As a child growing up in Senegal, Maggi cubes and Maggi sauce were a big and important ingredient in many Senegalese dishes, if not all of them.
I remember watching countless advertisements on TV promoting Maggi cubes, with a Senegalese lady in her boubou (traditional clothing) preparing a meal.
So imagine my surprise when, 16 years later, living in the Netherlands, I stumbled across Maggi cubes in supermarkets. Was it possible that Africa had somehow brought Maggi to Europe? I was even more confused when I sat in a Polish restaurant waiting to try some delicious pierogi and saw the infamous bottle of Maggi sauce laid on my table.
The Maggi brand originated in Switzerland in the 1880s, created by entrepreneur Julius Maggi when he took over his father’s mill (who himself was an Italian immigrant).
He wanted to improve the nutritional consumption of working families, creating plant-based ready made meals and instant soups rich in protein. In doign so, he became a pioneer of industrial food production.
Not long after, he went on to create his popular dark seasoning sauce from hydrolyzed vegetable protein, making foods taste meaty for the working classes who couldn’t afford it. By 1908, he had created meat substitute bouillon cubes.
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The product became popular across Asian and African countries through colonisation and immigration, as well as trade deals.
By the 1970s, and at this point already owned by Nestlé since the late 1940s, Maggi introduced its new product line of instant noodles to Malaysia, which then gained massive popularity in India as well.
To this day, Maggi cubes and Maggi sauce are an important ingredient in the staple foods of many countries including Ghana, Senegal, Germany, Poland, Romania, Thailand, China and across Latin America. Maggi instant noodles are popular in other countries like India, Bangladesh, New Zealand, Malaysia, Australia and Pakistan.
The brand adapts its product to suit local tastes and, due to its advertisements suggesting it is locally produced in each individual country, Maggi has been able to invoke a feeling of ownership, home and nostalgia across cultures.
By Marijke Everts, Europeana Foundation
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