In Praise of Ovaltine


“You’re Keats, you’re Shelley, you’re Ovaltine,” goes the Cole Porter song You’re the Top. Although you can buy your own tub of the malted milk powder at the supermarket, it’s more fun to grab a warming cup of it at any Hong Kong-style cafe or bakery, where, among the buttered toast sandwiches, dumplings, bubble tea, and spaghetti with meat sauce, you are pretty much guaranteed to find Ovaltine for under a dollar.

Ovaltine was invented in Switzerland at the turn of the 20th century. At the time, it was called Ovomaltine, because it’s made with eggs and malt, but when it was first exported to Britain in 1909, a clerical error changed the name to Ovaltine–as though Ovomaltine came through Ellis Island. Britons took to the beverage, made with malt extract, eggs, and cocoa. It was included in soldiers’ rations during World War II, and promoted to children on a 1930s radio show called the Ovaltineys.

Anywhere the British went, Ovaltine seems to have followed. It’s popular at tea houses all over Asia, as is Horlicks, a malted milk drink that was invented by a Briton who immigrated to the U.S.

The brand is now owned by Associated British Foods, and is made in both malt and chocolate malt flavors and can be mixed with either milk or water. Stop into any bakery or tea house in Chinatown to get a warm cup.


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