What Is Bovril aka Fluid Beef?

Beef comes in many forms. As Americans, we may think that we’ve done just about everything imaginable with a cow carcass, but it turns out the Brits have been enjoying a form of beef for decades that Americans have barely even heard of. It’s called Bovril. What is Bovril? How is Bovril made? Are you sure you want to know? Let’s spread out some answers.

What is Bovril?

It’s not every day that a food’s origin story is connected to Napoleon, but this is certainly the case with Bovril. Well, it’s Napoleon III, who was sort of like the Jason Schwartzman to Napoleon I’s Francis Ford Coppola, but nevertheless, it’s interesting! 

As the story goes, Napoleon III needed beef to feed his troops during the Franco-Prussia War, but transporting meat without spoilage was a significant challenge. Enter butcher John Lawson Johnson, who conceived of a “fluid beef” that could be easily shipped and stored. It was a success, and it became a staple of pubs and grocery stores soon thereafter. Bovril is a brand of that fluid beef. 

That’s the long version. The short version is, Bovril is a meat extract paste first invented in the 1880s and currently owned by Unilever. 

What is in Bovril?

Bovril looks quite similar to yeast extract pastes such as Vegemite and Marmite. But there’s one important difference: Unlike these vegetarian products, Bovril is made of meat. To get more specific, the ingredients list on a container of Bovril is as follows: Beef Stock (41%), Yeast Extract (24%), Water, Salt, Colour (Ammonia Caramel), Waxy Maize Starch, Dehydrated Beef (1.0%), Flavour Enhancer (Disodium 5′-ribonucleotides), Lactic Acid, Flavouring, Spice Extracts (contains celery).

How is Bovril made?

Surprisingly, the answer to this question took a little bit of researching. Let’s Look Again, the most reputable website on the topic I could find, has a description of the process for making Fluid Beef (Bovril’s original name): “Steam was used to separate the albumin [a protein] from the beef. The albumin was mixed with lean beef which had had all its moisture, fat, and gelatin removed. The mixture was then dried and ground to a fine powder. This powder was then added to beef extract to create Fluid Beef.” 

Is Bovril gluten free?

It would be nice if Unilever, the gigantic company that owns Bovril, would make information like this clear for people who can’t or won’t eat gluten. Unfortunately, they do not, so until they get their act together, we must rely on some guesswork from the gluten-averse internet sleuths at Celiac.com. To that end, it seems likely that Bovril does not contain gluten, but you’d have to contact the makers themselves to be absolutely, positively sure. 

How to eat Bovril?

Bovril can be spread onto a piece of toast in the same way you would jam or jelly. It can also be incorporated into cooking to add a salty, meaty kick to your recipe. 

But perhaps the most famous/notorious way to consume Bovril is not by eating it at all, but by drinking it in the form of something known as “beef tea.” You simply heat some water, add a bit of Bovril in either spread or cube form, and, voila, you have a hot, savory, soup-like beverage that is very simple and inexpensive. 

Does Bovril expire? 

Officially speaking, Bovril has a shelf life of eighteen months. But for many enjoyers of this unique product, that is just the beginning. It seems Bovril can last well past its “Best By” date. As long as there aren’t obvious signs of rot or decomposition, you should be able to enjoy Bovril for a couple of years. Of course, as always with eating an older food product, use common sense and good judgment.


About the Author

Matt Crowley

Matt Crowley is a comedy writer living in Los Angeles. He likes maple-flavored snacks, loves every kind of cheese, and is slowly learning to accept mushrooms.

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