In Soviet-era Russia, candy wasn’t made for pleasure; it was a functional food. Gematogen was one such candy bar. The sweet supplement was developed to treat anemia, malnutrition, and fatigue. And it was fashioned from processed cow’s blood.
Generations of Russian children grew up chomping down on the condensed milk–sweetened bar with a gleeful toddler gracing the wrapper. From the 1920s onward, kids picked up the sanguine sweet from drugstores. Sometimes, they had to ask their mothers to do their bidding, as certain pharmacists wouldn’t sell the supplement to anyone under the age of 13. Whether or not young fans knew what was inside the iron-rich snack remains uncertain.
Gematogen is still sold today, but some companies use a powdered blood product with no ruddy or otherwise bloody qualities. Others coat it in chocolate. One unknowing taster described her first Gematogen bar as “a red-tinged soft Tootsie roll” with a “strong molasses base” and a “strange note of metal on top.” After discovering the bar’s most noteworthy ingredient? Suddenly, she said, “it all made sense.”