For those of you who would like to be initiated into the pleasures of a velvety chocolate hazelnut spread, why are you still here reading this? Run! Run to the nearest supermarket. Fly, if you can!
By Pam Kanavos
Nutella, a junk food, or rather foodie’s marvel, with a European pedigree?
When I first tasted Nutella, I thought for a moment that I was in heaven, although to my disappointment, I was really in Greece, sitting in my grandmother’s kitchen. I was 6 years old.
Up until this day, I can’t forget the “oh my goodness” feeling I got when I ate that chocolate hazelnut spread. Is it better than chocolate? I’m not sure, but for something that was originally made to trick your mind and your taste buds into thinking it’s chocolate, well, it’s heavenly- so much so, to the point that it’s an obsession, a habit, or even an addiction. If you think this is merely a foodie’s making a mountain out of a molehill, you’re just not among the privileged.
For those of you who would like to be initiated into the pleasures of this velvety chocolate hazelnut spread, why are you still here reading this? Run! Run to the nearest supermarket! Fly, if you can! You will find it next to the peanut butter, jam, jelly, marshmallow spreads and several other chocolate hazelnut spread knockoffs that taste perfectly fine, but exist for the sole reason that Nutella is point-blank too good not to imitate. ?
Nutella originally comes form Italy and was developed for Italy’s postwar era as a desperate affordable substitute for the chocolate that everyone wanted, but no one could afford to buy.
In 1946 an Italian pastry maker by the name of Pietro Ferrero, needed to find a way to stretch his postwar ration of cocoa. Having hazelnuts over flowing in the piedmont area, he mixed the cocoa he had with ground hazelnuts, cocoa butter and vegetable oil and created “pasta gianduja” or as we know it, gianduja. ?His first batch was said to be 660 pounds. Soon it became so popular that children were asking for a “smear” of pasta gianduja. ?Pasta gianduja had become so popular that it was renamed Nutella in 1964, and spread to the rest of Europe. In 1983, it crossed the ocean. Its following was so strong that it outsold all brands of peanut butter combined. Random; I think not!
Not to be left out, the Greeks also have their own name for Nutella, called Merenda. It too has a following so big that every other hazelnut brand is referred to as “ Merenda”.
In Greece, Merenda is very popular among children and adults. They serve it on crackers or croissants as an after-school snack, spread it on bread and serve it for breakfast. Some even add a layer of butter beneath it to welcome a sweet and salty awakening of the taste buds. I suspect, however, that the most common and enjoyable way is just to eat it with a spoon straight from the jar.
Merenda has such a following in Greece, that it has become a common ingredient in various desserts like tortes, layered cakes, and gelatos. Even in traditional Greek desserts like Baklava and Halva to name a few.
Nutella is not just a junk food with a European pedigree, but an indulgence that feeds the mind and senses. Since sitting on a plane for 10 hours is not a requirement to indulge in heavenly Nutella, I want to share with you what it’s capable of… Introducing Merenda (Nutella) Mousse:
- 250g Merenda (Nutella)
- 175g Greek yogurt (Fage)
- 2 tbsp cream cheese
- 1 tbsp coffee liquor (optional)
- 2 tbsp chopped toasted hazelnuts (optional)
- ½ cup whipped heavy cream
- Little biscuits for dipping
- Cherries and halved hazelnuts, to serve
- Mix the Greek yogurt, cream cheese, coffee liquor, and the chopped toasted hazelnuts. Then mix in the Merenda. Spoon into 4 little pots and chill.
- Serve with whipped heavy cream, little biscuits for dipping, topped with a cherry or any other fruit and halved hazelnuts if you like.
- Tip: Merenda can be substituted with Nutella or any other hazelnut spread.
Pam Kanavos is a Boston-based food blogger and Pastry Chef. Her Greek heritage has not only shaped her cooking, but also vastly contributed to her culinary personality. Being a lover of all things sweet and savory, Pam cooks, bakes, tastes, and luckily shares her recipes on her blog Sucrée....