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The history of golden syrup

28/05/2020 By Ben Eastick in Products Golden syrup, Manufacturing, Ragus history

Golden syrup is inextricably linked to the Ragus story. First formulated by our founder Charles Eastick, it has since become one of the world’s most ubiquitous and well-known sugar products. But how did the golden elixir come into existence and what role does it play in the Ragus of today?

1863-1885: humble beginnings to a national icon

In 1863, Abram Lyle, the successful and prosperous owner of a cooperage, was handed possession of Glebe Sugar Refinery in Greenock, Renfrewshire, in lieu of a debt. Shortly after, he observed that a by-product of the sugar refining process was a bitter molasses-brown treacle-like syrup, typically sold for use in animal food. He wondered whether this could be adjusted and sold for human consumption – the expansion of his sugar refining business many years later offered the perfect chance to put this theory to the test.

It was at Lyle’s Plaistow Wharf refinery that Charles Eastick, Ragus’ founder, first formulated the recipe for golden syrup. In the preceding years, sugar had rapidly gained popularity in British life, prompting him and his two brothers, John Joseph and Samuel, to open a sugar analysis practice in central London in 1880. Initially, the brothers planned to analyse raw and white sugar to determine accurate price and duty payments, but an importing crisis in 1883 brought sugar production to a grinding halt. This would prove to be crucial, forcing the Easticks to shift their attention from duties and prices to the sugar refining process itself.

Lyle’s second refinery opened a year after the brother’s practice. The ground-breaking work the Easticks were carrying out meant Charles and John were invited by Abram Lyle to establish a laboratory at Plaistow Wharf in 1882 – John Joseph was the facility’s first chemist, ably assisted by his younger brother Charles. Spurred on the by the importing crisis, Charles started to experiment with turning the molasses-brown treacle-like by-product into a palatable syrup that mirrored the taste, viscosity and appearance of honey.

In doing so, he created the world’s first formulation for golden syrup. Initially known as “Goldie” and sent to grocers across London in wooden casks, it was first sold in its iconic metal tins in 1885, quickly becoming a staple of British life due to its rich colour and strong flavour. Golden syrup’s formulation predates the first petrol motorcar, Coca-Cola, Marmite and Cadbury’s Dairy Milk, and in 2006 it was officially recognised as the world’s oldest branded food product.

Photo of charles eastick sat at desk signing a piece of paper.

Charles Eastick, Ragus’ founder, pictured here during his time at Martineaus, first formulated the recipe for golden syrup in 1883. It has since become globally renowned and officially recognised as the world’s oldest branded food product.

1890-1928: rise to ubiquity in British life

Following the success of golden syrup, in 1890 Charles and John Joseph both sought new challenges. After also developing unique methods for producing brewer’s saccharum and other types of inverted sugars, the former ran production at Martineaus in London, while the latter left for Australia to oversee the Bundaberg sugar cane plantations.

At the same time, the golden syrup Charles first formulated rapidly became a national favourite, through a combination of strong branding and unique flavour. This was propelled further when golden syrup formed part of Captain Scott’s supplies for his ill-fated Antarctic expedition in 1910 and was awarded a royal warrant in 1922. When the remnants of Scott’s stores were unearthed by explorers in 1956, the golden syrup was in perfect condition, still ready to use, adding to the nation’s love of the sugar product.

Specialised sugars, however, were rarely imported into Britain in the years preceding the first formulation of golden syrup. This was largely because they were economically unviable for large manufacturers to produce. Noticing this, Charles, who by this point had been awarded an MBE after his work as head of the UK’s sugar rationing during the First World War, established a factory on the brand-new Slough Trading Estate in 1928, dedicated to the production of, among other sugars, golden syrup. As a result, Ragus was born.

1928-present: an iconic product and still a Ragus staple

Thanks in large part to the British Empire and later The Commonwealth, golden syrup became known globally throughout the remainder of the 20th Century. It was synonymous with “Britishness” and consumers were drawn to the idea of consuming a largely unchanged Victorian-era recipe. The advent of the Second World War saw Charles’ last invention, tweaking his original product to overcome the nationwide unavailability of honey, resulting in a honey alternative produced from crystallised golden syrup that was spread on bread and butter and available from grocers up and down the country, after being produced at our factory in Slough.

Although Charles’ original formulation has remained largely the same, advancements in manufacturing techniques and changes in legislation have seen the product evolve over the years. The ban of hydrogenated fats and non-natural food enhancers in bakery products in the last fifteen years has resulted in a slightly altered hue and taste of golden syrup. As a result, it became darker and stronger in flavour, similar to the version produced in the 1970s and before.

Eastick’s Golden Syrup, therefore, is “created from the same natural ingredients and imbued with the distinctive taste, colour and versatility of that original product”, but manufactured using the latest processes and techniques, the perfect blend of past and present. The result is a product that matches the original in appearance but has a smoother, more balanced flavour.

This is still produced at Ragus, but now in our state-of-the-art production facility located on the same Slough Trading Estate where Charles set up his original factory over ninety years ago. It is testament to the ingenuity of his original formulation that the product continues to be popular the world over, with consumers and industrial food producers alike findings its taste and colour invaluable to a huge range of products.

To benefit from Ragus’ storied legacy in producing golden syrup. To learn more about our products, please contact our Customer Services Team. To see more sugar news and updates, continue browsing SUGARTALK and follow Ragus on LinkedIn. 

Ben Eastick

A board member and co-leader of the business, Ben is responsible for our marketing strategy and its execution by the agency team he leads and is the guardian of our corporate brand vision. He also manages key customers and distributors.

In 2005, he took on the role of globally sourcing our ‘speciality sugars’. With his background in laboratory product testing and following three decades of supplier visits, his expertise means we get high quality, consistent and reliable raw materials from ethical sources.

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