Nestlé’s Milk Chocolate & its Fortuitous Beginnings

Milk chocolate was once a special, distinct variant of the chocolate so cherished in 19th century America, and although households across the country enjoyed it all the same, it was a new, different experience from the usual. Today, milk chocolate is chocolate, and with the merging of these two concepts into one, a stark dichotomy between the past and the present is established. What was at first an original idea is now the accepted norm. What was formerly considered novel is now convention by popular demand. And what was in the beginning a humble invention, is now the leading product of the entire industry. However, milk chocolate was never expected to give rise to the largest corporations of the past century, nor was it ever meant to replace the standard so quickly. Rather, milk chocolate was brought about by the creation of a commodity hardly related to candy at all. This revolutionary good was nothing more than the powdered milk every mother is familiar with, but in developing it, Henri Nestlé also became the unanticipated inventor of the world’s first milk chocolate bar (Nestlé, “History”). As such, the sweet, luscious treats that have now redefined chocolate itself, owe their existence to a mere coincidence, a matter of excellent fortune, and the combined efforts of a Swiss nutritionist and his neighbor candle-maker.

To truly appreciate how far milk chocolate has come, one needs to look no further than the food’s fortuitous beginnings. It all started in Vevey, Switzerland, where an altruistic pharmacist, in the hopes of saving the life of his neighbor’s child, put together a mixture of “cow’s milk, wheat flour, and sugar,” a combination he referred to as “Farine lactée” (Nestlé, “History”).

Henri Nestlé's Farine lactée, a combination of cow's milk, wheat flour, and sugar
Henri Nestlé’s Farine lactée, a combination of cow’s milk, wheat flour, and sugar

The pharmacist, of course, was Henri Nestlé, and although his first steps towards the invention of milk chocolate was instead in the direction of infant nutrition, his greatest discovery paved the way for both. In 1867, Nestlé demonstrated for the first time a process to make powdered milk by evaporation (Coe, Coe 250). The resulting formula could not only be preserved for a greater duration of time, but also prepared into liquid milk for feeding infants wherever, whenever. This newfound portability and convenience provided more freedom for young mothers everywhere, allowing many to take advantage of the extra time in their daily routines. Thus, with society’s increasing dependence on Nestlé’s product, his recently founded firm soared to unimaginable heights, but it did not get there on baby formula alone.

A 1903 magazine ad for Henri Nestlé's powdered, milk-based baby food
A 1903 magazine ad for Henri Nestlé’s powdered, milk-based baby food

Henri Nestlé is known for his work in the confectionery business, but by solely crediting him for the creation of milk chocolate, the world neglects to acknowledge the equally important contributions of his partner, Daniel Peter. As a candle-maker at the time, Peter’s connections to chocolate may have been even less aligned than Nestlé’s, but when he married into a family of chocolatiers, he became the missing link between the pharmacist’s independent endeavors and the delicious candy people love today (Peter’s Chocolate, “Our Rich History”). In fact, Nestlé’s neighbor, whose child he saved, was none other than Daniel Peter himself, and ever since then, Peter was inspired to create his own milk product. However, perfecting this blend with chocolate was no easy task. Due to the high water content in normal milk, simply combining it with cocoa paste always ended in a rancid, inedible failure (Presence Switzerland, “Daniel Peter”). Nevertheless, in 1879, Peter’s breakthrough came with his neighbor’s help once again. The two devised a simple plan of using Nestlé’s condensed milk and drying the mixture before adding the necessary cocoa butter (Coe, Coe 250). This method not only produced creamy milk chocolate bars without the original bitterness, but it also enabled manufacturers to reduce the proportion of cocoa used in their goods, paving the way for mass production in factories like Hershey and Mars. If Nestlé represented the milk of milk chocolate, then through the collaboration between these two men, Daniel Peter was without a doubt, the once missing, chocolate half.

Daniel Peter called his new chocolate product "Gala" the Greek word for "milk"
Daniel Peter called his new chocolate product “Gala” the Greek word for “milk”

The chain reaction of events that led to the development of milk chocolate began as an entirely separate incident, one completely unrelated to the food at all. If not for Nestlé’s powdered milk or Peter’s confectionery experience, the course of chocolate’s culinary history would have taken a completely different route, one without the large corporations, wide-reaching economic influences, and the avid fans everywhere. Fortunately, that isn’t the case, and the world has a pharmacist, a candle-maker, and Lady Luck to thank for that.

Works Cited

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd ed. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996. Print.

"Farine Lactee." Nestlé: Good Food, Good Life. Nestlé, n.d. Web. 10 Mar. 2014. <http://www.nestle.com.my/csv/creatingsharedvaluecasestudies>.

"Gala Peter Chocolate." Milk Chocolate: History of Milk Chocolate. Whats's Cooking America, 2004. Web. 11 Mar. 2014. <http://whatscookingamerica.net/History/MilkChocolate.htm>.

"Nestlé’s Food." History Spaces: Out of the past. Blogger, n.d. Web. 11 Mar. 2014. <http://historyspaces.blogspot.com/2012/03/history-of-chocolate-chip-cookie-and.html>.

Nestlé. "History." Nestlé: Good Food, Good Life. Nestlé, 2013. Web. 11 Mar. 2014. <http://www.nestle.com/aboutus/history#>.

"Our Rich History." Peter's Chocolate. Cargill, 2014. Web. 10 Mar. 2014. <http://www.peterschocolate.com/pages/history.html>.

Presence Switzerland, ed. "Daniel Peter." Swssworld.org: Switzerland's Official Information Portal. Ed. Presence Switzerland. Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, n.d. Web. 10 Mar. 2014. <http://www.swissworld.org/en/people/portraits_chocolate_makers/daniel_peter/>.

1 thought on “Nestlé’s Milk Chocolate & its Fortuitous Beginnings

  1. Where did the picture of the nestles can with the bird come from? It’s just labeled as “a 1903 magazine” and I’d like to find it’s original source.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s