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A Brief History of the Chocolate Chip

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Celebrating National Chocolate Chip Day—not a federal holiday, at least not yet—should be easy enough for all the classic dessert lovers and cookie aficionados out there. Just grab a bag of some chocolate morsels, whip them into some delectable cookie dough, and have at it. But have you ever wondered where exactly the chocolate chip came from? Who invented it? Who decided it was best for baking? Should we be calling it a “chip” or a “morsel”? We’ve got all those answers—and more!—in our brief history of the chocolate chip.

THE TOLL HOUSE MYTH


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Chances are, you’ve made (or at least eaten) a Nestle Toll House chocolate chip cookie at some point in your life. The baking bits purveyor has long stamped their “Nestle Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookie” recipe on the back of their various morsel packages (and yes, all Nestle packages refer to them as “morsels,” not “chips,” but we’ll get to that later), so it’s no surprise that most people associate the famous cookie with Nestle.

They’ve even got a whole story to go along with the kinda-sorta myth of the Toll House cookie. The traditional tale holds that Toll House Inn owner Ruth Wakefield invented the cookie when she ran out of baker’s chocolate, a necessary ingredient for her popular Butter Drop Do cookies (which she often paired with ice cream—these cookies were never meant to be the main event), and tried to substitute some chopped up semi-sweet chocolate instead. The chocolate was originally in the form of a Nestle bar that was a gift from Andrew Nestle himself—talk about an unlikely origin story! The semi-sweet chunks didn’t melt like baker’s chocolate, however, and though they kept their general shape (you know, chunky), they softened up for maximum tastiness. (There’s a whole other story that imagines that Wakefield ran out of nuts for a recipe, replacing them with the chocolate chunks.)

The recipe was such a hit (it first popped up in Wakefield’s Tried and True cookbook in 1938, and it even appeared on Betty Crocker’s radio show, thanks to its massive popularity) that Wakefield eventually struck a deal with Nestle: They would feature her recipe on the back of every bar of semi-sweet chocolate the company sold, and she’d get a lifetime supply of their chocolate. 

THE FAMOUS RECIPE


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Sounds great, right? Well, even if the story wasn’t exactly true (more on that later), it did spawn a classic recipe that’s still the gold standard of chocolate chip cookie recipes, even though it’s been slightly tweaked over the years. You can find the original recipe here. Try it!

THE REAL ORIGIN


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The problem with the classic Toll House myth is that it doesn't mention that Wakefield was an experienced and trained cook—one not likely to simply run out of things, let accidents happen in her kitchen, or randomly try something out just to see if it would end up with a tasty result. As author Carolyn Wyman posits in her Great American Chocolate Chip Cookie Book, Wakefield most likely knew exactly what she was doing, and while that doesn’t dilute how delicious the final product ended up being, it does make its mythic origin story seem just a smidge less magical. 

Even less magical? The truth about the deal Wakefield struck with Nestle. While Wakefield did indeed get free chocolate for the rest of her life and the company paid her to work as a consultant, she was reportedly due a single dollar for her recipe and the good “Toll House” name—a dollar she never got.

CHIPS VERSUS MORSELS


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Although we call the cookies that bear them "chocolate chip," the proper name for said chips is actually “morsels”—at least if you’re Nestle.

The moniker “chip” appears to have first popped up in the late nineteenth century, as part of an English tea biscuit recipe for “Chocolate Chips.” These chips, however, referred to the biscuits’ shape—they were cut out of the pan into small strips that the recipe deemed as being “chips.” Interestingly, the recipe did call for actual chocolate—but of the melted variety, not the morsel.

In 1892, the “chip” title was first applied to candy, as a Kaufmanns candy ad from the time boasted of their supply of “chocolate chips.” A year later, another candy store advertised their own chocolate chip candies. Not so fast, though, because it doesn’t seem like those chips had much to do with morsels as we know them; an 1897 court case involving the use of the trademarked name “Trowbridge Chocolate Chips” described the chips in question as “thin oblong pieces of molasses candy coated with chocolate.” This thin candy business continued into the 1930s, when Wakefield’s recipe hit the world.

Wakefield’s first published chocolate chip cookie recipe was actually called “Toll House Chocolate Crunch Cookies.” When Nestle began publicizing the recipe, they simply became “Toll House Cookies.” Since no one had bothered to invent pre-made chunks, morsels, or chips at that time, Wakefield’s recipe graced the back of semi-sweet bars, which all included an individual cutter to chunk up the bars for cookie-making. The famous cookies finally got the “chip” moniker some time in 1940, thanks to various newspaper articles and recipes about various cookies and their popularity. By 1941, “chocolate chip cookies” was considered the standard name for the sweet treat.

