Why Asians Love Tiger Balm So Much

via Flickr / Stephen Dann (CC BY-SA 2.0)

If you’re an Asian kid born after the ’90s, chances are you’ve seen a tiny red tin from your grandmother’s purse called Tiger Balm.

Conceived by Chinese herbalist Aw Chu Kin in the 1870s, Tiger Balm — or “soothing balm” to some Westerners — has been a staple remedy for all sorts of illnesses, promising to “work where it hurts.”

tiger balm
via Wikimedia Commons / Gzdavidwong (CC BY-SA 3.0)

For starters, the balm does not contain anything that has to do with tigers. It is simply named after Aw’s son, Boon Haw, whose name literally meant “gentle tiger,” according to What’s on Weibo.

tiger balm
via Flickr / David Russo (CC BY 2.0)

Widely used in Asia, Tiger Balm contains menthol, camphor, mint oil, clove bud oil and cajuput oil, all working together to produce warm and cool sensations that distract the brain.

In other words, it doesn’t really attack the source of pain (or problem, for that matter), but confuses and delights nerve endings with tingle-inducing “counterirritants,” Wired noted.

tiger balm
via Wikimedia Commons / Steffen Buus Kristensen (CC BY-SA 3.0)

For more than a century, the balm has been used to deal with headaches, toothaches, colds, muscle pains, mosquito bites, body odor, sore throat, mild burns, and diarrhea (apply around the navel), among many other problems.

You name it, the balm is said to help it!

tiger balm
via Flickr / Stephen Dann (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Vicky Wong, a British-born journalist, told the South China Morning Post:

“[It] reminds me of my nan. No matter what the ailment – sore throat, cold, nosebleeds, mosquito bites – she would just put Tiger Balm on you.”

Andrea Tam, a former Hong Kong resident, recalled her grandmother, too:

“She literally used it for everything – any type of cuts and aches.”

tiger balm

But Tiger Balm doesn’t only serve health purposes; apparently, it is also used to weed out termites, repel mosquitoes, and remove paint stains and sticker residues.

Needless to say, the all-purpose Tiger Balm has come a long way since its conception. Last year, the brand, owned by Haw Par Corporation in Singapore, sold 66 million units of its products, 16% up from 2016.

tiger balm

Today, Tiger Balm is trademarked in 145 countries and is available to purchase in 100. It has 10 different products under its brand, catering to everybody’s needs — from athletes to teenagers! Lady Gaga and Gwyneth Paltrow are just some prominent names that support it, as per Asia One.

Watch how it’s made:

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