Looking for the Real Mozart Kugel

It is a chocolate delight: A fine praline made of a core of marzipan covered with layers of milk chocolate, dark chocolate, or both. A cream of pistachio or hazelnut nougat may be added for providing a more special flavour to the core. The rounded praline is named in honour of the renowned Austrian composer of the 18th century, Woflgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791), though Mozart never had the pleasure of tasting it — the Mozartkugel arrived some hundred years after the composer’s untimely death. Pralines and snack bars of marzipan coated with dark chocolate have become more common over the years, but the Mozrartkugel remained a class of its own. It has been cherished for many years as a gift, especially in holiday seasons. However, this class of pralines seems nowadays to be rather blundered and confusing, with one of its key makers (Mirabell) gone missing lately.

One may think, upon hearing the name Mozartkugel, that it is a very particular kind of praline (i.e., ‘a Mozartkugel is a Mozartkugel’); but that is not quite the case. There are several makers of this praline, following the concept though not exactly the same recipe. At least three of these confectioners make strong claims each about being related to an originator of the praline (no attempt is made here to judge the credibility of their claims’). Mirabell (a brand) argues to be a direct descendent of the firm known as Echte Salzburger by Paul Fürst, credited as the ultimate originator of Mozartkugel back in 1890. However, Konditorei Fürst presents itself as an enterprise led by Martin Fürst who is a family descendent of Paul Fürst (his great-great grandson). Reber, a German patisserie and confectionery maker based in Munich (Bavaria), argues that the family business, started by Peter Reber in 1865, has created the Mozart-Kugel (Austrians insist that the Mozartkugel’s origin is in Salzburg, hometown of Mozart).

The story of Mirabell seems to be full of turns. The brand is linked with Paul Fürst who created the Mozartkugel in 1890 at his konditorei-firm titled Echte Salzburger (‘Echte’ = ‘Real’). The name Mirabell, however, came about much later — it belonged first to a confectionery firm from Salzburg area with an Austrian name (Rajsigl-Süßwarenfabric), founded in 1897, which changed to the more friendly Mirabell name (after the palace in Salzburg) in 1948. It started a manual process of producing Mozartkugel pralines in the 1920s following, as the brand emphasises, the original recipe of Paul Fürst (History of Mirabell). It is unclear how closely the two Salzburg-based businesses were related. Mirabell was sold to Swiss chocolate maker Suchard in 1970, and the brand was registered as trademark in 1976. From there on Mirabell continued to change hands several more times, since Suchard itself was transformed and eventually ceased operations under its name in 1990 (more on that later).

The Mozartkugel of Mirabell has marzipan at its center, covered with layers of fine dark praline cream, on top of it light praline cream, and finally coated with dark smooth chocolate (by dipping the kugel on a stick in chocolate in the original production process). The descriptive name Mozartkugel in German means Mozart Ball (kugeln = balls in plural). Hence, the brand proudly highlights the unique qualities of its product, as being fully round-shaped like a ball and made with a constant level of coating at the different layers.

Apparently Paul Fürst did not (perhaps could not) protect his recipe for Mozartkugel (its ingredients, composition, and especially the process of making it) in a patent. Therefore, followers could start to offer their versions of Mozartkugeln early in the life of the praline in both Austria and Germany, causing commercial and legal difficulties for Fürst. On at least two aspects, Fürst is said to have succeeded in receiving some protection from court to distinguish his product from competitors’. One aspect is the whole ball form of the praline, whereas competing Mozart balls actually have a flat base, likely the result of a legal requirement . Another aspect is the name: Fürst gained aid from court in forcing competing confectionery makers to assign their products names other than ‘Mozartkugel’ to keep his own praline in distinction (disputes were also resolved in court, possibly at a later time, with regard to an exclusive right to attach titles such as “Real” and “Original”). Even if a patent were issued in the beginning, its protection would have probably expired years ago. What we see today could be remnants of old legal struggles.

Suchard was a well-known chocolate maker, associated with home-grown brands such as the famed Milka chocolate and the chocolate drink Suchard Express. At the same time it took in Mirabell, it also merged with Tobler (Toblerone). In the 1980s Suchard started going through a string of acquisitions, until it eventually landed in the hands of Kraft Foods. By that time the operations of Suchard were discontinued (1990) and only its brands were left with new owners. Kraft has subsequently spun-off its confectionery category into Mondelez International (snack & confectionery producer), taking under its patronage the brands Milka, Côte d’Or (added in 1987), Toblerone, and Mirabell. At the bottom of the webpages of Mirabell (viewed June 2022) one can find the logo of Mondelez. The page title continues to associate the logo of Mirabell with the title Echte Salzburger. Curiously, the last update of historical timeline is from 2014. Also conspicuously, the copyright to Mondelez (Europe branch) was last updated in 2019. Nevertheless, the page Our Brands of Mondelez (viewed June 2022) includes three of the brands mentioned above, but not Mirabell.

