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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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For members


‘It’s just their way’: Why don’t the Swiss like to queue?

For an orderly country, Switzerland is full of people who have seemingly never mastered the art of patiently waiting in line. Geneva-based Helena Bachmann considers why and how to deal with this behaviour.

'It's just their way': Why don't the Swiss like to queue?

An international resident in Switzerland recently witnessed a scene at a train station, involving a group of Italian tourists jumping the queue to get on the train before all the other passengers, even though the group had arrived last.

Witnessing this moment, other commuters expressed their discontent, saying that this type of impolite behaviour is “typically Italian…they have no manners”.

Beyond the well-known propensity of some Swiss people to routinely blame foreigners for everything that is out of whack in their country, there is a clear irony here: the Swiss themselves are notorious queue jumpers.

‘It’s just their way’

But the irony doesn’t stop here.

In all other spheres of life, the Swiss are meticulously organised and like to micromanage everything that surrounds them, with every patch of greenery cut and trimmed, and every cow counted and named.

But their penchant for law and order doesn’t carry over to situations where waiting in lines is necessary.

For instance, if you have ever waited to get on a ski lift at a resort, you probably saw how the usually orderly people morph into unruly masses.

Such a situation caught public attention in 2020, when skiers in the Belalp-Bahnen region of Valais jostled to get to the front of the queue rather than wait patiently in line.

Even the former US ambassador to Switzerland, Suzi LeVine, complained in 2015 about the “inefficiency” and “chaos” at Swiss ski lifts. 

READ ALSO : US diplomat sparks flap over Swiss ski ‘chaos’

Lots of people stand at the station in Grindelwald, Switzerland, in January 2023.

Lots of people stand at the station in Grindelwald, Switzerland, in January 2023 But will any of them queue? Photo by Luke Tanis on Unsplash

The reasons for this kind of non-compliance with the ‘first come, first served’ principle are often debated on social media and on various online forums.

“Why oh why can’t the Swiss learn the polite art of queuing?, one user of The Local’s forum asked. “We use the ferries on a very regular basis, we get in line but a ton of folk just pile up in front of us? And they are so blatant with it too.”

Others have suggested what could be a plausible explanation for this common (mis)behaviour: one person said that the problem could be that the Swiss, who are accustomed to a certain order of things, “are awful at handling ‘unusual’ situations” like chaos.

“They aren’t being rude on purpose; it’s just their way.”

How do you deal with this behaviour?

There have been no concrete suggestions for how to deal with this habit other than appeals for common courtesy.

It appears that the Swiss themselves see nothing wrong with the mayhem at public transport stations or other situations that surely would benefit from people standing in line in an orderly fashion. 

In terms of crowds at ski lifts, certain resorts, and tourists alike, have been calling for ski lift operators to adapt a system common on the ski slopes in the United States and Canada, which consists of forming two lines, which then merge into each other.

READ ALSO: Will an American-style queuing system end chaos at Swiss ski lifts?

Currently in Switzerland there is only one queue for the ski lifts, often resulting in pushing or bumping against other skiers.

Waiting in a funnel-shaped line in front of the turnstile, as is common on Swiss slopes, is “a chaotic queuing system,” one resort manager said.

Other options for dealing with this behaviour include being passive aggressive – like rolling your eyes at violators.

Meanwhile, some people become equally aggressive, elbowing their way up front to give these line breakers a taste of their own behaviour – although that would result in more aggro, which could mean the whole experience gets even more stressful so we wouldn’t recommend that.

But some businesses in Switzerland have already taken proactive measures to rein in this kind of practice.

Many banks, post offices, and some shops now have a system in place where each entering customer gets a ticket with a number from a machine and everyone must wait patiently until their turn comes up. 

It’s certainly one way to get the normally order-loving Swiss into line.

What’s your experience of queueing in Switzerland? Let us know by leaving a comment or emailing [email protected]