The History Of Custard Powder

It is no secret that the English love a good custard. Honestly, who doesn't? According to British Food History, there are three main types of custard: créme anglaise, créme pâtissière, and set custards. The first, créme anglaise, or cream custard, is a combination of egg yolks, cream, and vanilla mixed into a sauce-like consistency. Créme pâtissière is more of a sweet cream used to fill pastries (think chocolate eclairs), while set custards are baked and set like a thin, warm ice cream (think creme brûlée). Regardless of the type of custard, this sweet treat has been a popular and beloved institution in English cooking since the 17th century.

Unfortunately, there is a problem when it comes to traditional custard: eggs. According to the Mayo Clinic, egg allergies are among the most common food-related allergies. Starting as early as infancy, an egg allergy can cause asthma-like symptoms, hives, rash, and digestive issues. As eggs are the star ingredient for custard, anyone with an egg allergy was sadly unable to participate in eating and enjoying them. That is until a clever English chemist decided to do something about it.

An act of love

There is absolutely no doubt whatsoever that Lord Alfred Bird loved his wife. How do we know? Would you develop an eggless alternative to custard specifically for your wife if you didn't love her? Lady Elizabeth Bird had a terrible allergy to eggs, but absolutely adored eating custard (via Made Up in Britain). Being a talented chemist and doting husband, in 1837 Lord Alfred developed a custard powder derived from colored and flavored corn flour and sugar, according to Food Timeline. Mixed together with hot milk, the powder turned into a creamy custard sauce almost identical to créme anglaise.

Lord Alfred began marketing Bird's Custard Powder across the United Kingdom in 1844, and its popularity only grew from there, per Cook's Info. Bird's very quickly become a staple of the English and those across the Empire, especially in Canada, where Bird's is used as the central custard layer of the beloved Nanaimo Bar

Despite having several contemporaries trying to get in on the success, Lord Alfred was such an astute businessman that he made his name synonymous with custard powder, thus putting any competitors out of business, per The Food Timeline. A fun side note, according to Kudos Blends, is that Alfred Bird also invented the first baking powder, as his wife was also allergic to yeast. There you have it: Two pantry staples developed in the name of love.