Also in 1940, Nestle finally unveiled morsels for sale, and ads from the time tout the availability of both bars and morsels. Since then, Nestle has shared its famous chocolate chip recipe, all while selling its most important ingredient as “morsels” (other brands, like Hershey’s and Ghirardelli, call them “chips”).

THE FAMOUS IMITATORS

Although Nestlé’s morsels and Wakefield’s recipe pioneered the great chocolate chip cookie trail, they weren’t the only ones—there were plenty of imitators. In the '50s, both Nestle and Pillsbury rolled out premade cookie dough for purchase. In 1963, Chips Ahoy hit shelves, thanks to Nabisco. By the time the '70s rolled around, entire stores were dedicated to cookie sales—including chocolate chips—like Famous Amos, Mrs. Fields, and David’s Cookies. What do they all have in common? That necessary chip. Er, morsel.

Happy Chocolate Chip Day!

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Big Questions
Why Does Asparagus Make Your Pee Smell Funny?
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The asparagus has a long and storied history. It was mentioned in the myths and the scholarly writings of ancient Greece, and its cultivation was the subject of a detailed lesson in Cato the Elder's treatise, On Agriculture. But it wasn't until the turn of the 18th century that discussion of the link between asparagus and odorous urine emerged. In 1731, John Arbuthnot, physician to Queen Anne, noted in a book about food that asparagus "affects the urine with a foetid smell ... and therefore have been suspected by some physicians as not friendly to the kidneys." Benjamin Franklin also noticed that eating asparagus "shall give our urine a disagreeable odor."

Since then, there has been debate over what is responsible for the stinky pee phenomenon. Polish chemist and doctor Marceli Nencki identified a compound called methanethiol as the cause in 1891, after a study that involved four men eating about three and a half pounds of asparagus apiece. In 1975, Robert H. White, a chemist at the University of California at San Diego, used gas chromatography to pin down several compounds known as S-methyl thioesters as the culprits. Other researchers have blamed various "sulfur-containing compounds" and, simply, "metabolites."

More recently, a study demonstrated that asparagusic acid taken orally by subjects known to produce stinky asparagus pee produced odorous urine, which contained the same volatile compounds found in their asparagus-induced odorous urine. Other subjects, who normally didn't experience asparagus-induced odorous urine, likewise were spared stinky pee after taking asparagusic acid.

The researchers concluded that asparagusic acid and its derivatives are the precursors of urinary odor (compared, in different scientific papers, to the smell of "rotten cabbage," "boiling cabbage" and "vegetable soup"). The various compounds that contribute to the distinct smell—and were sometimes blamed as the sole cause in the past—are metabolized from asparagusic acid.

Exactly how these compounds are produced as we digest asparagus remains unclear, so let's turn to an equally compelling, but more answerable question:

WHY DOESN'T ASPARAGUS MAKE YOUR PEE SMELL FUNNY?

Remember when I said that some people don't produce stinky asparagus pee? Several studies have shown that only some of us experience stinky pee (ranging from 20 to 40 percent of the subjects taking part in the study, depending on which paper you read), while the majority have never had the pleasure.

For a while, the world was divided into those whose pee stank after eating asparagus and those whose didn't. Then in 1980, a study complicated matters: Subjects whose pee stank sniffed the urine of subjects whose pee didn't. Guess what? The pee stank. It turns out we're not only divided by the ability to produce odorous asparagus pee, but the ability to smell it.

An anosmia—an inability to perceive a smell—keeps certain people from smelling the compounds that make up even the most offensive asparagus pee, and like the stinky pee non-producers, they're in the majority.

Producing and perceiving asparagus pee don't go hand-in-hand, either. The 1980 study found that some people who don't produce stinky pee could detect the rotten cabbage smell in another person's urine. On the flip side, some stink producers aren't able to pick up the scent in their own urine or the urine of others.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Food
15 Rich Facts About Fudge
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You probably know the basics about this decadent dessert: It's rich, it's creamy, and it comes in a variety of mouth-watering flavors. (Red velvet cake batter fudge? Yes please!) But there is plenty more fun trivia to digest. In honor of National Fudge Day, we’re serving up the sweetest morsels.

1. WHEN THE DESSERT WAS INVENTED, IT CHANGED THE PREVIOUS MEANING OF FUDGE.

In the late 17th century, fudge was a verb meaning "to fit together or adjust [clumsily]." Then around 1800, the word was used to mean a hoax or cheat. By mid-century, the use of the term “Oh, fudge!” as a kid-friendly expletive had come into favor, and was often used when something had been messed up. It’s believed that the first batch of fudge was created when someone was trying to make caramels and “fudged” up. The name stuck.

