Plasmon biscuits are a biscuit containing plasmon, a proprietary dried milk. The manufacturers claimed that 3 pounds of plasmon made 100 pints of milk. Plasmon was manufactured by the International Plasmon Company and was added to a number of different products to make Plasmon Oats, Plasmon Cocoa and Plasmon Biscuits.
Plasmon biscuits were very popular around the turn of the 20th century, and were considered a health food. They were used by Ernest Shackleton in his Antarctic Expedition of 1902. On Christmas Day he wrote "Had a hot lunch. I was cook: - Bovril, chocolate and plasmon biscuit, two spoonfuls of jam each. Grand!". A variety of plasmon biscuit, said to be like digestives, was also made by Jacob's in 1915.
Victor Whitechurch's fictional vegetarian detective Thorpe Hazell ate them daily. The journal of actress Ellen Terry, records that George Bernard Shaw "generally dined off a plasmon biscuit and a bean!". George Strachey Fawle (1856–1936), a director of the company, said he attributed his recovery from serious illness to plasmon.
Samuel L. Clemens (Mark Twain) was an investor in the company and also promoted Plasmon's health benefits. He ate it daily himself, induced various members of his family to take it and kept the reading table by his bed well stocked with a variety of the products, inviting callers to try a complimentary sample lot. J.Y.M. MacAlister, another investor in the company, and Clemens are credited by Clemens' biographer (Albert Paine) with convincing the Medical Director-General of the British Army to adopt plasmon as a food for convalescent soldiers during the Second Boer War.
Plasmon itself was a powder, milk albumen, which could be mixed into various other foods to make it palatable. In a letter to William Dean Howells Clemens advised: "Yes--take it as a medicine--there is nothing better, nothing surer of desired results. If you wish to be elaborate--which isn't necessary--put a couple of heaping teaspoonfuls of the powder in an inch of milk & stir until it is a paste; put in some more milk and stir the paste to a thin gruel; then fill up the glass and drink. Or, stir it into your soup. Or, into your oatmeal. Or, use any method you like, so's you get it down--that is the only essential."
Paine himself was urged to try the various products and reports that one of its more palatable forms was the "preparation of chocolate".
Plasmon buscuits are still manufactured in Italy and marketed to infants 4 months and older, pregnant women and the elderly as a nutritionally well-balanced and highly digestible food or as a "great adult snack with coffee or tea".
- Advert in Times 4 July 1904 page 20
- Virtual Shackleton http://www.spri.cam.ac.uk/library/archives/shackleton/articles/1537,3,12.html
- Times 27 October 1915, page 13
- Ellen Terry The Story of my life (http://www.spri.cam.ac.uk/library/archives/shackleton/articles/1537,3,12.html)
- Times 28 July 1926 page 19
- Paine, Albert Bigelow (1912). Mark Twain, A Biography, Vol. 2, Part 2, 1886-1900 The Personal And Literary Life Of Samuel Langhorne Clemens. New York: Harper & Brothers.
- Paine, Albert Bigelow (1912). Mark Twain, A Biography, Vol. 3, Part 1, 1900-1907 The Personal And Literary Life Of Samuel Langhorne Clemens. New York: Harper & Brothers.