The Dutch like to start their mornings with toast coated in butter and chocolate sprinkles. And considering the Netherlands is the sixth-happiest country in the world, maybe we could take a cue from them.
While most European-style breakfasts usually consist of toast, an assortment of jams, perhaps some cold cuts and fruit, another feature is often the presence of chocolate. And for the Dutch, this comes in the form of chocolate sprinkles.
They call the sprinkles hagelslag, which are shaken onto buttered toast ― and this is a common breakfast item, not just a rare treat. The sprinkles are usually chocolate, but sometimes come in other fruity flavors or even in the form of chocolate shavings.
As a small child, my Dutch aunt would bring the tradition of hagelslag to the States when she came to visit, and we were befuddled. I would savor the chocolate sprinkles, but only after I’d eaten lunch, because my mother would never let me have it first thing in the morning. Chocolate for breakfast was unheard of at our house, despite the fact that so many American breakfast foods ― ahem, Cookie Crisp and Cocoa Puffs ― are loaded with sugar and even chocolate.
After a deep dive into sprinkle culture and talking to a few Dutch people about why they love hagelslag, I learned that hagelslag makes breakfast whimsical and sweet without sacrificing quality. Breakfast doesn’t always have to be chock full of superfoods or overnight oats to be what starts a day off right.
Chocolate For Breakfast
From pain au chocolat in France to Nutella’s Italian origins, chocolate is prevalent in breakfasts all over Europe. As a Dutch American living in Paris, Marja van der Loo has noticed that chocolate actually has a pretty prominent presence at the breakfast table.
She told HuffPost via email that chocolate is not forbidden at the breakfast table in the Netherlands but rather, it’s a common item. The Dutch are not alone in Europe — her husband, who is French, explained to her, “When you’re a kid, you don’t drink coffee or tea, so you have hot chocolate.”
She continued, “In Spain, they drink hot chocolate that is practically pudding with churros for breakfast,” while her young nieces and nephews in France often have a jar of chocolate spread for their toast in the morning, alongside fresh fruit, cheeses and juice. She noted, “In fact, in France and Italy they have a stronger chocolate-at-breakfast culture than I think the Dutch do ... I guess what seems unique about hagelslag is not that it’s chocolate, but that it’s sprinkles.”
How Hagelslag Got Its Start
While it may be unclear who first invented sprinkles, the Dutch have been eating them for centuries.
In fact, according to writer Marcia Simmons, whose mother is Dutch and grew up eating hagelslag in the United States, sprinkles have been a part of Dutch culture for so long that they are even a part of celebrating a new Dutch life. She told HuffPost that “in the 1400s, the Dutch sprinkled sugared anise seeds on crisp biscuits called rusk bread. Typically, this would be a part of a baby’s baptism celebration. By the 1800s, colorful sugared anise seeds became a commercial product called ‘muisjes,’ which means little mice.” And this tradition continues today. Van der Loo, who recently had a baby in Paris, said that she had muisjes on hand to greet any friends or family stopping by to pay a visit.
While muisjes are a celebration sprinkle, it appears hagelslag is the breakfast sprinkle, providing a flurry of sweetness to start the day off right. Simmons tells me that “it wasn’t until the 1900s that chocolate and fruit flavors came into the mix under the name hagelslag,” which roughly translates to “hailstorm,” as the sound of falling sprinkles evokes falling hail.
How To Eat Hagelslag
Armed with four boxes of hagelslag, I learned very quickly the different ways and best techniques for optimal hagelslag consumption. Van der Loo tells me that while rusk toasts are compulsory of muisjes, any type of bread is fine for hagelslag. The only rule is that butter is necessary as a sprinkle adhesive. Simmons advises that “the butter should be cold and thick enough that the sprinkles stick to the bread rather than melting or rolling off.”
But other than that, hagelslag is all about creating your own little bit of breakfast magic. Van der Loo also gives me a few pointers, saying, “[eating hagelslag] is one of those things, families and people will have their favorite way to do it. Some people then like to put it in the toaster [oven] so the chocolate melts a little. Most typically people eat these open-faced. Another favorite is to spread peanut butter first and then sprinkle hagelslag over that.”
And if you are still hesitant to feed you or your children a literal hailstorm of sprinkles first thing in the morning, know this: both van der Loo and Simmons said the sprinkles have to have a certain amount of chocolate/cacao content in order for it to be marketed for hagelslag. Van der Loo explained, “The chocolate is good!! American sprinkles are often waxy, shitty, fake chocolate. Hagelslag, even the cheap brands, are better-quality chocolate then the sprinkles you buy for cake decorating in the States.” More officially, Simmons said that by Dutch law, hagelslag must contain a minimum 35 percent cacao content while something like a Hershey’s bar requires only 11 percent.
Maybe we should take a page from the European playbook and break our fast with a sprinkle of chocolate. After all, who wouldn’t want to start their day with a little hailstorm of chocolate sprinkles?