Hematogen – The Legendary Russian Candy Bar Infused With Cow Blood

Hematogen, or gematogen, is a Soviet-era supplement notorious for containing at least 5 percent black food albumin, a technical term for cow’s blood.

In the Soviet Union, even sweet treats had a practical purpose. In the case of Hematogen, its controversial secret ingredient helped consumers treat anemia, malnutrition, and fatigue. It was consumed by both children and adults, who loved both its sweet vanilla flavor and the effect it had on their health and overall food. Once only sold to the public in pharmacies, Hematogen can now be found in a variety of stores and shops in ex-Soviet countries like Russia and Ukraine, and even as far as the US and Canada. You can even order them on Amazon.

Photo: Sergey Frolov/Wikimedia Commons

According to RBTH, the first version of Hematogen was developed in 1890, in Switzerland. Back then, it was a mixture of cow blood and egg yolk known as “Gomel’s Hematogen”, but in the 1920s, the Soviet Union adapted the recipe to its own needs, using at rations for its soldiers. Over time, because of its sweetness and chocolate taste, it became a treat that kids and adults alike adored.

Hematogen bars were often produced by slaughterhouses, as a way to monetize the bovine’s blood, which would have otherwise been wasted. The production process took about 24 hours. First, the condensed milk, sugar, glucose syrup, and vanillin were mixed together, then the mixture would be left to cool, as adding the cow blood when the mixture was still hot caused it to coagulate. The next day, the sludge was molded into bars.


Contrary to popular belief, most people in Soviet Russia knew very well that Hematogen bars contained cow’s blood, but didn’t have any problem with it. The iron-rich treat was delicious, and it helped treat the anemia of small children and pregnant women, as well as speed up the recovery of injured soldiers.

Because of the high iron content, Hematogen bars left an oddly metallic aftertaste in your mouth, but that was a small price to pay for the sugar rush it offered. Nowadays, because of the high sugar content, it is no longer seen as a healthy source of iron, with doctors recommending red meat instead.


Hematogen may have reached the peak of its popularity in the Soviet era, but you can still get your hands on it today. It’s common in Russia and other former Soviet Union countries like Ukraine, but you can also find it important in the US and Canada, as well as listed on Amazon. It’s not the same as the original, as manufacturers today use powdered blood instead of the real thing, but the taste still brings back memories if you used to eat it as a kid.