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HISTORY

The curious history of Nutella, the world-famous Italian spread

On World Nutella Day, we look at the unusual and sometimes controversial history of Italy's famous hazelnut spread.

The curious history of Nutella, the world-famous Italian spread
All photos: AFP

In 1964, the first jar of what we now call Nutella was sold from a bakery in Alba, Piedmont. Not long after, the chocolate-hazelnut spread would conquer the entire world.

But the unusual and sometimes controversial history of the world-famous spread might surprise even its most dedicated fans. Here are some of the most bizarre facts about Nutella, from its humble beginnings to world domination.

An “austerity recipe” with a long history

When Michele Ferrero, the son of a small town pastry maker, decided to follow in his father's footsteps, he started from humble beginnings. Nutella is sometimes called an “austerity recipe”, as at the time, in the 1950's, the Second World War and rationing had left chocolate in short supply in Italy.

Adding hazelnuts, which were cheaper and more readily available than cocoa, made the spread much more affordable. But it wasn't all the idea of Ferrero, the Turin-based makers of Nutella. In fact, the city has been known for producing hazlenut-infused chocolate since the times of Napeleon.

Hazelnut chocolate cream, or crema gianduia, was invented in the city in 1806, when Napoleon's wars in South America made cocoa beans so astronomically expensive in the Savoy kingdom that local chocolatiers were going out of business – until they hit on the idea of using local hazelnuts to make their chocolate go further.

Obviously, the Ferrero recipe was an even bigger hit.

 

A post shared by Nutella (@nutella) on Apr 11, 2017 at 8:18am PDT

Global success

Fifty years after that first jar, Nutella's inventor was ranked as the richest person in Italy and 30th richest in the world, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Michele Ferrero died the following year, leaving his widow Maria Franca Fissola the world's richest Italian, her wealth estimated at some €20 billion.

And Ferrero International keeps on growing, apparently unaffected by the economic crisis which has devastated many Italian businesses. 

Ferrero products are now found in 170 countries.

READ ALSO: Nutella maker's widow is now the world's richest Italian

Hard beginnings

Nutella jars are now universally recognisable, but they bear very little resemblance to the very first batch.

Ferrero called the initial version Pasta Gianduja, named after its Torinese ancestor. And it was first made in solid blocks, with the creamy, spreadable version only appearing in 1951.

Colossal amounts

The amount of Nutella produced in a year weighs as much as the Empire State building, and the hazelnuts used to make the spread over a two-year period could fill a basket of the size of the Colosseum.

It almost caused a diplomatic incident

In addition to the countless arguments between spouses and flatmates over who finished the Nutella, the seemingly innocuous spread almost caused a fall-out between Italy and France.

In 2015, the French Ecology Minister, Ségolène Royal, said the Italian spread was unsafe for the health of her citizens and for the good of the planet.

“We have to stop eating Nutella,” she said on TV.

Royal's Italian counterpart responded, tweeting that she should “leave Italian products alone” and saying he planned to have “bread and Nutella for tea tonight”.

A controversial recipe

The reason for Royal's comments was that the Paris climate summit, taking place at the time, was raising awareness of environmental worries linked to palm oil production.

But you can now enjoy Nutella with a clean conscience: the palm oil used to produce the spread was later, in 2017, recognized by the European Parliament as a “Sustainable product”:

The Ferrero Company indeed has over the years demonstrated its commitment to environmental sustainability, and is a leading example for many other firms. In 2015, it joined the Palm Oil Innovation Group, and it supported the Amsterdam Declaration “In Support of a Fully Sustainable Palm Oil Supply Chain by 2020”.

Not a suitable name for children

How much do you love Nutella? One French couple enjoyed the treat so much they tried to name their child after it – but their request was rejected in court. Judges said baby Nutella “risked being mocked”, so the parents instead had to settle for Ella.

What's in the jar?

You know about the chocolate and nuts, but there's much more to Nutella.

The ingredients used are sugar, palm oil, hazelnuts (13%), lean cocoa (7.4%), skimmed milk powder (6.6%), whey powder, emulsifiers: lecithins (soya) and vanillin.

The hazelnut are cultivated in Italy and Turkey, and the company has also invested in the growing economies of countries such as Georgia, Chile, South Africa and Australia as up-and-coming producers.

Read also: The must-try foods from every region of Italy

A version of this article was first published in 2017

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LA BELLA VITA

La Bella Vita: Pasta, coffee, and the signs you’re becoming Italian

From how your eating habits become more Italian (without you even realising it) to the best ways to prepare and drink coffee, our new weekly newsletter La Bella Vita offers you an essential starting point for eating, talking, drinking and living like an Italian.

La Bella Vita: Pasta, coffee, and the signs you're becoming Italian

La Bella Vita is our regular look at the real culture of Italy – from language to cuisine, manners to art. This new newsletter will be published weekly and you can receive it directly to your inbox, by going to newsletter preferences in ‘My Account’ or follow the instructions in the newsletter box below.

The longer you spend in Italy, the more you might find yourself adapting to Italian culture in ways you didn’t expect. For Brits like me, that might mean swapping your tea with milk for black espresso. For Americans it could be that your tastebuds have slowly become less accustomed to spicy foods (good tacos are, sadly, hard to find in Italy). And you’ve heard all about the tomatoes, but are you eating more lentils yet?

Once you find yourself eating pasta on an almost daily basis and reacting to the idea of fast food with a heartfelt ‘che schifo!’ you’ll know there’s really no going back. These are just some of the eating and drinking habits you might see change over time:

17 ways your eating and drinking habits change when you live in Italy

With all that pasta in mind, if you want to make sure your favourite recipe is executed in truly flawless Italian style we’ve got some expert advice on nailing the technique for saucing all of your pasta dishes correctly every time – and there’s more to it than you might expect.

Ask an Italian: How do you sauce pasta properly?

And then there’s the coffee. Whether you prefer yours from an espresso machine or the iconic stovetop moka coffee pot – personally I find it hard to pick a favourite – everyone who’s spent even a short time in Italy knows there’s an art to preparing and drinking coffee all’italiana

This rich tradition comes with a set of rules and norms that can be hard to navigate if you weren’t born in the country, so here’s our complete guide to where, when and how to drink coffee like a true Italian.

Where, when and how to drink coffee like an Italian

A shot of dark, velvety coffee is more than just a quick caffeine hit: Italy’s espresso is a prized social and cultural ritual the country considers a part of its national heritage. (Photo by Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP)

The weather has taken a turn for the worse this week and many parts of northern Italy are experiencing freezing temperatures and snow. It sounds obvious now, but before I moved to Italy I didn’t realise just how bitterly cold it gets, and my first winter in Tuscany was a bit of a shock. Luckily, Italians from around the peninsula share a love of talking – or complaining – about cold and wet weather so there were plenty of people ready to commiserate.

Here are ten Italian phrases you can throw into your weather-related conversations during these chilly days:

Ten phrases to talk about cold and wet weather in Italian

And have you noticed how some Italian translations of English-language film titles bear very little resemblance to the original? I first realised this when an Italian friend told me how they always watched something called ‘Mamma ho perso l’aereo’ at Christmas, and described the plot, which sounded identical to that of Home Alone…

From the very literal to the improbable, here’s a non-exhaustive list of our favourite Italian movie title translations.

Puns and plot spoilers: How English movie titles are translated into Italian

Remember if you’d like to have this weekly newsletter sent straight to your inbox you can sign up for it via Newsletter preferences in “My Account”.

Is there an aspect of the Italian way of life you’d like to see us write more about on The Local? Please email me at [email protected]

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