company was one of the early users of promotional items and colourful advertising campaigns. The famous 'three bird' logo, however, was relatively late in arriving, only introduced in 1929.
World War II saw rationing and serious production limits. Shortly after the war, Bird's was purchased by the General Foods Corporation, which was itself taken over by Philip Morris in the 1980s and merged into Kraft Foods. Although the Bird's Custard product remains, the company itself is now just a brand. In late 2004, Kraft sold Bird's Custard and some other Kraft brands to Premier Foods, who are the current owners.
In 1958, the company acquired Monk and Glass, a rival custard powder manufacturer based in London.
The original custard factory has long ceased to exist, but the larger factory Bird's opened in Gibb Street remains (production was relocated to Banbury in 1964, along with the factory gates, featuring the company logo), and has been adapted as the Custard Factory arts centre.
Though cooked custard is a weak gel, viscous and thixotropic, a suspension of uncooked custard powder (starch) in water, with the proper proportions, has the opposite rheological property: it is negative thixotropic, or dilatant, which is to say that it becomes more viscous when under pressure. This suspension is termed oobleck and often used in science demonstrations of non-Newtonian fluids. The British popular-science programme Brainiac: Science Abuse demonstrated dilatancy dramatically by filling a swimming pool with this mixture and having presenter Jon Tickle walk across it.
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- "Deadly fats: why are we still eating them?". The Independent (London). 10 June 2008. Retrieved 26 April 2010.
- "Delight as Premier gets the cream of custard", manchesteronline.co.uk. Article dated 9 December 2004, retrieved 14 March 2006.
- "Premier gobbles up Bird's Custard", bbc.co.uk. Article dated 10 December 2004, retrieved 14 March 2006.
- "Corn Starch Dust Explosion at General Foods Ltd, Banbury, Oxfordshire - 18th November 1981". Great Britain: January, 1983. Occupational Health & Safety Information Service, UK. ISBN 0-11-883673-0