Reader's question: Whence does 'Doktorivorst' derive its name?

Rakvere's Doktorivorst.product.
Rakvere's Doktorivorst.product. Source:

A reader of ERR's science portal, Novaator, asked a question which as it happens has puzzled this editor on more than one occasion: Why is 'Doktorivorst' (literally 'doctor's sausage') so named?

Doktorivorst is the brand name of a type of a popular bologna-type sausage, or what in the UK might be called 'luncheon meat', made by the Rakvere meat company for many decades and a staple of several generations of Estonians' diets.

Various theories touted for the origin of its name include that it was popular amongst students on a low budget (and presumably studying for a doctorate), or that it was the favourite repast of busy doctors on the go, or even that it was viewed as a healthy food to be consumed by the unwell, thus fulfilling the same function as chicken soup.

The first of these theses can be easily rebutted – at the time doktorivorst first appeared, long before it was a brand name and in the depths of the Soviet era, the 'candidate's degree' (kandidiidikraad in Estonia) made up the bulk of higher education studies, rather than the doctorate, which then as now would have been a higher-level pursuit.

The second idea doesn't make much sense either, since doctors at the time wouldn't have been any more (or less) pressed for time than employees in many other fields so it could just as easily have been named 'workers' sausage' or 'train drivers' sausage' etc.

Recommended in 1955

In fact the third theory is much nearer the mark. In 1955 the state publisher opined that ''Doktorivorst belongs to the group of higher quality cooked sausage,'' in a publication entitled 'A Book of Tasty and Healthy Food', outlining a recipe for doktorivorst rather than lauding an existing product (in fact the recipe, which dated back to the 1930s, was attributed to no less a man than Anastas Mikoyan, First Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Soviet Union at the time of the guide's publication).

''It is so named because it can be consumed by those with stomach illnesses who can only eat easily-absorbed foods,'' the book went on.

The composition of a good doktorivorst was as follows, according to the guide:

  • 60g of lean pork per 100g of sausage;

  • 25g pork fat;

  •  15g higher-quality beef;

  • Sugar, salt and a pinch of cardamom.

Pepper and strong spices were to be avoided in making doktorivorst, which was ''gentle in consistency, and tasty,'' the guide went on.

It might be tempting to detect something of a hypochondriac streak running through Soviet society, for all its brutality, but that would be to make a gross mistake. The requirement for easily digestible foods sprang from a much more severe reality than a case of stomach bug; doktorivorst was originally intended as a salve for those with ''somatic symptoms associated with prolonged fasting,'' which is probably a euphemism for the starvation or malnutrition widespread in the earlier decades of the Soviet Union's existence (a period when Estonia was an independent republic). In particular, Russian Civil War veterans were apparently often 'prescribed' doktorivorst.

From home recipe to brand name

Doktorivorst subsequently became a trademark of the Rakvere meat company, which together with its Lastevorst ('childrens' sausage') brand, is highly coveted by its competitors. Variants of Doktorivorst include meatier versions than the original, consisting of 75% pork.

As to the origins of the 'childrens' sausage' name, Novaator invites relevant suggestions in the comments of its original item here, or indeed by extension, on this article too.

Rakvere, named after the Estonian city of the same name and tracing its roots back over a hundred years, according to the company's website, is a subsidiary of the HKScan Group, a Nordic multinational with a reported turnover of €2 billion in 2014.

Novaator is ERR's science portal, brought to readers in conjunction with the University of Tartu.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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