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The First “Chocolate Chip” Was a Molasses Candy

The name “chocolate chip” goes back much farther than the Toll House cookies

Chocolate chips as we know and love them today. (iStock)
smithsonian.com

The “chocolate chip” name got around a bit before finally settling on the sweet bits we know and devour today.

The origins of the modern chocolate chip lie with Ruth Wakefield, the woman who created the Toll House cookie in the 1930s. But the name “chocolate chip” is older than that, writes Kate Erbland for Mental Floss.

It started with an English recipe for tea biscuits—sweet cookies you dipped in your tea—she writes. The original “Chocolate Chips” were small cookies that probably bore a resemblance to the original kind of “chips,” according to Merriam-Webster: chips of wood. The recipe was a bit like chocolate shortbread, and the "chip" name came from the small squares the cookies were cut into.

Then in 1892, Erbland writes, “the ‘chip’ title was first applied to candy, as a Kaufmanns candy ad from the time boasted of their supply of ‘chocolate chips.’” Other candy stores quickly caught on, she writes. But the chocolate chips they were making weren’t the modern candy: a court case in 1897 over the trademark for “Trowbridge Chocolate Chips” said the candies bearing that name were “thin oblong pieces of molasses coated in chocolate,” she writes.

Trowbridge Chocolate Chips were manufactured in Crawford County, Pennsylvania by candymaker and restaurant owner William S. Trowbridge.  According to Janet Beanland for the Meadville Tribune, a young Trowbridge “earned money making taffy and selling it house-to-house."

Later in life, he owned a candy store and improved on his original molasses taffy recipe by adding a chocolate coating. His popular candies were soon in nationwide demand, she writes, and Trowbridge opened a factory in Meadville which, at its biggest, employed about 100 people.

But Trowbridge’s success didn’t last. “In 1916 the factory was gutted by fire,” she writes, “and insurance was insufficient to replace lost machinery.” Although he had an offer from a bigger candymaker to rebuild the factory and keep the Trowbridge name on the product, she writes, he turned it down. Instead, he opened a restaurant in town and ran it until 1932, dying in 1936 with his "chocolate chip" recipe—which he never wrote down—still in his head.

The chocolate chip in its modern incarnation belongs with Ruth Wakefield, a baking expert who ran the Toll House Inn in Massachusetts. She first called them “Toll House Chocolate Crunch Cookies,” writes Erbland, and then—after she sold the recipe to Nestle—"Toll House Cookies.” The “chocolate chip” name wasn’t associated with the cookies until “some time in 1940,” she writes, “thanks to various newspaper articles and recipes about various cookies and their popularity.” The rest is history.

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