Tag Archives: Nutella

6 Things You Could Never Have Guessed Are Actually Italian Inventions

Italy’s contribution to culture and gastronomy is undisputable. From ancient Roman times to the present day, Italians keep coming up with ideas and inventions – and legendary culinary feats and restaurants – that shape not only Italian culture but transcend borders to influence other nations, too.

And even though the first examples that spring to mind when we think about things that were invented in Italy are quite obvious – raise your hand if you also thought of pizza or opera – there are quite a few things that hardly spring to mind, but are truly Italian!

1. Jeans

Although jeans are thought of as typical American clothing, they actually originated in Italy – even their name is a tip of the hat to their Italian birthplace, Genoa. When Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis first started out in manufacturing jeans, they used a fabric called denim – which is another reference to the French town Nîmes.

But weavers in Nîmes actually were trying to copy the sturdy cotton corduroy typical of Genoa – a cross-weaved, strong type of fabric used since the 15th century in Genoa by shipbuilders and merchants to make sails for their ships and work clothes.

It was sometimes dyed blue by indigo brought from India, which resulted in the name “bleu de Gênes” (blue from Genoa) when they were exported to France – ring a bell?

The name was converted into “blue jeans” in English.

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2. Shopping malls

Built around 107-110 AD, the awe-inspiring structure that was later named Trajan’s Market is the world’s first public shopping centre.

Ancient Romans would flock into this industrial complex that housed roughly 150 shops and offices across various levels – smaller shops would stand on the ground floor, where clients crowded the tiny entrances, while an arcade of shops was found on the higher level and most probably individual apartments on the last floor.

The entire left wing of this building marvel representative of Ancient Roman architecture that spread in the form of a hemicycle housed a covered shopping arcade.

3. Casinos

Human history is filled with games of chance – every civilization, from the Ancient Greeks to the Mayans, had their very own gambling games. Yet casino entertainment as such was born in Italy: the word casino itself is of Italian origin, as a derivative of the root word casa, which means house.

Casinos were originally country villas where people would take their summer holidays or social club. In 1638 the first casino establishment in the modern sense of the word opened its doors to the public – the Casino di Venezia, which still operates today.

Indeed, it wasn’t until the 19th century that the term extended to other public buildings – usually within or on the grounds of a larger villa – that housed various fun social activities, from dancing and music to sports and games of luck.

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4. Batteries

Yes, it was an Italian who brought this incredibly handy invention to the world – that in turn sparked the invention of numerous portable devices.

In 1791, Alessandro Volta, an Italian physicist and chemist from Como, published a paper in which he debunked the claims of fellow Italian Luigi Galvani – and the popular theory of the time – that electricity was produced only by living things. Volta proved instead that electricity could be generated chemically and went on to invent the first wet cell battery – now know as the voltaic pile.

Oh, in the process, he also discovered methane, set the foundations for the development of electrochemistry and had the SI unit of electric potential, the volt, named after him. Not bad at all.

5. Pretzels

Few foods are thought of as more typically German – but pretzels were actually invented by an Italian monk around 610 AD.

He came up with the baked goodies to reward children who were meticulous in learning their prayers and Bible verses; so legend has it that the shape of the folded dough is meant to resemble the crossed arms of children deep in prayer. Whether that is true or not remains a mystery, but he did call his invention pretiola, which means “little reward” in Latin, which later probably got distorted into pretzel.

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6. Nutella

This one many people probably suspected is Italian, and we are happy to confirm; yet any list of Italian inventions would be severely lacking if it did not mention the incredibly popular hazelnut chocolate spread: Nutella. The history behind it is fascinating; Nutella was invented by one Pietro Ferrero, a professional pastry maker.

Mr. Ferrero was seeking a solution to the cocoa shortage experienced in Italy during WWII – and he turned to the ingredient that his native Piedmont had in abundance: hazelnuts. He used hazelnut paste mixed with sugar and just a touch of the rare cocoa to invent the predecessor to the famous spread.

The list of course does not stop here – countless more inventions and products that sprung up in Italy have spread all over the world, creating a deep impact and many imitations or improved versions in other cultures.

Nutella maker fights back on palm oil after cancer risk study

ALBA, Italy (Reuters) – The $44 billion palm oil industry, under pressure in Europe after authorities listed the edible oil as a cancer risk, has found a vocal ally in the food sector: the maker of Nutella.

Italian confectionery firm Ferrero has taken a public stand in defense of an ingredient that some other food companies in the country are boycotting. It has launched an advertising campaign to assure the public about the safety of Nutella, its flagship product which makes up about a fifth of its sales.

The hazelnut and chocolate spread, one of Italy’s best-known food brands and a popular breakfast treat for children, relies on palm oil for its smooth texture and shelf life. Other substitutes, such as sunflower oil, would change its character, according to Ferrero.

“Making Nutella without palm oil would produce an inferior substitute for the real product, it would be a step backward,” Ferrero’s purchasing manager Vincenzo Tapella told Reuters. He features in a TV commercial aired in Italy over the past three months that has drawn criticism from some politicians.

