Eva Ekeblad: The 22 year old who transformed potatoes into vodka

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Eva Ekeblad

Who is Eva Ekeblad? While you may have heard the name (or not), there’s a lot to know about this genius.

Flour and vodka

What a combination! Eva Ekeblad is primarily known for discovering a method for removing starch from potatoes to make flour and, from this same process, creating what we know today as vodka. Yes, she made vodka from a vegetable that grew in her garden.

Other than being a scientist, she was also known for being an agronomist, salon hostess and Swedish countess. She saved a lot of people during severe famines in Sweden with her intellect and talents.

The more you read about her, the more she gets, so let’s tak more about her amazing life.

Eva Ekeblad: A bit about her background

Eva Ekeblad was born in Stockholm, Sweden on July 10, 1724. Her dad Julius De la Gardie was both a general and statesman. He fought in several battles, including the Battle of Gadebusch. After becoming a Lieutenant General in 1717, he became involved in Swedish politics, becoming President of a government agency called the Kommerskollegium.

In 1709, he wed Hedvig Catharaina Lillie in an arranged marriage. Like her husband, she was well-known in politics, political salons that are thought to be adopted by Sweden from France. She was a leading member of the Hats Party; many people attribute her husband to being key in starting this party.

Now, onto their daughter Eva, born in 1724. She married at the young age of 16 to riksrad count Claes Claesson Ekeblad. They would go on to have seven kids – six daughters and one son.

Upon marriage, Eva’s father gave her properties, specifically Lindholmen Castle in Vastergotland, Sweden and Mariedal Castle. That’s right, she maintained those two castles from age 16 onward.

Along with maintaining these properties and parenting seven children with her husband, Eva maintained three properties while her husband was away at work. Moreover, she had a big role in the local aristocracy. She was known for being authoritative but fair.

On potatoes and Eva Ekeblad

In the mid-170s, potatoes, interestingly, were not a common sight in Sweden. They were not normally eaten by humans but instead used within animal feed.

Around this time, though, the tuber was getting attention for its potential to make alcohol, and Claes is said to have shown interest in the potato. It could be that from this interest came Eva’s involvement with the starchy food.

Eva began doing experiments with potattoes and, in 1746, she discovered the most up-to-date ability to create alocohol from the potato at that time. Moreover, she discovered a process by which the plant could become a type of flour by cooking, crushing, and drying it.

That latter process would go on to help with Sweden’s food crisis and prevent femines. At that time, Sweden was short on grains that were put toward alcohol brewing; now the potato could be another way to make alcohol. Of course, the invention also saw an influx in alcohol consumption.

First female in the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences

Upon making her discoveries, Eva Ekeblad put forth her findings to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. She made history by being the first woman ever to be admitted to the Academy.

Amazingly, Eva was only 22 years old at the time.

From 1748 to 1751, Eva was a full member with the Academy. Then she went on to be an honorary member from 1751 to 1786.

The next woman to be admitted to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences would not happen until 1951. That was more than 150 years later.

More on her scientific breakthroughs

As already explained, Eva Ekebland was a pioneer with her discoveries of how the vegetable could be crushed, cooked and dried to produce flour and what we know today as vodka.

It’s like the more we learn about Eva, the more fascinated we are at what this woman has done for Northern Europe. She changed the way people ate and drank in that part of the world. Indeed, some credit her with leading the way to gluten-free baking.

And that’s not even the extent of her discoveries. Eva also made the discovery in 1751 that soap could bleach cotton textile and yarn; soap was gentler than noxious dyes.

Furthermore, many people were using toxic chemicals like lead and arsenic in their cosmetics and wig powders back in those days. But Eva replaced the harmful substances with potato flour instead.

Then in 1752, she is said to have used the plant in another new way. She used the potato flowers as hair ornaments.

Not only that but, in addition, Eva found yet another new use for potato flowers. A notable finding she made was that the flowers could be used to make shampoo!

Other facts about Eva Ekeblad

Another interesting note is about Eva’s sister-in-law Catherine Charlotte De La Gardie. This woman was also a great inventor of her time, creating a smallpox vaccine and also helping to stop Sweden’s witch trial in Dalarna, Sweden.

Back to Eva. After her husband passed away in 1771, Eva played a crucial role in the royal court of Stockholm. She was very close to Queen Sophia Magdalena and served her faithfully as Mistress of the Robes.

Moreover, she was also the governess to Crown Prince Gustav IV Adolf. It is said that she was a witness during his birth.

To thank her for her devotion, the Queen offered her the position of Chief lady-in-waiting, which unfortunately, Eva could not receive as she became gravely ill. According to facts, she was ill from that point until her death on the 15th of May, 1786 in Mariedal Castle.

The legacy of Eva Ekeblad

She was a civilized diplomat, landlady, hostess, royal Mistress, governess, scientist, agronomist, mother, wife… The list goes on.

Today, we celebrate the major contributions of this lady by using potato as food and beverage. We also thank her for removing harmful substances from cosmetics and hair products. In fact, Google celebrated the birth of this genius on her 293rd birthday anniversary.

An entire population can thank her for saving them from starving to death. Potatoes are easy to grow in gardens and can grow in many parts of the world. Lastly, regardless of the side effects of too much alcohol on health, we can still thank Eva Ekeblad for giving us a drink that we enjoy so much!

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