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!

Everything You Need to Know About Activated Charcoal

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Activated charcoal is everywhere. Touted in alternative health circles as a versatile treatment for almost anything that ails you, its proponents claim that it clears up your acne, treats inflammation caused by "toxic mold," draws out the venom from a snake bite, eases a hangover, halts your farts, removes "toxins" from your body, and brightens your pearly whites.

But there's little to no evidence for these claims. Though charcoal has a very long history as a folk remedy—ancient Egyptians used it as a treatment for "odorous vapors from putrefying wounds"—for the past century or so, its medical use has primarily been in emergency rooms to treat overdose and poisoning cases. In most cases there just aren't any clinical studies to test its efficacy for any other use. Not only that, but experts who spoke with Mental Floss caution that these treatments might come with added risks, too.

WHAT IS "ACTIVATED CHARCOAL"?

Activated charcoal isn't quite the same thing as the briquettes you use in your grill. Though they're both made of residue left from burning carbon-rich organic materials like wood, peat, or coconut shells, activated charcoal is oxygenated, which makes it far more porous. To activate the charcoal, manufacturers use steam or hot air to erode its internal surface [PDF], which increases the outside surface area along with its adsorption rate—the capacity to bind materials to a surface. Because of those adsorption abilities, charcoal has earned a reputation as a kind of bodily super-cleanser.

When you ingest activated charcoal, it works as a "gastrointestinal decontaminant," attracting various chemicals from your stomach and digestive tract, and then eliminating them from the body. That's why it's so helpful in cases of poisoning or drug overdose: It adsorbs the dangerous substance so it doesn't enter your bloodstream, then simply passes right on through—and out of—your system.

FROM E.R. TO GOOP

Activated charcoal had been popular in certain health food circles for years when, in late 2014, Gwyneth Paltrow's website Goop featured a "charcoal lemonade" sold by a Californian juice bar on a list of the best juice cleanses for "a good old-fashioned detox." Today, the substance can be found in everything from facial masks and odor-dampening comforters to a wide range of food and drink: Chefs are using activated charcoal to create pitch-black cakes, cocktails, pizza crust, and ice cream that's taking Instagram by storm.

The tiny bit of activated charcoal in the occasional cocktail probably won't do any damage—but it's not a good idea to take the substance on a regular basis, according to Rachele Pojednic, a professor of nutrition at Simmons College. "When you ingest it, you can't target what it's going to interact with," she says, "so if you’re on certain medications, you need to be really careful."

Some have never been on board with the stuff, including the FDA and the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which recently started enforcing in restaurants a long-standing ban on activated charcoal. The agency—following FDA guidelines—considers it an "adulterated food."

IN CASE OF POISONING …

Aside from treatment for an overdose or poisoning, you don't need to take anything to "detox" your body: not a supplement, not a juice, not a soup. Nothing. That's what your liver is for.

"There's really no data to show that [activated charcoal] is going to do anything other than remove some pretty high-level ingested toxins" like the ones found in cases of poisoning or overdose, Pojednic says.

It's also dubious that activated charcoal can cure a hangover, as some alternative health practitioners recommend. "You feel a hangover because you're really dehydrated," she tells Mental Floss. "There's nothing in your system that needs to be extracted." While you might feel better after taking it, Pojednic says that's most likely because your hangover went away over time.

There are some risks associated with ingesting activated charcoal, too. Thanks to its adsorption abilities, charcoal can also take out all of the good chemicals in your system, including nutrients and the active ingredients in certain medications (like antidepressants) if taken around the same time.

BRUSH YOUR TEETH BLACK?

One of the most common products you'll find activated charcoal in is toothpaste; its advocates claim it whitens teeth. About a year ago, John Brooks, DDS, a dentist and researcher at the University of Maryland School of Dentistry, found himself getting questions from clinicians and students wondering what to tell their patients about activated charcoal toothpaste. He and two other professors reviewed the scientific literature and found that there's little evidence to support the claims of charcoal toothpastes because they haven't been tested. Brooks tells Mental Floss, "None of these charcoal toothpastes have undergone the rigors of scientific testing."

And, again, there are potential risks. While it's possible these toothpastes could whiten your teeth in the short term, they're so highly abrasive that they're likely to remove the enamel from your teeth too, which means your teeth won't stay white for long. Brooks also worries about patients regularly swishing known carcinogens—like silica and bentonite clay, which some charcoal toothpastes contain—around in their mouths. Moreover, he says, charcoal could potentially interfere with beneficial toothpaste ingredients, like fluoride.

IN THEORY, IT COULD HELP YOUR SKIN

The one cosmetic benefit of activated charcoal might be found in skincare products—maybe. As chemist Michelle Wong writes, "There isn't any good data on whether or not it works, but theoretically, it could work." It's possible activated charcoal's adsorption abilities could reach into your pores, pulling out the dirt and oils that get trapped there. But these products have not been rigorously tested, so we can't be certain about their efficacy. Wong also points out that activated charcoal typically takes several hours to have an effect, whereas most charcoal skincare products are applied for mere minutes.

The activated charcoal trend seems to be holding strong, despite the lack of evidence for its health claims. So eat that pitch-black ice cream every once in a while if you like, but don't count on it to improve your health.

Does Washing Your Fruits and Vegetables Really Do Anything?

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Washing produce is one of those habits that some people follow religiously and others shrug off altogether. If you're someone who struggles to find the motivation to cook in the first place, you might fall into the latter group. But cleaning your fruits and vegetables at home isn't just an outdated precaution: As Popular Mechanics reports, a thorough rinse could mean the difference between a meal that nourishes you and one that leaves you sick.

Produce is one common carrier of norovirus—a foodborne viral infection that triggers such symptoms as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. There's no way to know whether your lettuce is contaminated with harmful bacteria before it hits your plate, but cleaning it with plain tap water does make it safer to eat. According to USA Today, rinsing produce is effective enough to remove 90 percent of the pathogens left on it by the growing, harvesting, and shipping process. Rinsing is also a good way to remove any of the visible matter you don't want eat, such as grit and soil.

Cleaning your fruits and vegetables is definitely an improvement over eating them straight from your crisper drawer, but be warned that this isn't a foolproof way to avoid food poisoning. Water won't remove all the microbes living on the surface of your food, and even an extremely thorough rinse isn't enough to make produce contaminated with potentially deadly bacteria like E. coli safe to eat. But that doesn't mean the risk outweighs the benefits of including produce in your diet.

If you have a pile of veggies that need to be prepared for dinner, the best way to make them safer for consumption is to rinse them under cold water and rub them in a bowl of water, starting with the cleanest items and progressing to the produce that's more soiled. Give all the food a final rinse before moving it to the cutting board. Peeling the outside of your produce and cooking it when possible is another effective way to kill or remove stubborn bacteria.

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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