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Hazelnut Spread: From Nutella-Gate to Palm Oil

If we voted on the quintessential European staple food, Nutella would easily make the Top Ten.  Who didn’t grow up with Nutella-on-bread in their school lunch? Or spooned that chocolaty goodness straight from the jar during a late-night craving? And sometimes, at least for me, Nutella was mom’s quick and easy way breakfast solution. Probably what Nutella had in mind when it advertised their product in the U.S. as a “healthy breakfast food”.

The subsequent lawsuit by a mom who was shocked to find out that Nutella isn’t the healthy equivalent of a fiber-laden organic cereal might make Europeans scratch their heads. Or, alternatively, regret that they didn’t pay attention during the time the class action suit was filed, since we probably all picked up many of the easily-available jars in one or the other U.S. supermarket.

A Nutella Lovers’ Dream Store in Amsterdam

While some complain about the high sugar content, Europeans (in this particular video, the French), can put up quite the fight when Nutella goes on sale.  (You can also enjoy “How to trap a French” at the Twitter hashtag #Nutellagate. )

Our French friends seem to generally have quite the love/hate relationship with Nutella: In 2015, a French minister called on citizens to boycott Nutella for one ingredient in particular: palm oil. 

Italian politicians immediately countered by announcing plans for Nutella dinners that night. And Ferrero, makers of Nutella, argued that since 2013, they only used sustainable palm oil. Even Greenpeace jumped into the fray, stating that we might as well keep slathering Nutella on our baquette. After all, boycotting one particular hazelnut spread wouldn’t solve the problem of unconscious palm oil production.

Eventually the French minister apologized, and the Nutella world was at peace again. (Although Twitter’s #Nutellagate still lives on.)

The Palm Oil Discussion

So we can gobble down palm-oiled hazelnut cream without a bad conscience?  Not quite. It’s no secret that rise in demand for palm oil has caused quite the devastation, particularly in Indonesia and Malaysia. Palm Plantations displace wildlife when destroying forests to plant palm oil trees. That expansion also adds to air, soil and water pollution, soil erosion and climate change. This according to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

Palm oil

To combat the destruction, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palmoil (RSPO) came to life in Zurich in 2004.  RSPO consists of Palm oil farmers, dealers, production companies and the WWF. Among other things, they committed to large enough areas of forest between palm oil fields to allow for wildlife to reach natural habitats. Of course, companies who didn’t join the RSPO immediately dismissed this cooperation as ‘Greenwashing’. And if you search for information about sustainable palm oil production, you’ll find that (as with many good ideas), there are plenty of work-arounds to officially be ‘sustainable’, while not really helping the cause at all.

So … palm-oil based hazelnut spread – good or bad?  As always, the final decision is up to the consumer. Most likely, you already have an opinion on whether or not you want to boycott palm oil products.  And speaking of good or bad – if you ever picked up a jar of Nutella at your local supermarket, you may have been up for a surprise: it just doesn’t taste the same way you remember, does it?

Sure, memory often serves us wrong, or we grudgingly realize that things aren’t the same anymore. In this case, there’s a simple explanation: U.S. Nutella is produced in either Mexico or Canada. Therefore, the ingredients, as well as the formula are simply different than what you’re used to. 

Alternative Chocolate Spreads

alternative chocolate spread

Even within Europe, Nutella’s formula varies from one country to the next. It adjusts not only to local taste, but also the consistency of local bread. For example, a dark, Bavarian bread can take a thicker Nutella formula than a piece of soft American bread.

So what to do if you’re not excited about the local Nutella flavor, or don’t want to buy a product with substantial palm oil content, but still have the occasional craving for hazelnut spread? 

Another alternative has cropped up in some general grocery stores: Nocciolata, an organic chocolate-hazelnut spread, also produced in Italy. They even have a dairy-free option.  And if you’re fortunate enough to have an Aldi grocery store nearby, you may be able to get Belmandel, produced by German company Zentis.  Belmandel is not an alternative if your main focus is avoiding palm oil or you’re worried about your waist line, tough. Belmandel manages to contain even more fat than Nutella.

If shopping at Aldi is not an option, try an online shop that sells German products As a side note: Germanshop24 sells Nutella Made in Germany, and Germandelistore offers another alternative chocolate spread, Nusspli (also a palm oil based product). Some Italian online retailers offer even more variety with products like Pan di Stelle or Suprema. For a list of Eureopan online retailers, go to our Directories.

As mentioned, Ferrero does claim to use only sustainable palm oil, (and so does Zentis), and by no means would we want to say otherwise.  

There are probably other Nutella alternatives, the most cumbersome of all of course your suitcase, as you haul a load of jars from your home country. And if you know of other European Nutella-esque products available in the U.S. market, send us an e-mail. We’ll gladly taste test them all.