A deviation from my normal ABC Wednesday format this week as I write about a something, rather than a someone. And that something is Vimto which I couldn’t resist as our V week coincides sweetly with the end of Ramadan.
For those who have never come across Vimto before, it is a soft drink, or cordial, made from white grapes, raspberries and blackberries, flavoured with a secret mix of herbs and spices.
You may wonder what Vimto has to do with the holiest month in the Muslim calendar; remarkably it is the beverage of choice for ‘iftar‘, or the sunset feast on each day of Ramadan, and has been since 1928. Indeed, it is said that Vimto was discovered in the Middle East before the discovery of oil.
The Middle East version of the cordial is more concentrated and sweeter which is perfect for an energising boost after a day’s fasting and is so popular that many stores limit the number of bottles that any one customer can buy.
Vimto was first made in Manchester in 1908 to a recipe created by Noel Nichols, a wholesaler of herbs, spices and medicines. The Temperance Movement was growing in strength at that time and public houses were under threat from the 1908 Licensing Bill. Nichols saw a marketing opportunity for a new soft drink.
Originally sold as a health drink, or medicine, he called his concoction Vim Tonic that would restore ‘vim and vigour’, but changed the name to Vimto in 1913. It quickly became popular, making its way to all parts of the British empire, including the Indian subcontinent. Many Indians went to work in the Middle East in the 1920s and took their liking for Vimto with them.
Nichols concoction is now manufactured and sold in 65 countries, including Saudi Arabia where the regional distributor produces over 35 million bottles a year, making the owner of the company a billionaire along the way. And Vimto is now as synonymous with Ramadan as a turkey is to Christmas in the UK.
A Monument to Vimto was unveiled 1991 in Granby Row, now part of the grounds of the University of Manchester. Carved from an oak tree, it was restored and repainted in 2011 and commemorates the spot where Vimto was first made.