Ovomaltine is a powder that is dissolved in cold or warm milk, stirred and drunk.
It is known by the name Ovaltine in English, but it is not exactly the same thing. Both are powders that make a beverage but, for the English and American market, however, the powder contains more sugar in the form of sucrose than the original, Swiss formula.
Swiss Formula for Ovomaltine
The original formula contains barley malt, milk powder, cocoa powder, whey protein, glucose syrup (known as corn syrup in the U.S.), egg, yeast, and honey, and can only be purchased in Switzerland.
The egg and malt give Ovomaltine its name.
How It Was Developed
Georg Wander started a laboratory in which malt sugar was produced. His son, Albert took over in 1897 and developed a soluble malt-extract drink in 1904. This was around the time when all sorts of shelf-stable foods were being developed, including the first instant soup (the Erbswurst or pea sausage). He sold it as an elixir available in pharmacies only for people who were tired, body and soul. By the 1920s, it was being marketed as a healthy drink for the whole family.
The company became an aktiengesellschaft or publically traded company in 1908 (Wander AG) and was sold to Sandoz in 1967. In 2002, it was sold to Associated British Foods. Its home is still in Switzerland and employs about 300 people. In the U.S., Nestlé sells Ovaltine.
A Drink for the Masses
Since Ovomaltine was expensive, it was at first a drink only for the upper and middle classes.
By the end of the 1920s, the product was marketed to the lower classes as well, as a way to ensure the volksgesundheit (health of the citizens). The advertising connected it to wholesome alpine milk, sports, and health, and the drink became very popular.
During World War II in Switzerland, drinking Ovomaltine even became known as a patriotic act of defending the country.
It was also used as emergency rations that could help prevent vitamin deficiencies.
Ovo-Sport and Ovolino
In the 1930s in conjunction with the military, Wander developed Militärovomaltine that could be dissolved in water or milk and even eaten dry in an emergency. This product now goes by the name Ovo-Sport.
Ovomaltine is now related to a variety of products including muesli and chocolate, ovo drink (pre-mixed) and chocolate bars called Ovolino. There's even a bread spread, similar to Nutella and an ice cream flavor.
Limited Intake Best
Nutritionists decry Ovomaltine, especially the formulas with higher sugar content, as having too many simple carbohydrates. They want people to know that it should not be used to quench one's thirst and is not necessary for maintaining a healthy body.