January 23, 2011

still nothing like the real thing: yet another post on Nutella

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. 

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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.

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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:
sugar, vegetable oil, hazelnuts (13%), lean cocoa (unsweetened cocoa powder), powdered skim milk (5%), powdered milk whey, emulsifier: lecithin (soy), flavors (I assume vanilla flavoring).

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:

Italian Nutella

American Nutella


    Saturated Fat
Carbohydrates          Dietary Fiber 



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!


Ruby Kemph said...

I love Nutella too. Interesting article. Makes me want to find the Italian Nutella because I agree with you about the American Nutella being too sweet.

efm said...

I know of two places in New York that have it! The place we order from, Cerini Coffee, has a physical store in the Bronx. And Drew told me that an Italian wholesaler in Chelsea Market has it too.
Have you ever been to Eataly? I have only read about it but can't wait to visit there next time we make up to NYC. I wonder if they might have it, too.

Maggie said...

What a great piece! I love the comparison of the two products and am now wondering if I've ever even had true Italian Nutella... I'm thinking no, because in all honesty, I've never understood what all the fuss is about based on what I've tasted. Thanks for all the info - and the link to your distributor!

efm said...

Thanks, Maggie! It's a labor of love, since I'm a little bit of a math nerd and fascinated by food science, even though I don't have formal training in it...yet. :) You should definitely try the Italian Nutella if you get a chance! I'd be glad to share if we happen to run in to each other sometime.
Also, I'm pretty sure The Italian Store in Arlington carries it -- but at about twice the price of Cerini Coffee.

Mary said...

Have you tried Rigoni Di Asiago Nocciolata Organic Hazelnut Spread with Cocoa? As a lover of Nutella, I can tell you this stuff tastes exactly like Nutella without all of the bad ingredients. Give it a try. You won't know the difference and you'll feel good about slathering tons of it on bread like I do! :)

efm said...

I haven't! The only other chocolate-hazelnut spread besides Nutella that I have tried and liked was from a specialty store in Siena. I can't seem to remember the brand. I'll definitely pick up the Rigoni Di Asiago if I some across it. Have you seen it in DC?

Maggie said...

A new contender, from Belgium! A taste-off, perhaps? http://www.freckledcitizen.com/2011/01/friday-im-in-love_28.html

Elizabeth said...

Yes, yes. A taste-off is definitely in order!

jxxc said...

I love this! Great info and very thorough. :) I'm surprised to hear that the ingredients are so similar...definitely not what I was expecting. The difference in taste must definitely be a reflection of the quality of ingredients which is frustrating and sad. Come on America, get it together!

Gianluca said...

Grazie Elisabeth, this is great. I have just bought my Italian Nutella from Raffetto's on Houston (at Mcdougal St) here in the West Village (NYC) and yes, not as sweet as the American cousin and much more like what I grew up with in Italy :-). Of course I got home and started an online search to compare the two... with no intention to buy the cousin again, if I can avoid it. I almost ended my analysis when I stumbled across your blog... un articolo perfetto! Il tuo Blog e' fantastico, mi piace moltissimo and I am eager to start reading it all :-)

Elizabeth said...

Grazie, Gianluca! Sei molto gentile. Sono contenta che l'hai trovato. Even though my posting has been sparse lately, I'm still here! I plan to have a new post up by the end of the week. :)

Steve said...

I definitely notice the difference between Nutella available in the U.S. compared w/ Europe. Here it's just sweetness, there it's richly flavorful and addictive. I wonder if vanillin is the main culprit as it greatly alters the flavor of chocolate candies as well...

Anonymous said...

My French friend and I (American) did a side by side of Italian and North American Nutella. Honestly, it didn't taste much different to me, but I hadn't eaten much Nutella prior to that. I'm guessing that if I grew up eating it I would've been able to tell more of a difference. Neither tasted "right" to my French friend. Apparently, they have their own variation.

Carly said...

I really appreciate this post - I had a question about the differences in ingredients and none of the retailers selling it online felt the need to share any of the label info!

