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.
Obviously, the Ferrero recipe was an even bigger hit.
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.
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.
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.
A version of this article was first published in 2017