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Hematogen: the legendary Russian candy bar made with cow blood

3 min read

In Soviet-era Russia, candy wasn’t made for pleasure, as it was a functional food.
Hematogen, or sometimes gematogen, was one such candy bar, a supplement notorious for containing at least 5 percent “black food albumin”, a technical term for cow’s blood.
In the Soviet Union, even sweet treats had a practical purpose and, in the case of Hematogen, its controversial ingredient helped consumers treat anemia, malnutrition, and fatigue.
It was consumed by both children and adults, who loved both its sweet vanilla flavor and the effect it had on their health.
Once only sold to the public in pharmacies, Hematogen can now be found in a variety of stores and shops in ex-Soviet countries like Russia and Ukraine, and even somewhere in the US and Canada, but you can even order them on Amazon and similar.

It seems that the first version of Hematogen was developed in 1890 in Switzerland.
Back then, it was a mixture of cow blood and egg yolk known as “Gomel’s Hematogen”, but in the 1920s, the Soviet Union adapted the recipe to its own needs, using at rations for its soldiers.
Over time, because of its sweetness and chocolate taste, it became a treat very appreciated by kids and adults.
Generations of Russian children grew up chomping down on the condensed milk–sweetened bar with a gleeful toddler gracing the wrapper. From the 1920s onward, kids picked up the sanguine sweet from drugstores. Whether or not young fans knew what was inside the iron-rich snack remains uncertain.
Bars were often produced by slaughterhouses, as a way to monetize the bovine’s blood, which would have otherwise been wasted, and the production process took about 24 hours.
First, the condensed milk, sugar, glucose syrup, and vanillin were mixed together, then the mixture would be left to cool, as adding the cow blood when the mixture was still hot caused it to coagulate.
The next day, the result was molded into bars.

Contrary to popular belief, most people in Soviet Russia knew very well that Hematogen bars contained cow’s blood, but didn’t have any problem with it.
The iron-rich treat was delicious, and it helped treat the anemia of small children and pregnant women, as well as speed up the recovery of injured soldiers.
Because of the high iron content, Hematogen bars left an oddly metallic aftertaste in your mouth, but that was a small price to pay for the sugar rush it offered.
Nowadays, because of the high sugar content, it is no longer seen as a healthy source of iron, with doctors recommending red meat instead.

Either way, despite Hematogen may have reached the peak of its popularity in the Soviet era, you can still get your hands on it today. It’s not the same as the original, as manufacturers today use powdered blood instead of the real one, with no ruddy or otherwise bloody qualities….

Images from web – Google Research