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The most scandalous culinary frauds in the Russian Empire that deprived people of health and life
The most scandalous culinary frauds in the Russian Empire that deprived people of health and life

In tsarist Russia, food cheating was no less than it is now. But compared to some of the crimes of the time, the current machinations may seem like just a childish prank. Food and drink is one of the most fertile areas for deceiving the population in the Russian Empire. The rulers regularly issued decrees designed to stop counterfeiting of bread, meat, bee honey, sugar and other products. Despite this, enterprising businessmen continued to add road dust to coffee, mix oil with glue and carry out other fraudulent "schemes" that often cost people their lives.

Glycerin Beer, Puffy Geese, and Other Market Vendor Tricks

Smolensk market in Moscow, XIX century

In 1842, the first textbook on cooking and home economics was published in St. Petersburg - “The Handbook of an Experienced Housewife” by Ekaterina Avdeeva. In addition to the secrets of Russian dishes, the book describes the trade tricks that were popular at that time, which any housewife should have known about when choosing products. The author of the book writes: "Among the deceptions in the livestock trade is inflation." Small-scale sellers bought skinny birds and tried to put them on sale with the "kazovy end" (from the best side). To do this, they inflated the goose with air and sewed up the back hole.

The barbaric tricks with inflating live birds were not limited to. Many historians who have studied Russian cuisine claim that in tsarist Russia everything that could be drunk or eaten was counterfeited.

Before the invention of the refrigerator, the meat trade was difficult. In summer and spring, for the safety of the product, the carcasses were kept in special glaciers, which not everyone had. The meat quickly deteriorated, and unscrupulous traders gave it its presentation by soaking it in saltpeter.

In terms of the volume of counterfeit in pre-revolutionary Russia, one of the first places was occupied by wine. In the wine regions, counterfeits were not sold - there was an abundance of real cheap wine made from grapes. Counterfeiting developed in Moscow, St. Petersburg and other large cities that did not have their own wineries. At the end of the 19th century, the economist S.I. Gulishambarov calculated that within 3 years until 1890, up to 460 thousand poods of wine were delivered to Moscow from the Crimea, the Caucasus, Bessarabia and the Don. At the same time, up to 800 thousand poods of the drink were exported from Moscow to other cities. These "wines" were made from water, sugar, alcohol and dyes.

Life writer Yevgeny Platonovich Ivanov, in his book "Apt Moscow Word", quoted the words of one waiter from a restaurant at the Nizhny Novgorod Fair: "If the beer turns sour, now they put lime in it." With lime, the enterprising owners of taverns tried to beat off the smell of the sour drink. But that's not the worst part. At the beginning of the 20th century, after numerous complaints, samples of bottled beer were taken in some establishments in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Poisonous ingredients were found in almost every sample. Sulfuric acid was added to clarify the beer, and the specific taste was masked with glycerin and a thick foam was made.

Draft beer was sometimes mixed with henbane, wormwood and aloe.

The case of the merchants Popovs about the counterfeiting of Chinese tea

Workers of the tea-packing factory I. P. Kolokolnikov. Chelyabinsk, 1903

Chinese tea first appeared in Russia at the beginning of the 17th century - the ambassador from China gave it to Tsar Mikhail Fedorovich as a gift. Then the exotic drink did not come to taste and was forgotten for 20 years. And in the middle of the 17th century, the Mongol Khan again presented several bales of tea to the Russian ambassador. They began to try tea again at the royal court, fortunately, they guessed to boil it in boiling water in order to appreciate the true taste of the drink.

Until the 19th century, tea made from overseas leaves was considered a luxury. Since the leaves were supplied directly from China, their distribution throughout Russia began from the cities of Siberia. In 1821, Alexander I allowed the sale of tea in taverns and restaurants, thereby provoking the volume of the tea trade. The demand was great, the merchants received a lot of money on this product. To make even more profits, grocers added tea leaf scraps, stems, and dry twigs from other plants. Leaves of birch, mountain ash, strawberry, fireweed or willow tea were often passed off as a natural Chinese product.

