Sunday, February 13, 2011


An emergency-room doctor told my parents I had a chocolate allergy when I was five years old, meaning I became one of those kids whose Halloween bounty was stored far from reach. During junior high I joyfully discovered at a slumber party that I was no longer (or ever had been) allergic to chocolate, due to the giant bowl of M&M's that slept by my sleeping bag, and my not having to be rushed to the hospital. From sixteen years and on, my small disposable income from working at McDonald's couldn't be used to feed my secret chocolate habit, only because my Mom was still worried that chocolate could upset my asthma. When college started a few years later, I came into a small inheritance. With no adult supervision and money rotting in the bank, my immediate goal was to get my hands on some chocolate, and lots of it. And not just any deli counter chocolate; the good stuff. In the pre-internet days, it's a miracle that something like the amazing "Nestlé's International Collection" catalog fell into my greedy little hands, so I ordered up about $150 worth.

When the chocolate arrived I threw caution to the wind regarding my freshman ten turning into a freshman 25. The big box of exotic chocolate that was delivered—candy bars from Switzerland, bonbons from France and Belgium—made me the happiest kid in that New Jersey dorm. There was so much stash that I even didn't mind sharing with my suite mates. Hey no worries, that still left pounds of chocolate for me. So I ate it. At every meal. For three days. No other food was consumed, and I was extremely happy. Was it the beauty of chocolate indulgence after a childhood without chocolate, or the three different amphetamines and sugar that naturally occur in chocolate that made me so happy... probably both! I remember writhing on the dorm room floor with the shakes on the third day from all the chocolate. It was great—even with people standing over me calling me crazy—and I have no regrets.

Except one. On the last day of the choco-marathon, I noticed a certain similarity to the taste of all the chocolate. Most of this international stuff contained hazelnuts in some form or another. That's a thing in Europe, I learned, putting hazelnuts in chocolate more often than other nuts. A decade ago I wrote a research paper on this, asking why American-made candies contain nuts that aren't usually hazelnuts, yet the majority of European candies I've seen or tasted contain a proliferation of hazelnuts. The answer comes down to a simple matter of crop. While hazelnuts do grow in the U.S. now, peanuts and pecans were the early stars. Therefore, hazelnuts are still a secondary chocolate candy nut in this country (over-the-counter imported Toffifay notwithstanding).

In Europe, hazelnuts are put into fine chocolate as a whole nut, chopped, or most often as paste. People love this. The whole point of this is to say, to this day I cannot eat a hazelnut, and especially not when combined with chocolate. As a demure coffee flavoring, yes. As a finely chopped and toasted coating to a cookie, maybe though probably not. And forget about Nutella, a statement that yields freakish looks of horror from all who hear it. The reason is because Nutella has the consistency of all those fillings I consumed during my magical three-day European chocolate binge. I overdosed, and only have myself to blame.

Until we eat again,


  1. Maybe that's why I like Nutella so much -- less common than almonds and peanuts in chocolate and tastier.