Meat extract

One of the hundred ideas of the greatest German chemist of the nineteenth century

Justus Von Liebig (Darmstadt, May 12, 1803 - Munich, April 18, 1873)

Although meat extract or broth was invented by a German, it was first produced in Antwerp. The Liebig company was founded in Belgium in 1863 and until a few years ago it was a purely Antwerp company.

Liebig was born in Darmstadt as the son of a druggist and dealer in dyes. After seeing a wizard at work with firecrackers at the annual fair, the first small explosions also occurred in his parental home.

Things got worse when a teacher at school caught him experimenting with the dangerous mercury and flew him to the door. In desperation, the father apprenticed his fifteen-year-old son to a pharmacist. Ten months later, it caused another explosion in the middle of the night.

This time the roof of the pharmacy flew off and Liebig was allowed to leave again. He then studied chemistry in Bonn and Paris. And the University of Giessen appointed the young genius in 1824 - he was 21 years old at the time - professor of chemistry.

Liebig founded Europe's first teaching laboratory and his fame quickly spread throughout the Western world. It was his students who, a few years later, quickly launched the superior German chemical industry in companies such as Bayer, BASF, Hoechst and AGFA.

A workaholic of the purest kind, Liebig invented fertilizer, baking soda, baby food, the modern silver plating of plate glass, and a hundred other things.

In 1847 he also developed a formula for preparing meat extract. Due to the industrial revolution and the rush on the cities, nutritious meat was unaffordable for large parts of the population. A cheap meat extract could be an answer.

But one kilogram of extract required no less than thirty kilograms of meat and that was far too expensive by European standards.

In 1852 Liebig became a professor at the University of Munich and so it was that the court pharmacist of the King of Bavaria marketed Liebigs Fleischextrakt on a small scale.

In his writings, Liebig suggested that South America might offer a solution to the problem of price.

The cattle were bred there for skin, fat, and horns, so meat prices were very low. And that was it. Liebig immediately turned to other issues.

By chance, the German engineer Georg Christian Giebert from Antwerp got hold of Liebig's article in 1861. Giebert worked for a Belgian railway company and often stayed in South America hunting for orders for his firm.

Back in Europe, he immediately traveled to Liebig in Munich and suggested that he produce his Fleischextrakt in Uruguay on a large scale. 59-year-old Liebig was enthusiastic and rushed to give Giebert a letter of introduction for other German businessmen in the Scheldt city.

In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, an extensive German colony played a prime role in Antwerp economically, culturally and socially. Thus, Giebert quickly found the funds he needed to start his new firm.

In Fray Bentos, on the Uruguay River, he bought the necessary land and 12,000 head of cattle. He immediately started producing meat extracts that were packed in jars at the Antwerp site.

This happened under the control of a Liebig representative, whose signature adorned all labels. At that time, Liebig was a celebrated man of science. His name stood for quality. Success was not long in coming.

Liebig died ten years later, in 1873; Giebert one year later. Fray Bentos was already a flourishing place back then. By 1885 the firm was processing 1,000 to 1,200 cattle a day. At that time, she had already processed 2.5 million head of cattle.

And she had a territory of 30,000 hectares with a permanent herd of 40,000 to 50,000 cattle. Rarely had the casual ideas of a chemistry professor and the resolute approach of a railway engineer led to such a huge success.