We now come to the latest turn in the chronicles of Mirabell. In December 2021 it was revealed that a confectionery maker named Salzburg Schocolade declared bankruptcy. It was also reported that this company is related to Mirabell, and due to its bankruptcy it ceased to produce its ‘Real Salzburg Mozartkugel’, based on the original recipe of Paul Fürst. Apparently Salzburg Schocolade acquired Mirabell from Mondelez (the time of such a deal could not be verified). It is quite certain that Mirabell was already in the hands of this Salzburg-based company during the Coronavirus pandemic, and ran into difficulties because of the economic-commercial crisis ensued. It could be considered ‘a return home’ for Mirabell because the factories of Rajsigl-Mirabell and Salzburg Schocolade are located in Grödig near Salzburg. The main reasons given for the bankruptcy in a news report were the abrupt halt of sales as gifts in airport duty free stores, the drastic drop in Christmas sales, and overall reduction in consumer spending during the Corona pandemic (La Republica [Italy], Noemi Penna, 2 December 2021 — Penna indicates Mirabell as a brand of Salzburg Schocolade, associated with Echte Salzburger).

The difficulties of Salzburg Schocolade concern generally its selection of confectionery products, of several brands, and not necessarily Mirabell. Strangely enough, there is no mention of Mirabell or Mozartkugel in the website of Salzburg Schocolade (viewed June 2022), which is clearly not in accordance with the stature granted to Mirabell brand. On the other hand, the company promotes mainly its brand Maria Theresia, which reveals conspicuous resemblance of its products to the Mozartkugel and its product variations (e.g., in a form of ‘discs’ or ‘coins’ — a number of confectioners created alternative forms to the classical ‘kugel’, including Mirabell’s ‘Medallions’).

At this stage the traces of Mirabell got lost. It is unclear when Mondelez unloaded Mirabell from its brands portfolio. If it happened after the pandemic had erupted, it was probably for similar reasons suggested above for confectionery products, especially when sold in decorative boxes for gifts. Mondelez may have been less committed to the brand and the tradition of Mozartkugeln than previous owners. The return home of Mirabell to an Austrian confectioner in Salzburg eventually turned sour.

Consumers who are still fond of the ‘Mozart-kugel’ kind of praline may ease their minds that other options remain for them in the market, which they may find at least as satisfying.

Mozart-Kugeln by Reber (Bavaria, Germany): Peter Reber (1865) originally established his firm as a confectionery and patisserie café in Munich; it is now run by the fifth generation of the family following their ancestor-founder. In addition to the café in Munich (in Bad Reichenhall since 1938), Reber keeps two stores in Salzburg. The ‘Mozart-Kugeln’ (registered name specifically written this way), developed and made by Reber, are its flagship product line. One would note on the website that Reber makes no mention of Fürst; instead, it promotes the admiration of Reber to Mozart and his music (Munich was one of the centres where Mozart visited, lived and performed, next to Salzburg and Vienna), and hence Reber sees a privilege in honouring him. By using the title in full ‘Genuine Reber Mozart-Kugeln’ the firm seems to suggest the connotation that it is an originator of the product concept and recipe of Mozart Kugel, begun at the Reber café. The Reber Mozart-Kugel is bell-shaped with a flat base. Inside the core is marzipan with pistachio and hazelnut nougat. It is covered with two layers of milk and fine dark chocolate. Notice the additional versions, such as Constanze Mozart-Kugel with milk chocolate only, or the heart-shaped Herz’l with milk-only or dark-only chocolate coating, and some other Mozart praline forms. The Mozart confectionery are available in Reber’s own stores and website, and through other distributors.

A variety of versions of Mozart kugeln are available from more or less known makers or brands, like in this photo example of Maȋtre Truffout (a brand of Gunz, Austria), and others such as Manner (Austria — similar composition but in a cube), or Halloren (Germany — Halloren Kugeln).

(Note: The two red round stickers on the box warn, under food health regulations, that the praline contains high levels of sugar and saturated fat, posing another challenge for marketers — the kugel can be quite sweet, but it is for every consumer to make his or her decision.)

The Mozart Balls by Haufbauer (Vienna, Austria), chocolate specialists (founded in 1882), are made with marzipan (30%) and pistachio marzipan (29%), hazelnut nougat (11%), and covered in tender milk chocolate and dark chocolate. There are variates with either milk chocolate only or dark chocolate only. Hofbauer was acquired by Lindt & Sprüngli from Switzerland in 1994, but the Austrian chocolatier continues to operate autonomously in Vienna, including its café in the city.

Last but not least, Konditorei Fürst in Salzburg introduces itself as the real follower of the original recipe of Mozartkugel of Paul Fürst — the café-konditorei carries his name by virtue or entitlement of being led by Martin Fürst, his great-great grandson (fifth generation in succession). The recipe includes marzipan with pistachio, nougat cream and dark chocolate. Distinctively, unlike other versions of Mozart-kugeln, the Mozartkugel of Konditorei Fürst is wrapped in blue and silver paper.

Is there a Real Mozart-kugel? It is rather hard to make a definite call to-date, but there are clearly some serious contenders. While the Mozartkugel of Konditorei Fürst looks closest to being both original and real, other offerings of Mozart-kugeln (e.g., by Reber, Hofbauer, and maybe Mirabell, though its whereabouts are vague) seem very real and authentic. Perhaps, this question is less relevant in our days, and we need to concentrate more on recognising the main properties of the praline concept of Mozart-kugeln, and accept the variations to be judged by their quality and the pleasure the praline gives the consumer. Furthermore, perhaps we should just leave the history aside: Let each consumer fond of Mozart-kugeln find the version that pleases him or her, and indulge on this specialty of chocolate.

Ron Ventura, Ph.D. (Marketing)