Eva Ekeblad is the subject of the July 10 Google Doodle, which honors the Swedish plant scientist on the 293rd anniversary of her birth. Ekeblad is famous for discovering that potatoes could be used to make flour and alcohol. She was also a traiblazer for women scientists, becoming the first woman to join the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in 1748. There wouldn’t be another female member of the academy for another 203 years.
“Today we celebrate Eva Ekeblad’s 293rd birthday. The Swedish scientist brought potatoes, then a greenhouse curiosity, to the people,” Google notes. “Eva discovered the starch was humble but mighty – potatoes could be ground into flour or distilled into spirits. Her discovery helped reduce famine in years to come.”
Ekeblad was born on July 10, 1724 and died on May 15, 1786. She was 62 years old.
Here’s what you need to know about Ekeblad’s life and career.
1. Ekeblad Discovered How to Use Potatoes to Make Flour & Vodka
During Ekeblad’s time, there were attempts to find new ways of using potatoes. Potatoes were introduced to Sweden in 1658, but were usually only available to aristocrats and weren’t considered food for humans, but for animals.
According to Kvinnofronten, there was talk among men who had visited other countries that it was possible to use potatoes to make vodka and it’s possible that Ekeblad heard about this from her husband. She learned that potatoes were being used to make liquor in Germany. Historiesajten.ne notes that there was a 1741 lecture delivered in Parliament about how potatoes could be used for brandy production.
Ekeblad’s discoveries also helped decrease famines in Sweden, since potatoes were being used to make alcohol instead of wheat, rye and barley. Those grains became available for making bread and the Swedish elite saw the usefulness of potatoes. She wrote about her findings to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in 1746.
2. Her Sister-In-Law Famously Stopped the Last Witch Trial in Sweden
Ekeblad had access to potatoes thanks to her wealthy heritage. As Riksarkivet notes, she was born Eva De la Gardie to a count and her mother was an amateur politician who took part in Salon meetings.
She also had a brother, Count Pontus Fredrik De la Gardie, who was married to Countess Catherine Charlotte De La Gardie, who introduced a smallpox vaccination and stopped the last Swedish witch trial.
Catherine Charlotte put a stop to the last witch hunt in Sweden in 1758. She was traveling through Dalarna, where witch hunt hysteria broke out the year before. She brought this up to the Swedish government and helped put a stop to it. In 1761, Catherine Charlotte earned a medal for her efforts.
3. She Was Married to a Count Twice Her Age at 16 & Had 7 Children
When she was 16 years old, Ekeblad was married off to Count Claes Claesson Ekeblad. She had seven children, one son and six daughters, notes Kvinnofronten.nu. Ekeblad’s husband was often away, leaving her to tend to the family estate.
Historiesajten.se notes that her son Claes Julius Ekeblad became a general and later governor of Uppsala County.
4. She Was the First Woman Elected to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences & The Only 1 Until 1951
In December 1748, Ekeblad was elected to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. She was only 24 at the time and became the first woman to join the academy. Unfortunately, there’s no record of her participating in meetings, so her invitation might have been thought of as only honorary. In fact, Rikasrkivet notes that members of the Academy only elected her because they learned that the Academy of Sciences in Bologna had recently invited their first female scientist.
The Royal Academy didn’t invite another woman until 1951, when Austrian nuclear physicist Lise Meitner.
5. Vodka Can Be Made With the Distillation of Potatoes
Although it’s been over 230 years since her death, Ekeblad’s discovery that potatoes can be distilled to make vodka continues to play a role in Sweden.
As Try Swedish notes, potatoes remain a major part of Swedes’ diets and potato vodka is popular in the country and around the world. In addition to potatoes, cereal grains can also be distilled to make vodka, while some brands use other substances. Sweden is considered one of the “vodka belt” countries, along with Russia, Poland, Belarus, Urkaine, the Baltic states and other Scandinavian countries.