So, it was with a bit of skepticism that I read about a Mom in California's lawsuit against Nutella. After all, who would think that a sweet chocolate spread could be health food?
Well, apparently Nutella USA - their website alleges that "The “best” breakfast is the one that will be eaten! With the unique taste of Nutella®, kids may think they are eating a treat for breakfast, while moms are helping nourish their children with whole grains. A slice of whole wheat toast spread with Nutella®, a serving of fresh fruit and a cup of yogurt or 1% milk provides perfect balanced nutrition to start the day." Later, the website states that "Eating a good breakfast helps with the intake of fiber, vitamins, and minerals, especially iron and vitamin C, all essential in a balanced diet*." "Hazelnuts are a main ingredient in Nutella." I can see where a consumer might read this website and assume that Nutella is at least as nutritious as peanut butter.
This got me to thinking - just what is in Nutella, anyway - and how much? The website is quick to point out that there are 50 hazelnuts in a 13oz jar...but sugar and palm oil are the first two ingredients on the label. What does Nutella look like when it's broken down into its component parts? Just what does Nutella mean by "a main ingredient?" Most importantly, why do food companies feel the need to make their foods sound like something different from what they are?
In offering us an exact number of hazelnuts, Nutella is kind enough to give us the critical piece of information. We know that the remaining "main" ingredients are sugar, palm oil, cocoa powder and nonfat dry milk. Fortunately, as I live in a predominately Caribbean neighborhood, palm oil wasn't really that difficult to find, and the remaining ingredients could be found in my pantry.
Note that palm oil is solid at our somewhat chilly room temperature: it's a solid fat.
I also found dry milk powder (for the photographs, I was only able to find whole milk powder, but I used the nutritional information for dry nonfat milk powder.) Since Nutella offers 4% of the RDA for calcium, figuring out the amount of dry milk to use was but a few minutes of computation. I also figured out the milk sugars, so we could subtract them from the sugar grams, just to be fair.
Using calcium, fat and saturated fat, and the given number of hazelnuts - and more algebra than I've seen since high school - I was able to come up with the following recipe that closely approximates a jar of Nutella, both in ingredients and in nutrition (I excluded the flavorings and extenders at the bottom of the list, since they didn't affect the fats or sugars in any significant way)
Each 13 oz jar (10 servings) contains approximately:
1 cup plus 1/4 tsp table sugar
4 tablespoons palm oil
50 hazelnuts, ground (about 1/2 cup ground)
1/2 cup cocoa powder
about 1/4 cup dry nonfat milk powder
(remember, ingredients are listed by weight and not volume)
Translated approximately into a tablespoon-size serving, it looks something like this:
2.25 teaspoons sugar
Slightly less than 3/4 teaspoons palm oil
1.25 teaspoons hazelnuts
1.25 teaspoons cocoa
about 1/2 teaspoons of dry milk
Now, I ask you - does this look like a healthy breakfast....or does it look like SoFAS? It's not as though the dairy council is promoting spreading a "slice of whole wheat toast with butter and jam, and a serving of fresh fruit..." to start the day.
*Most interestingly, Nutella is not a good source (FDA - 5% or less is low, 20% or more is high) of any of the "essentials" listed in the above quote from their website.
** If you're really interested in all the algebra, I've created a page for my Nutella Proof. Feel free to check my math.