A Croatian kitchen. It may not look different than any other kitchen in the world, at least on the outside. But any Croatian kitchen contains one product that any Croatian, from housewives to elite chefs, can’t imagine what would cooking be like without – Vegeta seasoning.
What is Vegeta, you may ask? It is a special dry seasoning made specifically for vegetable dishes. The recipe of the original Vegeta is a secret to this day, just like Coca-Cola, and although there were extremely many similar foreign products that copied the ingredients and even the packaging of the original, none of these ever came close to the one and only Vegeta.
And the whole story of this cooking revolution started with one woman – Zlata Bartl!
Zlata, a native Croatian, was born in 1920 in Sarajevo, where she finished elementary school and a gymnasium. She moved Zagreb where she finished her studies. In 1955, when great snow-covered all the roads in Yugoslavia, she couldn’t return to Sarajevo for a long time. Spending time in Zagreb, Zlata tried to find a job. She applied for an advertisement for a chemical technician in Podravka company and got the job.
With hard work, she progressed, and in the following year, she went to the company’s headquarters in Koprivnica and began research work at the Podravka Center. In 1959, she invented and made a seasoning spice that had not existed in the world at that time. It was named “Vegeta 40”, and later the name changed to “Vegeta” only.
At that time, she lived in a modest factory in Koprivnica, together with her colleagues, sharing one meal a day with them. She recalled that era as extremely challenging and hard. In her own words: ” The streets were muddy and the city was underdeveloped. Everything was heavy improvisation.”
“Vegeta” became overwhelmingly popular throughout Yugoslavia overnight and then began to expand in the surrounding countries. Today, Vegeta is sold in more than 40 countries around the world on all continents.
Thanks to Zlata and her invention, “Podravka” has become a global company with this best-selling product, and the little-known town of Koprivnica has flourished. More than 50 companies around the world have tried to copy this spice with their “replacement” version.
Although Zlata Bartl achieved global success, all on her own as a woman in an era that didn’t take kindly to women in science, she had a quite hard life.
At an early age, Zlata had a love that she had never overcome due to his death in WWII, and later she never married again. Instead, she devoted herself to scientific work. Before working at Podravka, she shortly worked as a high school teacher in Sarajevo what brought her to – jail!
Namely, because she led her high school students to Italy, the Yugoslav authorities sentenced Zlata to eight years’ imprisonment and a permanent loss of civil rights. She was serving the sentence in the Zenica Penitentiary in Bosnia and Herzegovina until 1946 when she was conditionally released after 15 months. With having brittle health initially, Zlata Bartl was suffering from tuberculosis of the bones and deformation of the spine, and the consequences of her illness will follow her during her lifetime. ” I was sentenced to eight years because I was delighted with Italy. I did, but with its monuments and culture, and they probably characterized that I was delighted with Italian fascism.” – she said.
But all those hard times and life challenges didn’t demotivate Zlata in her attempt to do something for the world. You can feel that in her quotes:
“I would not change my life because I was always happy when I did something. I’ve dreamed my whole life to create something that will be useful. I loved learning a lot, reading and studying some of the things that were not in my branch, even at the price of an unslept night, ” Zlata said.
Zlata Bartl received various awards and recognitions: the square in Koprivnica, the park in Zagreb, the memorial room in Podravka, the title of an honorary citizen of Koprivnica and many other awards. She died in 2008 at the age of 88.
Today there is a foundation “Zlata Bartl” which gives scholarships to the most talented students each year to support scientific research work.