The Magic Powder: Switzerland's flavourful obsession with Aromat explained
While no restaurant in the world would let you in on the secret sauce or spice mix that is used to make their food so special, luckily, people in Switzerland have their own all-purpose condiment that makes arguably any dish better: Aromat. Here’s the history of this typically Swiss institution, what's in it and why people in Switzerland love it so much.
What is Aromat?
Aromat is a savoury condiment that can be found in supermarkets across Switzerland, and in parts of Germany and South Africa. The mix is used as a seasoning for a number of popular meals, to the point that it fits into dinner like salt and pepper. It has even reached the point that restaurants, especially in the Swiss mountains, place the mix on each table as it tastes good with, well, anything really.
The condiment takes the form of a yellowish powder and is made of “monosodium glutamate, salt, palm oil, spice extracts, yeast extract, onion powder, garlic and a few more ingredients.” Vegan diners beware as "technologically unavoidable traces of gluten, milk, egg, soy, celery and mustard cannot be ruled out," Unilever writes on its website.
History of Aromat in Switzerland
So how has Aromat come to dominate the dining tables of Switzerland? Our story begins in Schaffhausen in the mid-1940s, when chef Walter Obrist, a worker for German international company Knorr, first created Aromat. Originally named “vegetable extract”, the company soon gave Aromat its famous name and launched the iconic product in Switzerland in 1953. The recipe remains the same to this day.
To get people hooked, the company sent out 30.000 bottles of Aromat through the post to restaurants and canteens across Switzerland. According to the company, after just nine months four out of five people knew about Aromat. In 2023, according to a study by the Tages-Anzeiger, 96 percent of the Swiss population know what Aromat is, meaning it is more commonly known than the president of Switzerland!
Why is Aromat so popular in Switzerland?
With its salty, slightly spicy and rich taste, Aromat serves as an "every spice" to make even the dullest dish taste better. According to the Tages-Anzeiger, even famous chefs in Switzerland use the mix to lift the flavour of their food. Others have called it a drug for how addictive the taste is.
In addition, the Aromat brand has become synonymous with Swiss culture, from being called “Magic Powder” in the press to the fans of the spice being labelled a cult - many Swiss people have gone on holiday abroad with cans of Aromat in their luggage. "If you don’t have an Aromat story, you probably didn’t grow up in Switzerland or aren’t a Swiss citizen", the Tages-Anzeiger concluded.
The spice mix's hold on the public psyche is best shown by the Culinary Heritage of Switzerland, an official encyclopedia funded by the Swiss government which was created to find authentically Swiss delicacies. One of its first confirmed entries was, of course, Aromat.
Are the glory days of Aromat behind us?
But are the days of Aromat numbered? With vegan options becoming a necessity in today’s shifting culture, and with demand for “organic natural seasonings” on the rise, Knorr and a number of other companies have started to launch products to challenge the “cult.” Will they succeed? Only time will tell.
Do you have any Aromat stories to tell? Let us know in the comments below!