Tiger Balm: 10 Tingling Tidbits about Your Favorite Ointment

Tiger Balm: 10 Tingling Tidbits about Your Favorite Ointment

It’s instantly recognizable. The cool jar. The jumping big cat. The smell. Tiger Balm.

We’ve been selling the ointment for so many years, it’s become almost synonymous with Pearl River, along with Bee & Flower soap, “good morning” towels, and lucky cats. And like those items, Tiger Balm has a long and colorful history. Here are 10 fun facts you might not know about our favorite pungent unguent.

It contains no tigers

Unlike questionable “treatments” that use things like bear bile, rhinoceros horn, and tiger bones, Tiger Balm has never included animal parts. Instead it contains ingredients such as natural camphor, menthol, and oils derived from mint, cajuput (which is similar to eucalyptus), and cloves.

It’s about seven times stronger than its Western counterparts

While Vicks VapoRub contains 8.6% of its active ingredients, Tiger Balm has a whopping 60%.

It isn’t just used for aches and pains

Tiger Balm is one of those “all purpose” analgesics used in some Asian households for every ailment under the sun. Have a stuffy nose? Slap some on your upper lip. Those itchy mosquito bites driving you nuts? Tiger Balm to the rescue. Feeling hot? Rub that ish all over, sit back, and relax.

The recipe it’s based on comes from Fujian province by way of Rangoon

We have Tiger Balm thanks to an enterprising young man named Aw Chu Kin. In the 1860s, this son of an herbalist set off from Fujian province in China to Rangoon (now Yangon). Just a few years later, he had opened an apothecary he called Eng Aun Tong, or the Hall of Eternal Peace.

Aw passed away in 1908. leaving his business to his sons, Boon Par and Boon Haw, “Gentle Leopard” and “Gentle Tiger,” respectively. Together they developed what would be Tiger Balm, based on their father's recipes, and introduced it to the world in 1924.

One of the co-creators named it after himself

So where does the name “Tiger Balm” come from? You guessed it: Boon Haw named it after himself. In Chinese culture, the tiger is seen as ferocious but also a great protector (hence, tiger head booties to safeguard vulnerable babies).

Its hexagonal shape is very auspicious

The interestingly shaped cap and bottle date all the way back to the Aw brothers’ original design, so made because the number six is considered lucky (the Chinese word for six, liu, sounds like the one for “smooth”) and it’s easy to get a grip on.

It has its own (supremely creepy) amusement park

Founder Boon Haw reaped the rewards of his family’s invention by donating to charities and schools, starting several newspapers, and erecting mansions, each of which had a theme park. The one in Fujian, built in 1946, was abandoned by 1949 with the onset of the Communist Revolution. The one in Hong Kong was demolished in 2004. But you can still visit the park in Singapore and see weird and sometimes gruesome depictions from Chinese folk tales and literature like the Ten Courts of Hell and Journey to the West. Yikes!

In the early 1990s, the analgesic got a makeover

The company behind Tiger Balm, Haw Par, has seen its ups and downs. The Aw brothers died in 1944 and 1954, after which it was taken over by a British company. However, that collapsed in the banking crisis of 1969. In the early 1980s, a Singaporean banker took over Haw Par. In the meantime, Tiger Balm had been franchised outside the company, and in 1992, the company finally took it back.

By then, the liniment had lost its edge and needed a makeover. New products were developed such as patches, sports creams, and lavender neck and shoulder rubs. Sports stars like Joe Montana and Jerry Rice were enlisted as spokespeople, and the image of the resting tiger was updated to leaping. However, the cool orange color and hexagon shape remained.

It’s been touted by Lady Gaga and other celebs

Football players aren’t the only ones singing Tiger Balm’s praises. Lady Gaga apparently tweeted it as a post-performance must-have. Gwyneth Paltrow cites it as a beauty product she can’t live without. And Benedict Cumberbatch named-dropped it as a muscle saver while doing his own stunts on the set of Doctor Strange.

It’s consistently one of our best-selling items

We don’t know if it’s the awesome retro packaging, its broad usefulness, or both, but Tiger Balm consistently tops our best-seller list. And for that we're eternally grateful to Aw Chu Kin and sons.

Want more on Asian wellness? Check out our whole collection.

[Image via @tiger_balm_us]

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