One thing, though... the assumption here and in the comments seems to be that the only difference could be the quality of the overall ingredients. This overlooks the fact that the "flavors" in the Italian version aren't specified. We know we're getting artificial vanilla, but we don't know what they're adding. And if the flavor is more nutty despite seemingly containing a smaller percentage of nuts (and I agree, the imported stuff does taste more hazelnutty!) - then it's at least as possible that they're using hazelnut flavoring to make up for using less nuts.

If they're just smart enough to use hazelnut flavor rather than introduce a new one (vanilla, which we read as sweet), then good for them - but is it "higher quality"? Maybe a bit, if it's an all-natural flavoring versus vanillin, but I don't know what the legal definitions of flavoring ingredients are in Italy, so I can't even read that into it for sure. :) Tastier though, yes.

Anonymous said...

Great analysis, thanks!

Jamie said...

great post, really, i'm so glad i found it!

another thing i really loved in germany were the harbaugh gummy bears. i never cared much for them in the states. then upon landing back in the US we figured out why...the german gummies are made with real fruit juice while the us version has no real anything, it's all faux syrups. i can still find the real deal in imported areas of certain stores. but for real us americans need to start demanding better for ourselves.

Jamie said...

haribo! not harbaugh:)

Jan27 said...

I live in America and have yet to find a jar of Nutella made in America and believe me, my family is addicted to it. So please read the label. The lesser quality Nutella that you are complaining about, and blaming the US for, is made in CANADA.

Elizabeth said...

Hi Jan27, thanks for your comment. I do mention in the post that the "American" Nutella is made in Canada for the US-market (see the first sentence), and I presume it's sold in the North American market as a whole. There's no Nutella made in America that I'm aware of. Good luck with your Nutella shopping. :)

Anonymous said...

Just Googled "Why does American Nutella taste so bad?" and found your blog. After living in France for 36 years I came back to my native CA that I was so homesick for only to find that our mustard and sauces all have way too much sugar not too mention our wheat that contain 11 times the gluten of the non-genetically modified European wheat. I bought a frozen pizza made in Italy and - oh surprise, no more upset stomach! Got "homesick" for Nutella so bought the kind sold here- had to spit it out! How can we lobby against all the $#!+ that they are feeding us? I eat less than in France, hardly drink wine any more...but gained 90 pounds in 2 years! I am so upset and my health is going down the drain. Am I going to have to leave my own country to stay healthy?

Elizabeth said...

I agree! It's very frustrating the state that America's food system is in. Even American companies sell better, healthier products abroad than they do to their American consumers. You really have to be careful and know what to look for and avoid when food shopping in the States!

Good said...

Hello nutella lovers unite!
food bringing people together, what's more italian than that?!?
Anyway, that sounds like a nightmare!!
I mean, we have that saying here,(in the italian part of switzerland) that food in the states is really bad, sugary, fatty, and syntetic. But this freaked me out.
No wonder there are so many extreme-diets/lifestyles, that are taken religiously serious. I don't even buy (the italian version of) nutella anymore since I don't handle all that sugar and palm oil well, but I make my own, or buy it in some health store.
Came across your post by googling nutella recipes, since I use one I have from a cookbook and wanted to know what other versions are out there.
So what do you have to do to live acceptably healthy there?! Import your seeds and grow your own?
Alla prossima cara!

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure if "quality" is the problem, but it must have something to do with the hazelnut and cocoa supply or the roasting and processing of those ingredients. There is a huge difference in peanut butters, for example, even the ones that just say "Ingredients: peanuts", and I don't think Ferrero has a lot of choice of hazelnut growers in North America. Cocoa also comes in a lot of varieties. Of course Europeans import cocoa beans just like us, and their chocolate makers get much better results across the whole range of products, so I don't know.

My reference Nutella is German-made, but maybe I'll give the Italian version a try.

ralfvandersluis said...

The US Nutella is a poor imitation of the real thing. It will do in a pinch but it really is not even half as good.

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