From Gianduja to Nutella: A Short History of Chocolate-Hazelnut Spread

IAs someone who has always liked Nutella (and therefore recognizes that the European version is far superior to our domestic alternative), I love that it is available nearly everywhere in Europe, and Italy, in particular. On one morning during a recent visit, as I was eating a breakfast croissant smothered with the chocolate hazelnut spread, I began to wonder about its history and began to look further into how it was created. I discovered that the transformation of chocolate from small candy (and from beverage before that) to a spread was shaped by a series of economic and political constraints in early 19th-20th century Italy, and this transformation led to the modern-day chocolate-hazelnut spread, Nutella.

The story of chocolate-hazelnut spread first begins with the story of Gianduja and Italy’s obsession with chocolate borne in the early 17th century. Italy first became exposed to chocolate through its trade relations with during this time (Kummer 2006; Coe and Coe 2013). By the early 1800s, Turin, still famous today for its chocolate, had become an international chocolate capital of the world, with many chocolate houses and chocolatiers (Kummer 2006). In 1806, during the Napoleanic wars, however, the royal navy of UK imposed a blockade on all French ports prompting Napolean to forbid all trade between his conquered territory and the British. This naval blockade affected Piedmont (of which Turin is the capital), which Napolean controlled at the time, severely diminishing the influx of chocolate into the region and making cocoa expensive and rare (Mitzman 2014). Coincidentally, Piedmont was, and still is, home to the some of the finest hazelnuts in the world. As the availability of cocoa beans diminished, Chocolate makers in Turin began adding hazelnut to chocolate, allowing them to stretch the limited supply, and thus the combination of chocolate and hazelnut was born.

It was not until years later, however, that the confection was available to the general public. In 1865, Caffarel, a well known chocolate company in the area, created Gianduja, a small, triangle-shaped, chocolate hazelnut candy which was made for the Turin carnival (Mitzman 2014). It was named based on the carnival character Gianduja (seen below), who wore a hat similar in shape to the chocolate, and passed out the candies.  Though adored by Italians throughout the nation, Gianduja was very expensive and viewed almost exclusively as a luxury good.

Gianduja, shown above, was a carnival character in Piedmont, and the namesake of Gianduja, the hazelnut-chocolate candy
Gianduja, shown above, was a carnival character in Piedmont, and the namesake of Gianduja, the hazelnut-chocolate candy (Mitzman 2014)

In the 1940s in particular, chocolate had to be rationed during World War II and only the wealthiest in Italy could afford the small confectionary treat (Mitzman 2014; and Villanova). This prompted Pietro Ferrero (namesake of the modern-day chocolate conglomerate Ferrero Rocher) to create Gianduja Paste, a paste version of the chocolate-hazelnut candy that could be cut and spread, making it last even longer than Gianduja: whereas Gianduja was consumed like candy, just a small amount of Gianduja paste could be spread on an entire loaf of bread. The Gianduja paste that Ferrero sold at his first store in Alba, Piedmont (below)  marked the beginning of a new era for chocolate consumption.

Pietro Ferrero's first chocoalte store in Piedmont (Nutella USA)
Pietro Ferrero’s first chocoalte store in Piedmont (Nutella USA)

The paste was immensely popular but could be difficult to spread, prompting Ferrero to innovate further, creating a more easily spreadable form of Gianduja Paste called Supercrema a few years later (Deitsche 2013 and Mitzman 2014). The company marketed the product to children specifically, as can be seen in the advertisement below, emphasizing it as a fun, sweet, and luxurious treat.

An early advertisement for Supercrema, the predecessor to today's Nutella (Mitzman 2014)
An early advertisement for Supercrema, the predecessor to today’s Nutella (Mitzman 2014)

In 1964, Supercrema was rebranded as Nutella, combining the word “nut” with the soft “ella” ending shared by other, already adored Italian foods like mozzarella and caramella (Mitzman 2014; Villanova). Today, the company is the number one buyer of hazelnuts in the world and sells around 365,000 tons of the chocolate hazelnut spread annually (Mitzman 2014). Since 1964, various other companies have created their own chocolate hazelnut spread both in the United States (such as Hershey’s or Jif brand) and especially in Italy (Krystal 2014), but Nutella remains immensely popular worldwide.

References

“A Brief History of Nutella” Villanova University. N.d. Web.

“The History of Nutella.” Nutella USA. N.d. Web.

Coe, Sophie D. and Michael D. Coe. 2013[1996]. The True History of Chocolate. 3nd edition. London: Thames & Hudson.

Deitsch, Lauren. “Who Put Hazelnuts in My Chocolate? The History of Nutella.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 25 Nov. 2013. Web.

Kummer, Corby. “In Turin, Chocolate’s the Champion.” The New York Times. 15 February 2006.

Mitzman, Dany. “Nutella: How the World Went Nuts for a Hazelnut Spread.” BBC News. 17 May 2014. Web.

Salkled, Lauren. “Move Over, Nutella: Nine Alternative Chocolate-Hazelnut Spreads.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 23 October 2014.

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