It’s always interesting when a product based out of frugality becomes a popular gourmet food. This is true with Nutella, the chocolate hazelnut spread that has been taking over America over the last few years, with a renewed surge in popularity. It’s been eaten as a breakfast spread in Europe since World War II, on croissants and toast, but only recently hit the U.S. To Europeans, Nutella is what peanut butter is to Americans.
During World War II, there was a shortage of chocolate in Europe, much like in the U.S. So the Italian chocolate company Ferraro in Italy decided to add hazelnuts or filberts to a chocolate sauce to make a creamy spread. The U.S. chocolate shortage gave birth to red velvet cake. In Italy the shortage gave birth to Nutella.
Hailed as one of the greatest inventions of the last century, Nutella conquered Italy, and now the world by storm. Upscale Chicago Italian Grocer Eataly has a Nutella bar, where you can order Nutella on bread, Nutella on a croissant, and Nutella on crepes. People pay high dollar for a Nutella filled crepe or croissant.
Now American Peanut butter brands like Jif, have gotten into the chocolate hazelnut spread game, with their own versions of Nutella. Jif has a salted caramel, regular and mocha cappuccino flavor of their spread. And, there are at least nine other brands of chocolate hazelnut spreads on the American market.
They are driving the hazelnut demand even higher, raising prices for this wanted nut.
The recipe is pretty simple for Nutella : sugar, cocoa, palm oil and hazelnuts. Three of the four ingredients are readily available
But now Nutella, with its explosive popularity drives the worldwide demand for hazelnuts. It uses about a quarter of the world’s total hazelnut production, about 100,000 tons per year. The majority of the world’s hazelnuts are produced in Turkey by families who have been doing it the same way for centuries, picking by hand. Hazelnut trees grow on the steep slopes that rise from the Black Sea Coast.
A late frost in Turkey that froze the hazelnut blossoms cut the supply in about half, and caused a spike in pricing about 60% above normal over the last year.
Because hazelnuts are now so valuable, more people want to grow them. Farmers are growing them in Chile and Australia. America’s producers in Oregon are expanding. And a new small research farm on Rutgers University in New Jersey is trying to get into the game with genetically modified hazelnuts. The typical European hazelnut is susceptible to a fungal blight in the Eastern U.S., so Rutgers is grafting hardy hazelnut varieties with others to create those that are blight tolerant. Ferraro has told Rutgers they will buy as many hazelnuts as they can produce.
The warning to those that want to start growing their own hazelnuts in their backyard is: get a guard dog. Squirrels go crazy for hazelnuts and will do anything to get them before you do!