When the afternoons grow longer and the temperatures grow warmer, many Malaysians will inevitably turn to a local favourite beverage for comfort: Ribena. Best served chilled in a pitcher to share, the fruity blackcurrant drink has long been a stalwart member of almost every local household’s pantry, owing to its convenience and refreshing quality.
Ribena, a M’sian family favourite made by the British
But while many of us likely share warm childhood memories of the beverage, you may be surprised to learn that Ribena is not in fact a local brand, nor was it invented by a Malaysian. Originally, the drink was developed by a scientist known as Vernon Charley, who worked under the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom in 1933. Using a variant of blackcurrants known as Ribes nigrum, he was able to create a cordial that provided high levels of Vitamin C.
The cordial was named after the blackcurrants by Mr S. M. Lennox in 1938, before being put into production and sold to the mass public by Bristol-based food and drink company HW Carter. Less than a year later, the world descended into the Second World War in 1939.
Distributed for free to children in WW2
As Vitamin C-rich fruits such as citruses became incredibly scarce and difficult to come by during this period in the United Kingdom due to attacks on cargo ships that brought in imported produce, the government at the time began encouraging the cultivation of the native blackcurrant crop in the country. This eventually led to higher yields, which were then manufactured into cordials, almost all of which were produced by HW Carter.
While the brand name was never explicitly used, the cordials were in essence, Ribena, and were distributed to children across the United Kingdom for free in a bid to prevent Vitamin C deficiencies that could lead to conditions such as scurvy.
In 1955, the Carters company was bought out by Beecham Group, before being absorbed under the GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) pharmaceutical conglomerate when Beecham and GlaxoWellcome group joined forces in year 2000. Ribena has since been sold on to Japanese brewery and distillery, Suntory, in 2013 who still continues to own and manage the brand. To this day, over 90% of the blackcurrant crop in the United Kingdom goes directly towards the production of Ribena.