Bovril is the trademarked name of a thick, salty meat extract, developed in the 1870s by John Lawson Johnston. It is sold in a distinctive, bulbous jar. Bovril is made in Burton upon Trent, Staffordshire; 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, stews or porridge, or spread on bread, especially on toast in a similar fashion to Marmite and Vegemite.
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 (See picture #2 at the top of the post).
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 (mainly in local league level or division two) in stadium terraces often drink it from thermoses (or disposable cups in Scotland, where thermoses are banned from football stadiums).’
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 and brick.
Text from Wikipedia