Bovril: Yeast Extract Legend That Competes With Marmite


Think we go on about Marmite too much, do you? Well, it’s time to introduce you to another great British yeast-based foodstuff delight.

What’s Bovril?

This is a thick, salty yeast extract with a slight taste of meat (beef). It’s typically consumed as a drink, but you can spread it on toast as well.

It’s quite pricey (about £4) and comes in an enormous, bulbous glass jar. It’s difficult to miss in shops, in part due to its iconic and enduring cultural status.

Where Did Bovril Come From?

According to its distributor, Unilever, in 1870 during the Franco-Prussian War one Napoeleon III was after a solution to feed his massive army.

Ordering one million cans of beef, Scottish individual John Lawson Johnston solved the problem with his invention—Johnston’s Fluid Beef.

In 1886, it got the catchy new name Bovril. Hey ho, a legend was born. By 1900 it was everywhere, with canny advertising campaigns to pelt it at the nation.

Bovril poster from 1900

Its popularity swelled and it became a staple war food, serving soldiers during World War I and II.

It stays much the same now. However, in 2004 Unilever actually removed the beef aspect of the foodstuff due to ongoing concerns about prions and BSE (see The Family That Couldn’t Sleep).

But then Unilever reversed that decision in 2006. So, Bovril remains a national darling that peddles beef at folks.

If you want a vegetarian/vegan alternative, then Marmite is the one for you.

How Do You Eat Bovril?

Well, you should drink it. But you’re allowed to eat it, too, it’s legal. You can spread it on toast. Or add it to the likes of casseroles and stews.

We’ve seen Atlas Obscura mention it a few times. Although we’re not sure we agree on its insistence (or preference) that Bovril is a toast-based snack.

Generally, we think of Bovril as a drink. Whereas Marmite is what you spread on toast.

And as for the whole Bovril/Marmite situation… the difference is one is vegatarian, the other isn’t. However, the former IS banned in America, we believe.

Possibly. But then we thought Marmite was banned from Canada. There’s conflicting information about this online, dammit!

Why Is It a British Icon?

Thanks to its involvement in feeding troops during two wars. Plus, it became a staple at football matches during the winter to keep fans warm.

So, it’s one of those things. It’s become a legend by dint of it being in the right place at the right time, whilst remaining pliant and pliable for the masses.

Good, eh? Although we much prefer Marmite. The beef thing didn’t ever really do it for us.


  1. UCH! Barfvril would be more like it. My mom used it when I was a kid. I still have nightmares! I suppose you eat the stuff with mushy peas.
    I watched the video until the part of the crying ox.

    Liked by 1 person

Dispense with some gibberish!

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