Time rolls along, even in slower-paced pandemic times. This week I missed a noteworthy day, perhaps because I focused on Groundhog Day – I watched the movie! But three days later, February 5th, another momentous day rolled around.
World Nutella Day
My generation did not grow up eating Nutella, and for good reason. The hazelnut cocoa spread, introduced by an Italian company, Ferrero, in 1964, did not make it to American shores until 1983. For most of us the spread of choice, or the jar available in our family pantry, was peanut butter. Peanut butter is healthier than Nutella, but it depends on the amount of stuff smeared on bread or used in other dishes, but dieticians have spoken. Most people ignore the information.
The origins of Nutella date to the end of World War II. A shortage of cocoa led an Italian, Pietro Ferrero, to develop foods with minimal chocolate content. Originally a loaf that could be sliced and munched on bread, Ferrero and his son continued to experiment. By the early 1960s the loaf morphed into a new, improved product, a spreadable paste found in today’s iconic jar, which made its appearance in 1965. The original name of the product was Supercrema gianduja. The name Nutella was a combination of the English word nut, and the Latin suffix for sweet – ella.
Nutella spanned the world, but not without controversy.
Nutella’s main ingredients are sugar and palm oil (50%), hazelnuts (13%), cocoa solids, skim milk, and additional additives. Too much sugar and the palm oil caused the company headaches over the years. A two-tablespoon (37 grams) serving contains 200 calories, including 99 calories from fat and 80 calories from sugar. Not good for the waistline…
Palm oil has become a controversial raw material used in food products, toiletries (shampoos, liquid soaps, detergents), cosmetics, biofuels…and the list goes on. For a comprehensive article on palm oil, its various uses, harvesting, and impact on the environment and animal habitats (hint: not positive), check out this article. Ferrero, on the other hand, touts the use of 100% sustainable palm oil in its products.
The Ferrero company for years advertised Nutella as a beneficial breakfast food. Consumer advocates did not agree and sued. In 2012 the company agreed to a $3 million settlement and subsequently made changes to its labels, on their website, and in TV commercials.
Today there are numerous Nutella copy cats from companies including Hershey, Trader Joes, Jif (maker of the peanut butter we ate as kids), supermarket brands like Kroger and Target, and Niccoliata, advertised as a high-quality organic hazelnut spread. There are other similar spreads available on supermarket shelves, or Amazon…
Nutella is a kid favorite. I tasted it long ago and found it too sweet, but a jar can be found in my pantry summers when the grandkids visit. When they leave, the jar eventually ends up in the garbage.
Today Nutella is an ingredient in many dishes, everything from crepes and cakes to a variety of desserts. Nutella vendors can be found in Eataly markets around the world. The first Nutella café opened in Chicago in 2017, but temporarily closed due to the pandemic. The New York Nutella café remains open (although my information may be incorrect).
Nutella, created to overcome an ingredient scarcity – cocoa – became an international food favorite honored with a yearly celebration. Maybe I would love the stuff if consumed since childhood. Who knows?