2. IT HAS STRONG TIES TO BALTIMORE.

The earliest origin story for fudge dates back to 1921, when Emelyn Battersby Hartridge, a former Vassar student, wrote a letter describing her introduction to the treat. She claims that while attending classes in 1886, a classmate's cousin living in Baltimore made the dessert, and this was her first knowledge of it. She also mentions a grocery store, probably in Baltimore, that sold fudge for 40 cents a pound.

3. THE TREAT BECAME WILDLY POPULAR AT VASSAR.

Two years after discovering fudge, Battersby Hartridge got ahold of the recipe and made 30 pounds of it for the Vassar Senior Auction. In Vassar, The Alumnae/i Quarterly, they claim the sweet became so favored that “students would make it in the middle of the night, dangerously diverting the gas from their lamps for the task.”

4. STILL, IT TOOK A WHILE FOR COMPANIES TO MASS-PRODUCE IT.

Skuse’s Complete Confectioner was known as a guide for all things dessert—but the first editions of the book, printed in the late 1800s, didn’t include any recipes for fudge. In later editions, they made up for lost time, including recipes for rainbow fudge (food colorings), Mexican fudge (raisins, nuts, and coconut), maple fudge, and three types of chocolate fudge.

5. AMERICANS MAY HAVE STOLEN THE CONCEPT FROM THE SCOTS.

Fudge is thought to be a descendent of tablet—a medium-hard confection from Scotland. The two treats use similar ingredients, but fudge is richer, softer, and slightly less grainy than its European cousin.

6. THERE'S A WORLD RECORD FOR THE LARGEST SLAB.

The 5760-pound behemoth was crafted at the Northwest Fudge Factory in Ontario, Canada in 2010. It reportedly took a full week to make, and while ingredients aren't available for this record, the previous record holder contained 705 pounds of butter, 2800 pounds of chocolate, and 305 gallons of condensed milk.

7. MAKING FUDGE TAKES SOME SCIENCE.

Early fudge recipes were prone to disaster, with one 1902 magazine explaining "fudge is one of the most difficult confections to make properly." With candy thermometers not becoming commonplace for several years, most recipes required boiling and hoping for the best. Eventually more foolproof recipes were created that included corn syrup (which helps prevent the crystallization that can result in a gritty texture) and condensed milk or marshmallow crème.

8. IT'S NOT ALL THAT DIFFERENT THAN FONDANT.

Fudge is actually a drier version of fondant—not the stiff, malleable kind so often seen on cake decorating shows, but the kind found in candies like peppermint patties and cherry cordials. 

9. A TINY ISLAND IN MICHIGAN CONSIDERS ITSELF THE FUDGE CAPITAL OF THE WORLD.

There are upwards of a dozen fudge shops on 4.35-square mile Mackinac Island in northern Michigan. (Permanent population on the tourist destination: just shy of 500, per the 2010 census.) The oldest candy shop on the island, Murdick’s Candy Kitchen, opened in 1887, while May's Candy claims to be the oldest fudge shop.

10. MACKINAC ISLAND CRANKS OUT OVER 10,000 POUNDS OF FUDGE DAILY DURING PEAK SEASON.

For production, fudge makers ship in about 10 tons of sugar each week and roughly 10 tons of butter each year. Every August, the island hosts the Mackinac Island Fudge Festival, complete with events like Fudge on the Rocks, where local bartenders craft fudge-y libations.

11. FIRST LADY MAMIE EISENHOWER WAS A HUGE FUDGE FAN.

She even crafted her own recipe—named Mamie’s Million-Dollar Fudge—which her husband, Ike, quite liked. It included chopped nuts and marshmallow crème.

12. THE HOT FUDGE SUNDAE WAS CREATED IN HOLLYWOOD.

C.C. Brown’s, an iconic ice cream parlor on Hollywood Boulevard, was credited for dreaming up the idea to drizzle melted fudge over ice cream in 1906 (earlier sundaes had other syrups, like cherry). Sadly, the shop closed in 1996, but the treat remains popular.

13. THE BRITS HAD A SWEET NAME FOR FUDGE.

A description of fudge, found in the 1920 tome Harmsworth’s Household Encyclopedia, read, “A sweetmeat that hails from America, but is now popular in other countries.” (To be fair, in the UK the term "sweetmeat” is applied to a variety of sweet treats.)

14. AT ONE POINT, YOU COULD BUY A LIFETIME SUPPLY OF FUDGE.

Harry Ryba, known as the fudge king of Mackinac Island, once offered to mail out a lifetime supply of the candy—three pounds a month—to any customer willing to pay $2250 upfront. “A lifetime, being yours or mine, whichever ends sooner,” he said, per The New York Times. Not a bad deal, considering he passed away at age 88.

15. FUDGE CAN KEEP FOR A LONG TIME.

Airtight packages of the confection can be frozen and stored up to a year without losing any flavor, which means that you can feel free to give in to temptation and buy a larger chunk while on vacation this year. And about that lifetime supply…

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