Here's Why Everyone Is Freaking Out About Nutella Right Now

Here's Why Everyone Is Freaking Out About Nutella Right Now

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Susmita Baral
Jan 18, 2017
(Image credit: Faiz Zaki/Shutterstock)

For the last 10 years or so, Nutella has creeped its way into our hearts and pantries, as a delicious spread for breakfast toast and as a generous topping to our ice cream sundaes.

But not everything is sweet in the land of hazelnut chocolate. The ingredient that makes this spread so creamy — palm oil — is under fire for being a potential carcinogen.

Thus far, there are no government regulations banning palm oil or official recommendations for consumers to stop eating it. But some chains and brands have taken matters into their own hands as a precautionary step. Italian supermarket chain Coop, for example, recently banned the ingredient from its in-house line of products.

What Is Palm Oil (and Why Should You Care)?

Palm oil is a vegetable oil derived from the fruit of palm trees that's commonly used in processed foods. It's the ingredient in Nutella that extends the shelf life of the product and gives it its trademark smooth texture. The controversy surrounding the ingredient is usually about its environmental impact, but recently it's been about the health implications.

Last May, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) released a study saying palm oil refined at certain temperatures can be carcinogenic. Specifically, they found that when palm oil is processed at temperatures higher than 200 degrees Celcius — this is done to eliminate the oil's red color and remove its odor — it releases a carcinogenic chemical called glycidyl fatty acid esters.

This contaminant has been found to cause tumors in rats and mice, which is why the EFSA calls glycidyl fatty acid esters a "potential health risk" for those who consume too much of it — although they do note that more research needs to be done.

Nutella Fights Back

Ferrero, the Italian parent company behind Nutella that uses roughly 185,000 tons of palm oil a year, maintains their products are safe for consumption and ethically sourced.

Ferrero also claims substituting palm oil will impact the quality of the product. "Making Nutella without palm oil would produce an inferior substitute for the real product; it would be a step backward," Ferrero's purchasing manager Vincenzo Tapella told Reuters (although Reuters also reports that there are financial implications).

For Nutella-lovers that are worried about palm oil and don't want to risk waiting for follow-up studies, it's not all bad news — there's always the option to just make your own Nutella.

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