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First fruit cordial

Rose’s Lime Juice was the world’s first commercial fruit cordial, invented by Lauchlin Rose in Leith, a Scottish port near Edinburgh, in 1867. But the journey of the juice started a lot earlier.

Rewind to 1753, when James Lind, a Scottish doctor and pioneer of naval hygiene, started looking into the causes of scurvy in the Royal Navy. After identifying that the acidity in lemons (later known to be vitamin C) seemed beneficial, he conducted the first controlled medical experiments into the treatment of scurvy aboard the HMS Salisbury. The experiments were such a success that the Admiralty adopted his recommendation to give a daily ration of citrus juice to all sailors during prolonged voyages (Captain Cook was an early adopter). But they insisted on using lime juice, rather than lemon juice, as they could get limes cheaper and in bulk from a new British plantation in the Caribbean, which later led to British sailors being called ‘limeys’.

There was a problem though. The lime juice tended to go off on long voyages, so they tried to preserve it by adding rum (usually around 15%), but it wasn’t hugely effective.

This is where Lauchlin Rose came in. The son of a shipbuilder in Leith, which was then Scotland’s most important harbour for the Royal Navy, he grew up in and around the port and sailors from all over the world. It was no wonder he later set up a business provisioning ships, supplying them with everything they might need, from wines to lime juice. An astute businessman, he spotted an opportunity – and turned his curious mind to the problem of preservation.

In December 1867, at the age of 38, he developed and secured patent number #3499 for “an improved mode of preserving vegetable juices”*. He’d developed a technique that allowed him to prevent the lime juice fermenting by adding sulphur dioxide to the cask without the need for alcohol or rum. It was a game-changer.

Sulphur dioxide had long been known about but had been more traditionally used in the wine and beer industry to stop fermentation. Applying it to lime juice was a masterstroke for Lauchlin, not least because the lack of alcohol opened it up to a whole new audience.

At the same time, serendipitously, the Merchant Shipping Act of 1867 made it compulsory for all British ships to carry lime juice to prevent scurvy. It was perfect timing – and win/win for both Lauchlin and the Navy.

At the time, lime juice was used solely for medicinal purposes, but Lauchlin was about to change all that. In 1868 he set up his first factory on Commercial Street, Leith, right next to the Old East Dock where the limes came in from the West Indies. By sweetening the mix a little, he started to sell it commercially as ‘Rose’s Lime Juice’, presenting the green cordial in a distinctive bottle with the timeless lime leaf logo. It was an instant success, appealing not just to sailors (naval officers were said to take Rose’s Lime Juice with gin, essentially creating the Gimlet, one of the first gin-based cocktails), but also the growing temperance movement in the UK.

By 1875, business was booming, so the company moved to Curtain Road in Shoreditch, London, while production was still in Leith. Lauchlin passed away in 1885, but not before he had set in motion for the company to own its own lime plantations in Dominica and present-day Ghana. The business continued to expand after his death, and the brand introduced to the USA in 1901.

Rose’s Lime Cordial was the world’s first fruit cordial, and the first soft drink to be marketed in Britain. And it’s is still very much a family favourite today.

*Office of the Commissioner of Patents (UK), Chronological Index of Patents Applied for and Patenets Granted for the Year 1867 (London: 1868), 239.


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