A brief history of Dutch sprinkles a.k.a. hagelslag
There's no doubt about it: hagelslag is a traditional Dutch food. It is impossible to go to a Dutch supermarket without spotting little boxes filled with sprinkles on the shelves. These sprinkles are a favourite of the Dutch nation - yes even adults - and are said to contribute to their ranking as one of the happiest people in the world, (although this is unconfirmed)
What is hagelslag?
Hagelslag gets its name from its resemblance to hail, but the word doesn’t just refer to the chocolate variety of the sprinkles, which are particularly popular. Instead, the name refers to the sandwich topping in all its varieties and flavours.
In the supermarket, you can find around 20 varieties including aniseed, fruit and forest fruits flavoured sprinkles, as well as chocolate hagelslag (milk, white and dark), extra-large sprinkles, chocolate flakes (chocoladevlokken) and low-sugar versions.
When was hagelslag invented?
According to the Amsterdam City Archives, hagelslag was first invented by B.E. Dieperink, director of the liquorice sweet company VENCO, in 1919. He came upon the idea of making brittle, white aniseed-flavoured sprinkles and using them as a bread topping during a hailstorm on a bleak autumn day, apparently. Hagelslag became extremely popular and VENCO started delivering their hagelslag to bakers and supermarkets.
VENCO patented the name hagelslag. This meant that companies, such as De Ruijter who began making fruit-flavoured hagelslag in 1928, were not allowed to use the name “hagelslag”. Instead, De Ruijter named their products with the flavour of the sprinkles followed by “hagel”, for example fruit sprinkles were called vruchtenhagel. De Ruijter proved competition for VENCO with their lemon, raspberry, orange and aniseed flavours.
Less than a decade later, in 1936, Venz, a company producing chocolate and confectionery, began making chocolate hagelslag, which received the name chocoladehagel due to the patent. The idea to create chocolate hagelslag was supposedly the result of letters the Venz company received from a young boy requesting a chocolate topping for his bread.
The chocolate sprinkles must contain at least 32 percent cocoa to be called chocoladehagelslag. After the Second World War, manufacturers starting developing and introducing all the flavours and varieties of hagelslag we see today.
Different names for hagelslag
Hagelslag is available in the Netherlands, but also in Belgium and a couple of former Dutch colonies such as Suriname, the Dutch Antilles and Indonesia. Outside of these countries, hagelslag or sprinkles are usually used to decorate cakes or as a topping for ice cream.
In other countries, the names for hagelslag differ. In Belgium, hagelslag is referred to as muizenstrontjes, which translates to mouse droppings. In Indonesia, it is called meses or meises.
Baby celebration tradition
Muisjes®, which translates to mice, are another typical topping you can find in Dutch supermarkets, and they also look a little bit like sprinkles. They are little aniseeds covered with sugar and are a typical accompaniment to buttered rusks (beschuit met Muisjes®). Muisjes® and rusks are eaten at the celebration of a birth. They have been around for quite some time.
In 1860, C.R. de Ruijter opened a bakery in Baarn and started selling the pink and white aniseed treat. Shortly after offering the regular Muisjes® variety, De Ruijter began making crushed ones so that the elderly could enjoy them without worrying about what the harder Muisjes® would do to their teeth.
In 1938, De Ruijter made special orange Muisjes® to offer to Princess Juliana and Prince Bernhard at the birth of their daughter Princess Beatrix. Since then, the offering of orange Muisjes® at the birth of a Prince or Princess of Orange has become a tradition.
Nowadays, blue or pink ones are eaten at the celebration of the birth of a baby boy or girl. The blue variety was introduced in 1994.
*Muisjes® is a registered trademark of Koninklijke De Ruijter B.V.