Monday, June 18, 2012

Napoléon III and Margarine .

Napoleon III and Margarine.
Behind the French Menu
Bryan Newman

    For the visitor to France Emperor Napoléon III’s most well-known works are the rebuilding of the center of Paris.  Acting under the orders of Napoléon III  a new center of Paris was built under the direction of Georges-Eugène Haussmann; for that incredible work, which remains  the Paris center you see today, Georges-Eugène Haussmann would be made Baron Haussmann by Napoléon III.

Photograph by courtesy of Dominique Pipet.
Emperor Napoléon III

    Haussmann also directed the creation of Paris’s sewers, a very important work; that made the air of Paris breathable.  Today when in Paris you may visit part of those sewers; it is an interesting one hour educational tour and not at all smelly.

Napoléon III and Margarine.

B = Beurre, Butter ,
I prefer butter to margarine, because I trust cows more than I trust chemists.


From: This Organic Life 2001.

Joan Dye Gussow, Organic food guru and author.

    Not too well remembered by the French is that Emperor Napoléon III was also responsible for a competition to create a butter substitute, and that competition produced margarine. If you remind a Frenchman or French woman of that disaster they are likely to walk off with a pooff! You may lose friend.


    Despite the disagreements that still exist over margarine and butter in those pre-refrigeration days there was a true need for a butter substitute that did not quickly turn rancid like butter.  Napoléon III’s armies and navy urgently need  a transportable fat, and Napoléon III’s  solution was a scientific competition. The competition was won by a French chemist Hippolyte Mège-Mouriès (1817-1880).  Mège-Mourièss’ invention involved mixing processed beef fat with skimmed milk; the successful chemist patented his invention in 1869. In 1871 the inventor sold his patent to a Dutch company that later would become part of  the company Unilever.

Photo courtesy of  Meddy Garnet,

White Margarine from Quebec, Canada

    Getting margarine to look like butter was another problem. In the beginning many countries passed laws that banned the coloring of margarine.  The last law that prohibited the adding of coloring  to the originally white margarine was only repealed in the province of Quebec, Canada in 2008. I know of none others.


    Napoléon III also gave the order for the rebuilding of Les Halles, then the central Paris food market.  Of all Napoléon III's major works Les Halles with its bronze and glass decor is no more; Les Halles  was relocated, in 1969, to a much larger area in Rungis to the south of Paris. The Les Halles métro station indicates the general area where the market  was, and  a number of restaurants that were made famous by the onion soup they served in the Les Halles market have remained there.  Some of those original restaurants still offer service 24/7; however from experience, onion soup is not always available 24 hours a day. The modern, huge, food market of Rungis, outside Paris may be visited by bus or metro, and there are multi-lingual guided tours for professionals, as well as tourists.

Photograph courtesy of Mike Fitzpatrick
The Empress Eugenie.

   Napoléon III final blunder was not  margarine, though if he had not lost a war I believe there is possibility that the French may have exiled him for promoting the invention of  margarine. 

   The final blunder of Napoléon III  was being drawn by the Prussian Bismarck into a stupid war; a war that neither Napoléon nor France wanted; that war was a result of what we now call diplomacy .  Napoléon III rode to that war on horseback, at the head if his armies, he rode like a story book King; on the 2nd September 1870 Napoléon III was captured by the Prussians and imprisoned in Germany.  In Paris, two days later France announced the creation of the third French Republic and deposed Napoléon III and exiled him to England.  That Franco-Prussian war, and other events led, eventually, to a single a united German State and onwards to WWI.


    In exile in the UK Emperor Napoléon III  and the Empress Eugénie was already well accepted by the British Royal family the result of the end of the British-French wars and mutual head-of-state visits from before Napoléon III's exile.  Empress Eugénie was a already a favorite of Queen Victoria, and since Napoléon III  had spent three years in the United States, when he had then been exiled there, from France, for his early revolutionary activities, he spoke English well. Napoléon III died, in England, in 1873, not from an excess of margarine, but rather from a botched medical operation to remove gall stones.  Napoléon III’s crypt, in England, was paid for by Queen Victoria.

Napoléon III is buried in the crypt, behind the high altar, in the Benedictine Abbey of Saint Michael's, Farnborough, Hampshire, England.  Here, I am including  an correction,  much appreciated,  from an anonymous reader: Napoléon's only wife, the Empress Eugénie, who died aged 94 in Madrid, Spain, in 1920  is not buried beside her husband, rather behind and above the altar of the chapel in the crypt.  Buried in the crypt across from Napoléon lies Napoléon Eugène Bonaparte (1856- 1879), Napoléon's and Eugénie' s only son. Napoléon Eugène  is called Napoléon IV or  the Prince Imperial by the still active French Bonapartist's.  Napoléon Eugène died, at age 23, fighting with the British Army in the Zulu wars in South Africa and is buried in the crypt across from his father.  



  1. A few corrections :
    Empress Eugenie was the ONLY wife of Napoleon III !

    Then, it is she whose sepulchre is behind and
    above the altar of the Chapel in the crypt of St Michael's Abbey, Farnborough.

    Napoleon III and the Prince Imperial's tombs are on the ground level, on opposite sides.

    1. Thank you for the correction. It has now been included in the post with a credit to anonymous.