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It’s not often that lexicographers can say of a recently created word that it’s already defunct (they mark it historical, but that’s what they mean). This rare situation has arisen with this word vegelate, which has had a good run in the corridors and debating chambers of the European Union, but has finally been laid to rest.

Some European countries greatly dislike British milk chocolate, in their view a bastard concoction that ought not to stand alongside the glories of the product from Belgium and France (the Swiss make chocolate, of course, but they’re not in the EU). British chocolate makers not only put more milk in it, but add up to 5% vegetable fat to the cocoa butter.

When Britain joined the European Union in 1973, it secured an opt-out from the Cocoa and Chocolate Products Directive that prohibited such practices. But ever since, it has been very difficult to sell British chocolate in Europe.

As part of their fight against accepting it, European chocolatiers argued that British chocolate didn’t deserve even to be called by that name. Various alternatives were put forward, such as industrial chocolate, vegetable fat milk chocolate or a German word that roughly translates as fat glazed. But a suggestion from France in the mid 1980s, the word vegelate, became the term preferred by the continental campaigners (it had nothing to do with that Australian delicacy vegemite, nor with veg out, nor a verb that might describe an unnatural act with a vegetable; it was the mirror in language of the British chocolate-makers’ supposed sins: a blend of vegetable with chocolate).

To cut a long story short, the debate went on for more than two decades, until the European Commission eventually ruled on the matter of chocolate harmonisation as part of its review of the Directive. (Despite what the British press has often said, it has never been EU policy to use the word vegelate; it’s Euromyth No 18 in the list maintained by the Commission in London.)

The European Parliament last week ratified the revised Directive, which says our home-grown product may be sold throughout Europe, provided that the presence of vegetable fat is shown on the label and it’s tagged as family milk chocolate (or its equivalent in other European languages: Haushaltsmilchschokolade in German, or in French chocolat de ménage au lait, household milk chocolate, which somehow suggests you can consume it only among consenting adults in private).

Problem finally solved, after 27 years and a lot of bureaucratic wrangling. And vegelate is no more. It is an ex-word.

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Page created 25 Mar 2000; Last updated 27 Mar 2000