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FOOD AND DRINK

Why the Ovomaltine drink is a true Swiss classic

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.

Why the Ovomaltine drink is a true Swiss classic
A wide range of Ovomaltine products. Photo: Ovomlatine press service

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

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:

What is Aromat and why are the Swiss so obsessed with it

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

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FOOD AND DRINK

EXPLAINED: What does the ‘bio’ label on foods in Switzerland really mean?

All major Swiss supermarkets have products designated as ‘bio’, which refers to their ‘organic’ farming or manufacturing methods. But what exactly does this label represent?

EXPLAINED: What does the 'bio' label on foods in Switzerland really mean?

In its press release published in June 2024, Bio Suisse, an umbrella group for organic food producers, said that residents of Switzerland are international ‘bio’ champions. 

“With consumption of 454 francs per capita, Switzerland ranks first in international comparison,” the organisation said. “In no other European country is the organic basket of goods as large.”

In terms of preference for organic food, “Switzerland is ahead of Denmark, Austria, Luxembourg and Sweden. Germany follows in sixth place and France just behind in seventh place,” Bio-Suisse added.

This finding is not surprising because the consumption of this more expensive type of food is directly linked to income: the wealthier the country, the more its residents are willing to spend on organic products.

What does a ‘bio’ label stand for in Switzerland?

In a nutshell, organic products must meet much higher standards and comply with more requirements than the ‘conventional’ foods in the way they are grown and manufactured.

Contrary to most conventional production methods, organic farming is more sustainable — that is, it protects the environment and conserves resources instead of depleting them.

A total of 7,362 organic farmers and producers are members of Bio Suisse.

In addition, more than 2,300 operations abroad are also certified according to the Bio Suisse standards, which means their farming / production methods are equivalent to those practiced in Switzerland.

Can you trust a ‘bio’ label, or is it just a lot of hype (as some people claim?)

In Switzerland, this process is strictly controlled by various organic farming ordinances, which are enforced by the Federal Office for Agriculture (BLW). 

This means that every farm that produces, prepares, trades or imports organic products is inspected and certified at least once a year by one of the four accredited and approved certification bodies in Switzerland.

These laws also set out the principles by which agricultural products and foodstuffs labelled as organic must be made, and which non-toxic substances are authorised for use in organic farming and for preparing organic food.

Why are organic products more expensive than conventional ones?

Among the main reasons are more rigorous production and certification standards, which must meet all the requirements set out by the BLW.

Also, operational costs involved in the use of natural, pesticide-free fertilisers and high-quality animal feed, are higher in organic farming than in conventional one.

Additionally, the supply of organic food in Swiss supermarkets is more limited than that of conventional one, which pushes prices up.

And then there is this often-asked question: is organic food in Switzerland in really healthier?

Some people will swear by the better quality and higher nutritional value of organic products, while others will say the benefits are exaggerated.

There is no definite answer to this question, except this: some studies have shown possible health benefits of organic foods when compared with foods grown using conventional process.

However, there is limited information to prove how these differences can give potential overall health benefits.

But Zurich authorities believe in the ‘power’ of organic foods: in 2022, they mandated that most of the food served in the city’s hospitals, care centres, childcare facilities, and schools, be organic.

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