Any move away from palm oil would also have economic implications as it is the cheapest vegetable oil, costing around $800 a ton, compared with $845 for sunflower oil and $920 for rapeseed oil, another possible substitute.

Ferrero uses about 185,000 tonnes of palm oil a year, so replacing it with those substitutes could cost the firm an extra $8-22 million annually, at those prices. The company declined to comment on these calculations.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) said in May that palm oil generated more of a potentially carcinogenic contaminant than other vegetable oils when refined at temperatures above 200 degrees Celsius. It did not, however, recommend consumers stop eating it and said further study was needed to assess the level of risk.

The detailed research into the contaminant – known as GE – was commissioned by the European Commission in 2014 after an EFSA study the year before, into substances generated during industrial refining, identified it as being potentially harmful.

EFSA does not have the power to make regulations, though the issue is under review by the European Commission. The spokesman for Health and Food Safety, Enrico Brivio, said guidance would be issued by the end of this year. Measures could include regulations to limit the level of GE in food products, but there will not be a ban on the use of palm oil, he added.

The World Health Organization and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization flagged the same potential risk that EFSA had warned of regarding GE, but did not recommend consumers stop eating palm oil. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration also has not banned the use of palm oil in food.

The issue became a hot consumer topic in Italy after the largest supermarket chain, Coop, boycotted palm oil in all its own-brand products following the EFSA study, describing the move as a “precaution”. Italy’s biggest baker, Barilla, also eliminated it and put “palm oil-free” labels on its wares.

The retailers’ decisions followed pressure from activists, including Italy’s main farming association Coldiretti and online food magazine Il Fatto Alimentare, which called on all food firms to stop using palm oil.

High temperatures are used to remove palm oil’s natural red color and neutralize its smell, but Ferrero says it uses an industrial process that combines a temperature of just below 200C and extremely low pressure to minimize contaminants.

The process takes longer and costs 20 percent more than high-temperature refining, Ferrero told Reuters. But it said this had allowed it to bring GE levels so low that scientific instruments find it hard to trace the chemical.

“The palm oil used by Ferrero is safe because it comes from freshly squeezed fruits and is processed at controlled temperatures,” Tapella says in the TV ad, which was filmed at the firm’s factory in the northern town of Alba and was accompanied by full-page ads in newspapers carrying the same message.

EFSA declined to comment on the possible risks of refining palm oil at lower temperatures.

ITALIAN SALES HIT

Ferrero is by no means the only big European food firm to keep using palm oil in its products since the EFSA report. The likes of Unilever and Nestle use it in products including chocolate, snacks and margarine.

The two companies said they were monitoring the contaminant issue and were working with their suppliers to keep GE at lowest possible levels.

Ferrero is the only big European food company to mount such a public defense of the use of the ingredient in its products following the EFSA opinion.

The company told Reuters it carried out “hundreds of thousands of tests” on contaminants in both the palm oil it uses and finished products.

Retail sales of Nutella in Italy fell by about 3 percent in the 12 months to the end of August, which Ferrero partly blamed on rivals promoting products as palm oil-free.

To address consumer concern the company launched its advertising campaign in September and says it is now showing results.

Nutella sales in Italy rose 4 percent in the last four months of 2016, said Alessandro D’Este, the head of Ferrero’s Italy business.

Global Nutella sales have been unaffected by the EFSA opinion and are growing at 5-6 percent annually, the company said. Family owned Ferrero, which is not publicly listed, did not disclose its sales for Europe outside its home market.

The group ended its fiscal year to August with total revenue of 10 billion euros ($10.5 billion), of which around 2 billion euros came from Nutella sales.

ENVIRONMENT CONCERNS

EFSA’s 284-page study comes on top of environmental concerns that have dogged the palm oil industry for several years. Green groups have accused the industry of causing deforestation.

Several firms using the ingredient, including Ferrero, say they buy palm oil certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, which works with producers to reduce the negative impacts of cultivation on the environment.

Tapella told Reuters that Nutella had contained palm oil since its creation in the 1960s and that the group relied only on palm plantations certified as sustainable.

Ferrero’s advertising campaign has drawn some political fire.

The anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, which is running neck-and-neck with the ruling Democratic Party in opinion polls, has asked the Italian advertising authority to block Ferrero’s campaign and fine it for misleading consumers on both health and environmental risks.

A spokeswoman for the advertising authority said it had yet to decide whether to reject the 5-Star complaint or take measures against Ferrero, adding that the process could take several more weeks.

The palm oil industry, dominated by producers in Malaysia and Indonesia, believes Ferrero is playing an important role in addressing what it regards as misconceptions among consumers.

“It is good that Ferrero has clarified that the palm oil they use is safe and sustainable,” said Yusof Basiron, chief executive of the Malaysian Palm Oil Council.

He said Malaysian producers had not suffered any impact on their European exports after the EFSA opinion. The Indonesian Palm Oil Association also said there had been no impact

By Francesca Landini and Giancarlo Navach

(Additional reporting by Emily Chow in Kuala Lumpur, Paul Sandle in London and Silke Koltrowitz in Zurich; Editing by Mark Bendeich and Pravin Char)