Smothered on toast, smeared on crêpes, or straight from jar. The chocolate hazelnut spread Nutella is the undisputed king of condiments, with a jar sold every 2.5 seconds in the UK. Sales of the chocolatey stuff helped Italian parent company Ferrero turn over €9.5 billion in 2015, which may be why they're so concerned about the news that a key Nutella ingredient is linked to cancer.
According to a report released last year by the European Food Safety Authority, contaminants produced when processing palm oil—one of the main components of Nutella—were found to contain carcinogens. The public health review concluded that "the [carcinogenic] substances form during food processing, in particular, when refining vegetable oils at high temperatures (approx. 200 degrees Celsius)." Palm oil contained the highest amount of carcinogens compared to other oils.
But before you start to worry that your low-key Nutella addiction could turn into a life-threatening condition, it's worth knowing that the levels of carcinogens in palm oil were deemed low enough by the European Food Safety Authority not to require a ban on the stuff.
While this means that Nutella is completely safe for consumption, pressure from health campaign groups and MEPs who want stricter regulation of palm oil have forced Ferrero to react. Vincenzo Tapella, Ferrero's purchasing manager, defended the use of palm oil in Nutella to Reuters, saying: "Making Nutella without palm oil would produce an inferior substitute for the real product, it would be a step backward."
The Nutella website claims that palm oil is used to give the product "its creamy texture, as well as to heighten the flavour of its ingredients […] it is the best ingredient for giving Nutella the right smoothness, guaranteeing its special spreadability."
It sure does go down easily.
MUNCHIES reached out to Ferrero for comment but had not received a response at the time of publication.
This isn't the first time Ferrero has had to justify its use of palm oil. Last November, the brand launched a TV advertising campaign to celebrate the standard of Nutella's ingredients. Tapella is shown saying: "Like all quality vegetable oils, our palm oil is safe. It comes from freshly pressed and sustainably sourced fruits, and has been processed at controlled temperatures."
The company has come under fire over the environmental effects of palm oil, too. The ingredient is known for its devastating environmental impact, which includes large-scale deforestation. Nutella, however, claims to use only sustainably sourced palm oil and adheres to Ferrero's "no deforestation" palm oil charter.
So, despite the health scares and questionable environmental impact, it seems that the chocolate hazelnut crack probably won't be disappearing from our cupboards anytime soon.