Snack food is inherently fun, especially when it’s something you can’t regularly find in your neighborhood grocery store. That’s why so many international snack subscription boxes exist, and why wandering the food section at Cost Plus World Market is so wonderful. If you’re lucky, you’ll find all sorts of treasures, from Canada’s ketchup flavored chips to Mexico’s spicy strawberry-chile lollipops, and Japan’s Chocorooms to Germany’s Happy Hippo cocoa cream biscuits—but one thing you probably won’t find is Hematogen, Russia’s sweet, blood-enriched candy bar.
Technically, it’s a medicinal product, not candy, but it contains sugar, vanilla, and condensed milk—which lends a fudgy texture, similar to a dense, soft caramel—and children allegedly love it for its sweet flavor. But the most remarkable ingredient in the protein-rich bar is cow’s blood, which adds vital nutrients—and explains why Hematogen (also spelled Gematogen) is intended as a supplement to treat various conditions, like anemia and malnutrition. It’s also said to improve issues with one’s skin, nails, and vision, and even to help prevent colds. In other words, it could be the next miracle food!
Hematogen has been around for generations and is still sold widely in Russia and surrounding countries, primarily at pharmacies, although no prescription is required in order to purchase a bar. If you have any Russian or Eastern European markets in your area, you might come across it there, and you can even buy it on Amazon. There are several brands; most have delightfully bright packaging, often with some kind of adorable character on the front, from babies and small children to hedgehogs and cheerful, artistic-leaning gnomes:
Who wouldn’t be tempted to snatch that off a shelf and eagerly unwrap it? If you bothered to peruse the ingredients label first, you might still have no idea what was coming, since the key component is often listed as “black food albumin” instead of straight-up “processed cow’s blood”—and once you unwrap it, it looks very much like a soft, granular chocolate bar, sort of like a Tootsie Roll in a new, intriguing form:
Bite into it and you’ll get some caramelized sweetness, but also a definite metallic note, which one Amazon reviewer likened to sweetened beef liver. If it helps, you can also find Hematogen with added ingredients, like apricots and prunes.
But even dipped in chocolate (as some brands do), this is probably still quite the acquired taste. So if you’re looking for your next international snack, maybe try sweet sake Kit Kats instead?
Header image courtesy of Russische Winkel.