Bovril in the 250 gram jar.
|Inventor||John Lawson Johnston|
Bovril is the trademarked name of a thick and salty meat extract paste similar to a yeast extract, developed in the 1870s by John Lawson Johnston. It is sold in a distinctive, bulbous jar. Bovril is owned and distributed by Unilever UK.
Bovril can be made into a drink by diluting with hot water, or less commonly, with milk. It can be used as a flavouring for soups, broth, stews or porridge, or as a spread, especially on toast in a similar fashion to Marmite and Vegemite.
The first part of the product's name comes from Latin bos, meaning "ox". Johnston took the -vril suffix from Edward Bulwer-Lytton's then-popular novel, The Coming Race (1870), whose plot revolves around a superior race of people, the Vril-ya, who derive their powers from an electromagnetic substance named "Vril". Therefore, Bovril indicates great strength obtained from an ox.
In 1870, in the Franco-Prussian War, Napoleon III ordered one million cans of beef to feed his troops. The task of providing all this beef went to a Scotsman living in Canada named John Lawson Johnston. Large quantities of beef were available across the British Dominions and South America, but its transport and storage were problematic. Therefore, Johnston created a product known as 'Johnston's Fluid Beef', later called Bovril, to meet the needs of Napoleon III. By 1888, over 3,000 UK public houses, grocers and dispensing chemists were selling Bovril. In 1889, the Bovril Company was formed.
Bovril continued to function as a "war food" in World War I and was frequently mentioned in the 1930 account Not So Quiet... Stepdaughters of War by Helen Zenna Smith (Evadne Price). One account from the book describes it being prepared for the casualties at Mons where "the orderlies were just beginning to make Bovril for the wounded, when the bearers and ambulance wagons were shelled as they were bringing the wounded into the hospital".
A thermos of beef tea was the favoured way to fend off the chill of winter matches for generations of British football enthusiasts; to this day, Bovril dissolved in hot water is sold in stadiums all over the United Kingdom. Bovril beef tea was the main warm drink that Ernest Shackleton's team had to drink when they were marooned on Elephant Island during the Endurance Expedition.
When John Lawson Johnston died, his son George Lawson Johnston inherited and took over the Bovril business. In 1929, George Lawson Johnston was created Baron Luke, of Pavenham, in the county of Bedford.
Bovril's instant beef stock was launched in 1966 and its "King of Beef" range of instant flavours for stews, casseroles and gravy in 1971. In 1971, Cavenham Foods acquired the Bovril Company but then sold most of its dairies and South American operations to finance further take-overs. The brand is now owned by Unilever.
Bovril holds the unusual position of having been advertised with a Pope. An advertising campaign of the early 20th century in Britain depicted Pope Leo XIII seated on his throne, bearing a mug of Bovril. The campaign slogan read: The Two Infallible Powers – The Pope & Bovril.
During the Siege of Ladysmith in the Second Boer War, a Bovril-like paste was produced from horse meat within the garrison. Nicknamed Chevril (a portmanteau of Bovril and cheval, French for horse) it was produced by boiling down horse or mule meat to a jelly paste and serving it as a beef tea.
In 2004, Unilever removed beef ingredients from the Bovril formula, rendering it vegetarian. This was mainly due to concerns about decreasing sales, particularly from exports due to an export ban on British beef, as a result of the growing popularity of vegetarianism, religious dietary requirements, and public concerns about bovine spongiform encephalopathy. In 2006, Unilever reversed that decision and reintroduced beef ingredients to their Bovril formula once sales increased and the beef export bans were lifted. Unilever now produces Bovril using beef extract and a chicken variety using chicken extract.
Since its invention, Bovril has become an icon of British culture. It is commonly associated with football culture, since during the winter British football fans in stadium terraces often drink it from Thermos flasks or disposable cups in Scotland, where thermoses are banned from football stadiums.
In the movie In Which We Serve, the officers on the bridge are served "Bovril heavily laced with sherry" to warm them up, after being rescued during the Dunkirk evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force.
During a 2011 episode of Top Gear, James May drank from an urn of Bovril while driving a snowplough in Norway and commented: "We all know that when it's snowing and it's cold you have Bovril. That's a rule of life." Bovril reappeared in another episode of Top Gear in the form of Jeremy Clarkson's V8 Food Blender, wherein it was used to make a "Man's V8 Smoothie" complete with raw beef, chilies, hot sauce, and a brick.
On Frasier in Season 6, Episode 7, Daphne is upset when Niles throws away a jar of Bovril because it smelled rancid. Daphne exclaims: "That's how it's supposed to smell; It's English!"
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