In the archival records of the researcher A. Subbotin, it was said about the repeated use of the tea leaves. It was collected in taverns after visitors and taken to production. There the tea leaves were dried, painted with vitriol, soot, graphite and sent for re-sale.

At the end of the 19th century, a "tea" case thundered about the merchant brothers Alexander and Ivan Popov. They were selling counterfeit Chinese tea with labels imitating the "brand" of the then famous tea house with the impeccable reputation of "Brothers K. and S. Popov". At the trial, Alexander took the blame and was sent to Siberia for life. His brother was acquitted.

"Universal" additives from plaster, lime and dust

In 1842, the first cafe-restaurant "Dominik" was opened in St. Petersburg

It is generally accepted that coffee appeared in tsarist Russia in 1665. The court doctor wrote out a recipe for Alexei Mikhailovich based on boiled coffee for "arrogance, runny nose and headache." Peter I, addicted to this drink in Holland, introduced the European fashion for coffee in Russia. Since 1718, not a single noble ball has gone without coffee. And in 1740 the first coffee house appeared in St. Petersburg.

In the 19th century, coffee spread among the general population and gained great popularity among fraudsters. In the 1880s, there were several high-profile lawsuits against sellers of coffee beans. For the manufacture they used gypsum, clay and mastic. To give the product the desired color and smell, grocers rinsed the gypsum beans in a solution of coffee grounds. At that time, the police found entire groups of vagrants who, in unsanitary conditions, manually molded grains from wheat, bean and corn dough, and then fried them in molasses.

For instant coffee, other tricks have been found - poured into powder packages from 30 to 70% of road dust, chicory, ground barley and acorns. Wheat and rye flours were often mixed with cheaper barley, bean or starch. In the worst case, alum, traces of gypsum or lime were found there. To improve the appearance of the bread, bakers added sodium carbonate and hydrochloric acid to low-quality flour.

Housewives found in sugar, at best, starch and flour, at worst - all the same lime, sand and chalk.

Chalk cream and soapy butter

Workers at the oil mill

The real gold mine for scammers at the time was dairy products. The same Ekaterina Avdeeva, who wrote a book for housewives, noted: "Lime is everywhere added to milk to increase fat content, and chalk is added to cream to make them seem thicker."

Fresh milk was often diluted with boiled water, soda or lime was added to the sour milk. Common flour and starch were popular additions to cheeses. The fat content of dairy products was increased by an outright scam - melted lamb brains and beef tallow were added. Particularly insolent businessmen did not disdain even soapy water and wood glue to give the desired consistency.

Butter was a relatively expensive product.Unscrupulous sellers had a high percentage of starch, fish oil, lard and beef lard.

In 1902, a cheaper margarine made from animal and vegetable fats was created to replace butter, but even it began to be counterfeited. The product was tinted with carrot juice and onion husk decoction to give it a characteristic “greasy” yellowness.

In the same year, there were frequent complaints from the population about "rancid fat", and then inspections began in Moscow. It turned out that only half of the margarine samples met the standards.

Poisonous paint for peas and candies

A policeman inspects a shopping arcade at the Sukharevsky market in Moscow

In the 18th century, green peas brought by foreigners received nationwide recognition in Russia. It quickly spread throughout the country, began to be used as an independent dish and side dish. The cost of peas was comparatively high, and businessmen quickly figured out how to cash in on them. At the end of the 19th century in St. Petersburg, there were recorded cases of mass poisoning with canned peas, including those with a fatal outcome. To hide violations of production technology and give the product a juicy green color, scammers generously poured copper sulfate on peas. More than a thousand people were poisoned, so the criminals were quickly identified and sent to hard labor.

Confectionery of that time was also far from safe for health.

A. Fischer-Dyckelmann, MD, wrote in 1903 that almost all lollipops in shops have artificial shades, for which poisonous paints are probably used. Green candies - from yari-copperhead, red - from cinnabar (mercury sulfide), white - from zinc oxide, yellow - from lead lithium, etc.

Scammers even forged regular lump sugar. The most demanding customers preferred premium refined sugar with a “noble” bluish tint, so some grocers soaked sugar pieces with a weak blue solution.

By the way, not only products or things were counterfeited. But even the decrees of the Soviet government.

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