FDA asks: how much Nutella® do you eat?

nutellaNutella® on toast? On dessert? Or by the spoonful?  The FDA is in information gathering mode on our Nutella® habits.  Why?  The company behind the famous cocoa/hazelnut spread wants it reclassified from a dessert topping (serving size 2 TB or 200 calories) to a spread (serving size 1 TB/100 calories).  Why is this important?  The smaller serving size would make the product look less calorific, and therefore less likely to turn off consumers.

I’m not sure the current 2 TB serving size is having much of an impact.  Nutella® ads are suddenly everywhere, and we’re encouraged to spread it on cookies, crackers pancakes, fruit and waffles.  There’s even a World Nutella Day (it was Feb 5th this year).

Where exactly did this stuff come from?  According to the Ferrero Company website, it was invented post WWII, when a shortage of cocoa made it hard to prepare chocolate-filled pastries.  Pietro Ferrero, a pastry maker in Italy, mixed small amounts of scarce cocoa powder with hazelnuts and sugar to create a chocolate-flavored alternative.  Years later, his son changed up the recipe to make it creamier and more spreadable.  Nutella was born.  It’s kind of a “necessity is the mother of invention” story.

Since it was invented, it’s found all kinds of uses, from spreading (bread, toast, crackers, sandwiches, pancakes, matzos, fruit, cookies, cake) to dipping (fruit slices, cookies, crackers, etc) to just eating it by the spoonful.   One reader told the BBC he uses it as bait on mousetraps.

So what’s the nutrition scoop?

Just because it contains hazelnuts doesn’t make Nutella® the nutrition equivalent of a nut butter.

  • Sugar
  • Palm Oil (ugh!)
  • Hazelnuts
  • Cocoa
  • Milk

It’s strangely impossible to find the nutrition information on the website.  It’s not linked to the ingredients, and there’s no Search feature.  This seems pretty strange for a company that’s trying to position it’s product as “healthier” based on the Nutrition Facts panel.  So I had to resort to the label, which only gives us information on select nutrients.  The USDA food database isn’t any better, since it only includes the nutrients reported by the company for the label.  For the current 2 TB serving size, all we know is:

  • 200 calories
  • 2 grams protein
  • 12 grams fat
  • 23 grams carbs
    • of which 21 grams are sugar

Compare that to values for 2 TB natural peanut butter:

  • 190 calories
  • 8 grams protein
  • 16 grams fat
  • 7 grams carbs
    • of which 1 gram is sugar

So if you think of Nutella® as a spread, it more like using jam or jelly than like using a nut butter.  Much less protein and much more sugar.

I’m confused about the FDA’s 2 TB vs 1 TB distinction.  Calling Nutella® a dessert topping verges ridiculous.  It’s rather stiff, completely unlike fudge sauce.  I can’t imagine getting it onto ice cream in anyway that makes sense.  On the other hand, the 1 TB serving size for spreads is arbitrary.  People just use an amount that makes sense when using any spread.  The photo above shows 1 TB of Nutella® spread on a piece of bread.  It’s a very thin coating, hard to make it spread out evenly without tearing the bread.  Much easier to spread a big generous dollop that’s 2-3 times as much.

Meanwhile the photos of Nutella® recipes on the website appear to use very generous portions of spread.  The recipe for Pancakes with Nutella® and Fruit may call for “2 tbsp” split between six(?) 2-inch pancakes.  You put 1 tsp Nutella® on each pancake.  Who makes 2 inch pancakes?  !!  That’s the size of a modest cookie.  I defy anyone to make a photo like the one accompanying the recipe using only 1 teaspoon of Nutella.  If you ignore their recipe and make a batch of regular sized pancakes (4+ inches) and spread plenty of Nutella® you’re probably getting at least 2 TB per pancake.

So I think the FDA distinction is silly, and just gives companies room to manipulate their Nutrition Facts panel to appeal to consumers, most of whom use far more than the 15 gram/1 TB of Nutella.  As one BBC reader noted:

“If the FDA conducts a valid survey I think that they will find that the real ‘serving size’, or amount consumed in one sitting is more like 150 grams, not 15!”

Meanwhile if you want to check out the FDA survey, you can find it here.

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