The untold truth of Kit Kat

Nestled on the foothills of the Pocono Mountains in Hazelton, Pennsylvania, there's a Zero-Waste-to-Landfill Hershey factory that has the capacity to churn out an estimated 390,000 Kit Kat bars in one day to (via Business Wire and Forbes). Based on U.S. Census estimates from 2019, that's roughly enough to feed the population of New Orleans. That's a lot of chocolate and wafters but not close to what would be needed to satisfy mankind's collective Kit Kat craving.

When Time Magazine names you one of the 13 most-influential candy bars of all time and describes you as a "global obsession," you know you've made it big. The candy bar has been popular at least since World War II when they fed English soldiers on the frontlines (via Spoon University). Today, among its namesakes the candy bar can count a (now outdated) Android operating system; a Filipina actress, singer, and comedian (it's true, check out her Instagram), and a litany of urban slang phrases with a host of R-rated connotations, ranging from the sexual to overtly violent (via Urban Dictionary). 

So the next time you're taking a break of your favorite four-fingered chocolate treat – do you eat them like Kourtney and Kim Kardashian, who insist on a meticulous six-step, and four-minute consumption process that broke the internet in 2016 (via Elite Daily)? – munch on these facts. 

How Kit Kats reached cultlike status in Japan

What Kit Kat flavor is your favorite? Mint and dark chocolate? Lemon crisp? Or maybe you want an all-American flavor like the limited-edition Apple Pie. If, on the other hand, you're longing to try a wasabi-, matcha-, or sake-flavored bar, you could book a plane to Japan (via The New York Times), where Kit Kats "maintain a singular, cultlike status." In the decades since Kit Kats came to the island country in 1973, eager consumers have been able to choose from nearly 400 different flavors, some of them, location-specific. (For an adzuki bean-sandwich bar, head to the city of Nagoya). 

There are entire boutique stores dedicated to the delectable, chocolate-covered wafers. And in August 2020, Japanese Kit Kat fanatics began making their own Kit Kat bars in a special, do-it-yourself shop. There, customers choose between milk, bitter, or ruby chocolate coverings, and 17 different topping options, including coconut, dried raspberry, marshmallows, and edible flowers (via Japan Today

But wait. The Japanese Kit Kat obsession doesn't stop there. The chocolate snack is such a big part of the country's culinary repertoire, that (also in Ausgut 2020) Nestle Japan and Japanese craft brewer, DD4D Brewing, partnered up to release a Kit Kat-inspired beer. No kidding. It's a chocolate almond milk stout, and its brewers use the same cacao powder that Japan's Kit Kat manufacturers do (via Japan Today). We haven't tried it, but it's definitely made our bucket list. 

What goes into a Kit Kat bar?

Sample a Japanese Kit Kat, and you'll notice that it tastes different than its US relative. That's no accident. Nestle manufactures Kit Kats everywhere in the world — except the United States. In the US, Hershey has held the claim to the Kit Kat name since 1969, when Kit Kat's parent company, Rowntree, sold them the rights (via Spoon University). Be that as it may, the manufacturing process for Kit Kats is proprietary, on a global level (The United States, included) to Nestle. They keep it under a proverbial lock and key (via Today)

Here's what we do know. Regional variations are presumably acceptable. To make chocolate, Nestle purchases its cacao beans from West Africa. Hershey buys its beans from both West Africa and Latin America. And while Nestle uses milk crumb for Kit Kats in the UK, in Japan they use whole-milk powder. Hershey uses nonfat milk and milk fat. As for the filling? In the UK, the insides of a Kit Kat are made from cocoa liquor, sugar, and – wait for it – ground-up Kit Kats. "Yup, we're questioning everything we've ever known, too," wrote Today when they found out. 

There is one thing that Nestle will never compromise on. The wafer. As  New York Times journalist Tejal Rao wrote, theNestle wafers' "highest purpose is the nuance of its crunch." In Japan, the art of the wafer is so holy that if they don't live up to standards, they become animal feed.

Are Kit Kats made sustainably?

Hershey proudly announced that it reached its goal of using 100 percent "certified and sustainable" cocoa by 2020. The company, which sources exclusively from Fairtrade and Rainforest Alliance-certified suppliers, has also taken admirable steps in sharing its supply chain with the world. While they're big strides, worrying gaps remain. For example, Hershey has only identified 91 percent of its suppliers in Cote d'Ivoire and 86 percent of them in Ghana. As Washington Post investigators who traveled to Cote d'Ivoire in 2019 documented, child labor is still prevalent on many Western African cocoa farms. And when The Post reached out to Hershey for comment, they couldn't guarantee that child labor wasn't involved in producing any of their chocolate. Both the Rainforest Alliance and Fairtrade certifications prohibit child labor, of course. In the past, however, farms have successfully hidden children from auditors, and inspections are few and far between.

Then there's the matter of the palm oil that Hershey uses to make its Kit Kat bars. Hershey may buy cocoa from sustainable suppliers, but the company faced criticism in 2019 when a Rainforest Action Network report accused them of buying illegally sourced palm oil, linking such purchases to deforestation in Indonesia (via Business Insider). When asked to comment, Hershey, could not confirm or deny. "We have no way of knowing if palm oil from these mills actually made its way into the oil that was sold to Hershey by our direct suppliers," said a company spokesperson.