If you drink and dance to the tune of ‘Chaar Botal Vodka”, then you must definitely know about Eva Ekeblad (Eva De la Gardie). Why so? Well, because she’s the reason you get to drink those chaar bottles! Yes, and more surprisingly, this scientist was also a Swedish countess, salon hostess and an agronomist. Doesn’t she sound like an inspiring woman? Then surely we must know more about Eva Ekeblad, her life story, her achievements and what led to the discovery of the alcoholic elixir of modern times, vodka.
We’ve talked about women scientists and inspiring women in our previous stories too, but the list would be incomplete if we didn’t add Eva Ekeblad to it. Hence, today we’ll be focusing on yet another woman who broke barriers and saved lives, in an era when women didn’t have as much freedom as they do today.
Eva Ekeblad was Born on 10th July 1724 in Stockholm, Sweden. Her father was a statesman count and her mother, an amateur politician and salonist. Married at the age of 16, Eva Ekeblad was soon given the responsibility of the management of the three estates. These also included the tasks of supervising the bailiffs and presiding at the country-assemblies of the parishes of the estates.
Most people who knew her and wrote about her, described her as being fair toward the peasantry and someone who did not hesitate to rectify and reprimand wrongdoings whenever there were conflicts with local dignitaries. Other than this, she also credited with playing a major role in the local aristocracy. She also hosted a cultural salon at her Ekeblad residence in Stockholm.
It was in 1746, that Eva Ekeblad wrote to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences on her discoveries of how to make flour and alcohol out of potatoes. She was only 22 when she discovered this! At that time, potatoes were used only as animal food in Sweden.
The idea of using potatoes to produce alcohol was not completely new. In 1941, Jacob Albrecht von Lantingshausens spoke about using potatoes for brandy production. Eva’s husband, Claes Ekeblad took great interest in this idea and so Eva began to grow her own potatoes. During her experiments, Eva Ekeblad found that potatoes could be used to create a kind of flour and alcohol. This method of hers for alcohol production using potatoes, was considered the most advanced of the time, even though the concept was not a new one at the time.
Thanks to this discovery of Eva Ekeblad, potatoes became a staple food in Sweden, and increased the supply of wheat, rye and barley available for making bread. This greatly improved the country’s eating habits and reduced the frequency of famines. However, thanks to her other discovery, it also lead to a spike in alcohol consumption in the country.
Her contributions to science weren’t just limited to this one though. She is also credited with discovering a method to bleach cotton textile and yarn with soap in 1751. Then in 1752, she found a replacement for the dangerous chemicals used in wigs. This, yet again, was thanks to potato flour which began to be used an ingredient in cosmetics as against potentially hazardous chemicals.
In 1748, at the age of 24, Eva Ekeblad (became the first woman elected to Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. However, in 1751, the Academy came to refer to her as an honorary rather than a full member. This was because back then the memberships to the academy were restricted to men only. Recently, Eva Ekeblad was remembered and honoured by a Google Doodle on her 293rd birthday.
Wasn’t she an inspiring women? Cheers to her, literally and figuratively!