Tit was the subject of robberies in Germany and chaos in French supermarkets, blessed by the high priests of the col des kitchens (Nigella, Yotam) but also brushed with crisps in Aberdeen, the popularity of Nutella knows no bounds.
It is less of a chocolate hazelnut spread (other brands are available but, honestly, have you ever tried them?) than a worldwide phenomenon. The one who turned his Italian parent company, Ferrero, into an approximately 12 billion euros per year company, has created a secondary market in pot locks and resonates in the news cycle in infinitely unexpected ways: from the pre-match nibble of the Brentford FC midfielder’s ‘machine’ Vitaly Janelt at (and, no, the date is not April 1) plans to sterilize Britain’s gray squirrel population.
With the exception of the Guardian’s Felicity Cloake – a heretic who recommends making your own – Nutella is apparently irresistible to humans and animals. Not bad for a creation whose origins are, on two occasions, in war, deprivation and improvisation. Napoleonic trade bans restricted the availability of cocoa in 19th century Piedmont, inspiring the first gianduja or gianduotto mixtures with local hazelnuts. In similar circumstances after the second world war, the Ferrero family created their own blend of cocoa and hazelnuts which in 1964 became the easily spreadable SuperCrema version of the Nutella we know today – recipes aside.
The smooth mark encountered bumps in the road. But, since 2015, criticism of Nutella’s use of palm oil has largely subsided after then-French Environment Minister Ségolène Royal was forced to issue an embarrassing public apology. Royal had called for a boycott of Nutella but, among others, Greenpeace stood up for Ferrero, saying he was leading the way in terms of sustainability, transparency and regulation of palm oil production. Ferrero (who says he just uses 0.3% of global palm oil each year) was the highest rated manufacturer on the WWF 2020 Palm Oil Scoreboard.
There may be other reasons not to slice Nutella without a pattern. It is 56.3% sugar and 80 calories per 15 grams (much like jams, for reference). So if it is better to enjoy it as an infrequent indulgence, you better get the most out of your use. This is where How to Eat – the series exploring how to get the most enjoyment from Britain’s favorite foods – can help. Welcome to the Nutella hierarchy.
Cold, from the pot
“DO NOT KEEP IN THE FRIDGE” orders the label, authoritarian. But for an exceptional Nutella experience, ignore it. It’s true: in the refrigerator, Nutella hardens into a solid, unfriendly piece. But, perversely, unlike most foods (which flavor-wise come alive as they heat up; it’s all about volatile compounds), Nutella is the most exquisite served cold. Soft and silky, instantly melting in the mouth, its ganache quality – rich, dense, intense, layered – is a quality which, in Michelin-starred restaurants, is achieved only at great expense in time, money and emotional anguish. Here it is in a jar, £ 1.70 for 200g. Granted, you may need to wrap a kitchen towel around your hand to help cut through the hardened Nutella with a spoon. This is also true: once you discover the refrigerated Nutella, you may find it difficult to return to the kitchen without eating it. But licked off a teaspoon, slowly – go full “tantric chocolate” here – it’s sensational. Where hot Nutella is slightly too sweet, cooling gives it a nutty taste so that (dangerously) it’s much more greedy. It gives the idea of putting Nutella at everything seems almost redundant.
Of Calpol syringes at caramel-based sauces, a surprising amount of energy is spent online trying to make Nutella in a pourable form. Heat it in a bowl of Hot water or microwave (try 15-20 second increments), will produce a more runny consistency if not exactly pouring sauce. Don’t be tempted to hammer it in the microwave for minutes. Instead of a sauce, you’ll end up with a charred, smoldering lump that might pass for recently landed asteroid debris. However, in HTE’s opinion, heating Nutella is a retrograde step. Reheated, Nutella has a finer texture and a narrower flavor profile. Better to simply pour Nutella at room temperature over vanilla ice cream, and accept that it doesn’t quite ooze in its crevices but will have more flavor. A smaller serving of two scoops and one drop is wise: too much Nutella and ice cream quickly get cloying. The cold temperatures and all that fat on the palate mean Nutella doesn’t quite sing with all the fervor it does when served plain, but it certainly works as a quick dessert.
Eating Nutella on anything but the blandest white Chorleywood bread is an act of deep self-loathing. A dignified, seeded, and / or full brown bran throws grainy bran into what should be the smooth interplay of butter and Nutella. Yet, in a somewhat contradictory way (and unlike the banana and Nutella sandwich below), eating plain Nutella on not toasted Sliced white creates a youthful, sweet and chewy bite that quickly becomes foul-smelling. White toast is much better. The toasting reduces the softness of the bread, gives it a tempering and salty side. But, in truth, compared to what’s possible in the banana sandwich, it’s a bit of a note.
Banana and nutella sandwich
A symphony of flavors that interact with rare mutual sympathy. The bread should be soft, white, milky and thin. Do not grill it. The banana adds lubrication and freshness which makes roasting unnecessary or even harmful. The flavors interlock in such a way that the salinity of the butter is emphasized, which in turn seems to bring new brightness and contrast to Nutella. Meanwhile, the banana, in addition to creating layers of differential creaminess with the butter, acts as a palate reset at the end of each bite, refreshing the sandwich in a way that means it works, without becoming too much, until the last bite. Note: Don’t be tempted to trowel over butter and chocolate spread. A thin screed of each is ideal.
Ill-advised applications …
Not the worst way to eat Nutella. But, texturally, HTE prefers to eat its croissant with a few squares of block chocolate. All but the freshest and most lubricating croissants will become a chore if they’re coated in gooey Nutella.
Waffles and / or French toast
Incredibly rich, sweet and heavy foods. Adding Nutella, even more than whipped cream, makes this problem worse. “A galloping and maximalist cuisine that makes you want delicacy, refinement and finesse,” says HTE, the columnist who eats Nutella straight from the pot.
Treat the laceiest French crepe with a thin layer of Nutella and it works. But a big pile of American-style pancakes smothered in Nutella? It’s a clag-fest of rapidly diminishing returns.
As a dip for fresh fruit
It has an unmistakably unappealing 1970s feel. Dipping fruit in soggy Nutella brings two good things together and ruins them both. Although not as awkward as serving chocolate spread on a deli board to accompany the cheese. Or add it to a grilled cheese sandwich.
On a sweet pizza
No. The end. Never. And don’t come to HTE with obscure Italian pizza-for-dessert traditions, like that justifies anything. It’s not a matter of authenticity, it’s a matter of common sense.
Served directly from a spoon? Then probably every time you walk into the kitchen. You were warned. Otherwise, Nutella works anytime – breakfast (toast); dinner (banana sandwich); tea (ice cream) – you feel that Covid-19 / late capitalism / life is squeezing your head to the point that you need a momentary push, push, burst of pleasure to remind you that you are alive.
A huge cup of tea: a titanic tidal wave of tannins to empty the bridges of all that sugar and fat. Nutella and a decent beer are real comrades.
So, Nutella, how do you eat yours?