origin of ‘gianduja’ (chocolate and ground hazelnuts)

The Italian noun gianduia (improperly gianduja) appeared in the 19th century to denote a soft confection made with chocolate and ground hazelnuts, first produced in Turin, the capital of Piedmont, a region in north-western Italy, in the foothills of the Alps. (The Italian name is Piemonte, from piede, foot, and monte, mount.)

This confection was named after Gianduia, Gianduja, a stock character in commedia dell’arte and Italian puppetry depicted as a jovial Piedmontese peasant with a fondness for wine. The Standard (London) of 13th July 1864 published the following from its correspondent in Italy about “the farce which concludes the evening” at the “diurnal theatre” in Turin:

The dramas most in favour at the diurnal theatre are of a florid character, with much hard breathing and withering sarcasm, and display all the physical and moral peculiarities of the romantic and sensational schools of art. But the principal part is always sustained by the comic personage, […] generally one of our old friends Gianduja, Meneghino, and Stenterello, who, as you know, are the traditional personifications of Piedmont, Lombardy, and Tuscany. If the play be of Venetian origin, Brighella and Arlecchino are substituted for the worthies above-named. Each of them has his own peculiar costume, character, and mode of speech, but all of them are strictly representatives of the people, with its ready mother wit, with its quaint mixture of shrewdness and simplicity, with its little knaveries and its innate goodness of heart; and all of them, it may be added, are infinitely more characteristic and amusing than the heavy, unlovable John Bull, whom we have strangely consented to accept as our national type, and who has never been known to say a good thing in all his life. Perhaps the nearest parallel that could be found upon the English stage is the now almost obsolete “Irishman” of past generations. But the most noticeable peculiarity about our Italian friends is that wherever they may be, and whatever they may do, their appearance and actions excite no manner of surprise or question. Just as the fashionable tailor or the surgical instrument maker in an English pantomime are perfectly ready to accept the proffered services of Clown and Pantaloon as assistant shopmen, in spite of their grotesque attire and preposterous behaviour, and even submit to be repeatedly beaten and kicked by them during the course of the negociations [sic], so Stenterello and his congeners, with their funny little coats of the last century, their variegated stockings, their quaint wigs and club tails, and their local vernacular and allusions, are admitted as self-evident facts, perfectly natural and requiring no explanation by the ancient Greeks, the Arabs, or the Englishmen in whose company they may be thrown for the time being, according to the exigencies of the piece represented. A century or two will perhaps pass away before these singular creations lose their freshness, for they are the result of the ancient political divisions of the peninsula; but at the same time they bear evidence in their way to the substantial unity of the Italian people, for the sallies of Gianduja are almost as popular in Milan as at the foot of the Alps, and the Florentines are nearly as fond of Meneghino and Brighella as of their home-sprung Stenterello. The representation of these semi-ideal personages is the specialty of a more or less distinguished actor; but the other members of a “diurnal” company are generally what in England are called “sticks,” and in Italy, “cani.”

The name of the dramatic character is usually said to represent a contraction of Piedmontese Giôan d’la dôja, literally John of the jug, or of the tankard, in allusion to the flagon of wine with which he is usually depicted. The Hull and Eastern Counties Herald (Yorkshire) of 15th April 1869 reported:

The annual Italian wine fair (Fiera di Gianduja) has just been held at Turin. One hundred and eighty-three wine growers took part in it, sending 148,000 bottles of 300 varieties. The jury was presided over by a Frenchman, who declared that considerable progress had been made since last year, but that the Italian produce could not as yet compete with that of France or Spain.

The character was used in the mid-19th century in various political satires as a symbol of Piedmont. For example, The Standard (London) of 30th March 1860 published the following:


The Fischietto, of Turin, has a humorous illustration of the effect produced on the public mind by the rumours of excommunication. The last caricature of that periodical represents Gianduja, the Piedmontese John Bull, who is typically a merry-eyed, rosy-cheeked little man, in the costume of the last century composedly lighting his pipe at one of the forked extremities of the Papal lightning.

This caricature alludes to the excommunication of Victor Emmanuel II (1820-78), king of Sardinia-Piedmont, by Pope Pius IX (Giovanni Maria Mastai-Ferretti – 1792-1878) after the seizure of the Papal States during the Italian unification.

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