When I was little, we’d visit my Italian grandparents every Sunday afternoon. I could hardly wait to hug Nonna and then be handed the best snack of all time: Nutella spread between two slices of the squishiest white bread, tucked inside a sheath of paper towel. The napkin was useless though. Not a drop of the chocolate-hazelnut spread escaped my lips.
I still love the stuff—but have upgraded from Wonder bread to crusty baguette—and my kids do too, but they don’t get it often (when they do, it’s spread on whole-grain toast). A single jar lasts months in our cupboard—thanks in part to the headline-making palm oil it contains. You may have witnessed the social media panic this week: Nutella causes cancer! Life is no longer worth living!
Let’s slow it down. Back in May, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) put out a statement that identified cancer-causing compounds in palm oil. There is palm oil in Nutella—and thousands of other products, including snack foods, candy, margarine and personal care products like toothpaste and shampoo—but the EFSA’s statement didn’t actually point a finger at Nutella, or anyone else. So why is this lighting up the internet now? Yesterday it was reported that Nutella maker Ferrero defiantly said it would not substitute palm oil in its spread, which, in Italy, is a bonafide breakfast food.
Ferrero says there is no better ingredient than palm oil to keep Nutella as smooth or as shelf stable as it is (never mind that alternative oils would cost a lot more than palm oil, which is why is so widely used and why it has consequently been linked to serious environmental issues—another story for another time). The company also insists that it processes palm oil responsibly and its product poses no health risk to those who enjoy it. To oversimplify the EFSA’s very scientific statement, the concern is this: When palm oil is processed at very high heat, which is necessary to strip its colour and odour, two carcinogenic compounds (known as 3-MCPD and GE) are produced. The EFSA’s scientists found these chemicals caused a greater incidence of kidney problems and tumours in rats. They say that high levels of these compounds may be a health hazard, particularly for kids under 10. The EFSA also says that more research is needed.
Here’s the thing: No one, kids included (maybe especially?) should be eating massive amounts of Nutella—or any other palm-oil containing snacks—anyway. Nutella is 50 percent sugar, after all. It’s worth noting that while the World Health Organization has flagged the same risks as the EFSA, neither it, nor the US Food and Drug Administration, have banned the ingredient or recommended consumers stop eating it. My plan is to pull that same jar out of the cupboard as an occasional treat.
If you find yourself with Nutella-related control issues or you’re worried about the health risks, please enjoy our excellent homemade, three-ingredient version. It contains hazelnuts, honey and chocolate. Those are still allowed, right?
Get the recipe here.
And in the wise words of a recent Jennifer Lopez tweet: Spread love as thick as you would have spread Nutella.