My bias towards all things Italian is no secret, and when I decided not to buy the U.S.-market version of Nutella (made in Canada), I claimed that it was for the taste just as much as for the fact that American Nutella once contained partially hydrogenated oil. To be honest though, I had never actually tasted them side by side. It was more of a feeling than an objective assessment. When American Nutella switched from partially-hydrogenated to “modified” palm oil, I was still suspicious. After an arguably botched attempt at making it myself, I found a U.S.-based retailer of Italian Nutella, and my Nutella cravings have been satisfied ever since.
At Target a few weeks ago, I picked up a jar of Nutella on a whim. When I turned it over to look at the ingredients list, I was surprised and delighted to find that “modified palm oil” is no longer listed as an ingredient. It simply reads “palm oil.” Eager to compare it to its Italian cousin, I bought a small jar. When I got home, I compared the ingredients once again. Still the same ingredients listed in the same order (minus the “modified”). I had high hopes.
Then came the moment of truth. How would they measure up in a side-by-side taste test?
The results were shocking, even to a confirmed Italian Nutella devotee like myself. The Italian Nutella received high marks for its rich and satisfying chocolaty, hazelnutty flavor. The American version, on the other hand, had a flavor that can best be described as saccharinely sweet and lacking all but the smallest hint of chocolate and hazelnut flavors. I was taken aback by how vastly different the two spreads really are. I had always known that domestic Nutella was not as good as the imported one, but I had thought it would at least come close. Sadly, the direct comparison made the American version taste like nothing but sugar.
How could they have the same ingredients and taste so different? A closer look was required.
ingredients: sugar, palm oil, hazelnuts, cocoa, skim milk, reduced minerals whey (milk), lecithin as emulsifier (soy), vanillin: an artificial flavor.
ingredienti: zucchero, olio vegetale, nocciole (13%), cacao magro, latte scremato in polvere (5%), siero di latte in polvere, emulsionante: lecitina (soia), aromi.
translated from the Italian with notes in italics:
There are a couple of things to note about these nutrition/ingredients lists. First and most disconcerting, the “serving size” on the American jar is two-and-a-half times larger than the Italian serving size. This speaks volumes about our respective food cultures. It reinforces the sad truth that Americans as a whole eat too much of the foods we should be eating sparingly and that we value quantity much more than quality. Case in point: the fact that the American Nutella has so much less flavor than the Italian means that it takes 2.5 times as much to even taste it. I’ll gladly pay twice as much for the imported Nutella if I can eat half as much and still get 10 times the flavor.
The second thing to note about the two spreads is that the ingredients are the same and are listed in the exact same order, from largest to smallest percentage. It would stand to reason that they are contained in the same amounts in both products. To determine if that’s true, let’s look at how the nutritional values compare per 100 grams of Nutella.
Nutrition facts per 100 grams:
The values are almost identical, with the American coming in with 10 more calories, 1.3g less total fat, 0.8g less saturated fat, 3.1g more carbs, 0.8g less fiber, 1.6 grams more sugar, and 7.5mg more sodium.
To give you an idea of what this might mean on a practical level: in a 13oz. jar of Nutella sold in a U.S. grocery store, there are about 1½ teaspoons more sugar and about 1 teaspoon less oil than in the same quantity of Nutella sold in an Italian store. Of course that extra sugar could also come from milk (lactose) and the missing fat could mean fewer hazelnuts rather than oil.
Another possibility is that the amounts of the ingredients are exactly the same but the nutritional makeup of some of the ingredients is slightly different. For example, different breeds of cattle raised on different types of grass or feed in different parts of the world produce milks with different nutritional makeups. The same is true of any other raw material, such as hazelnuts, cocoa, or palm – depending on where and how they were grown, their nutritional values and flavor profiles will vary.
Let’s look at something else that we know for sure. According to the Nutella FAQs on the U.S. site, “Each 13 oz. jar [of Nutella] contains more than 50 hazelnuts.” At an average of 10 hazelnuts per 14g (0.5 oz.), fifty hazelnuts means that there are at least 2.5 oz. of hazelnuts per 13 oz. jar, or 19%. The ingredients list of Italian Nutella states a minimum of 13% hazelnuts (or 1.69 oz. per 13 oz. jar) – quite a significant difference and a confusing one given that the imported spread tastes more like hazelnuts but contains fewer. Once again, this points to greater quality in the Italian version, rather than greater quantity.
It’s not a surprising conclusion given the value Italians place on simple, quality ingredients when cooking from scratch. It is evident that the principle carries over from the produce market to the processed foods aisle. Italians won’t stand for less than the best, whether in a midsummer tomato, store-bought cookies, or chocolate-hazelnut spread. And I think it’s high time we Americans do the same!