Tuesday, April 17, 2012

So I tried Nutella, but...

I did it! I finally bought a jar of Nutella last week to see what all the fuss is about.
It still being Lent, the jar sat unopened for a few days. I then got a spoon, opened the jar and took my first scoop. Sorry, but I couldn’t take a second.
Yes, it is creamy and tastes, just as the jar says, like a hazelnut cocoa spread. But there was something artificial and synthetic about it that didn’t agree with me and left an aftertaste. This is despite the fact Nutella has no artificial colors or preservatives. Also, it’s not dark cocoa, which rules me out of it.
I tried turning it around in my mouth to catch all the tastes, but the more I did, the worse it got. 
As I usually do, I read up on Nutella before tasting it. Pietro Ferrero, a pastry maker and founder of the Ferrero Company, created it in the 1940s. At the time, there was very little chocolate because cocoa was in short supply due to World War II rationing. So Ferrero used hazelnuts, which are plentiful in the Piedmont region of northwest Italy, to extend the chocolate supply.
The original version of Nutella spread was called "Pasta Gianduja." It was a paste in the name of a carnival character famous to the region and used in the first advertisements for the product. Pasta Gianduja was made in loaves and wrapped in tinfoil, so it could be sliced and placed on bread. But of course children ate the paste only.
Ferrero then altered the product into a paste that came in a jar to spread on bread. It became known as "Supercrema Gianduja."
In 1963, Pietro's son Michele revamped Supercrema to market it across Europe. Its composition was modified and it was renamed "Nutella®." The first jar left the Ferrero factory in Alba on April 20, 1964, or 28 years ago this month. Nutella® spread was a success because it was a cheaper version of chocolate.
The formula of Nutella hazelnut spread continues to be made from the combination of roasted hazelnuts, skimmed milk and a hint of cocoa.  According to the label, the main ingredients of Nutella are sugar and vegetable oils (mostly palm oil, followed by hazelnut, cocoa solids and skimmed milk). Nutella is marketed as "hazelnut cream" in many countries. Under Italian law, it cannot be labeled as a chocolate cream, because it doesn’t meet minimum cocoa solids concentration criteria. About half of the calories in Nutella come from fat (11g in a 37g serving, or 99 kcal out of 200 kcal) and about 40 percent of the calories come from sugar (20g, 80 kcal).
My Nutella experiment coincided with an avalanche of articles on chocolate with titles such as Can Eating Chocolate Help Keep You Slim?, Does Chocolate Help You Stay Slim?...
This made me laugh. It reminded me of the many articles that come out about salt, coffee, wine… maybe depending on the crops, the stock exchange or the multinationals that run the product-related firms. I wondered too if it wasn’t just a matter of common sense and whether the money for the research could have been better spent otherwise.
On chocolate, it is the first study to balance all of the known health benefits and harms. Published on 26 March 2012 in the Archives of Internal Medicine, Dr. Beatrice Golomb and her colleagues at the University of California, San Diego, say the sweet’s extra calories may be more than offset by its positive effect on other conditions, such as heart disease, blood pressure and glucose control.
Most notably, the team found people who reported eating chocolate more frequently were thinner than those who ate less, as measured by their body mass index (BMI).
Golomb’s team asked 1,000 men and women -- their average age was 57, and 68 percent were males -- how much chocolate they consumed in a week, and recorded how much exercise they did over the same time period. Eating chocolate five times a week was linked to a one point drop in BMI, though the amount of chocolate the participants ate did not seem to have a significant effect on weight. The chocolate-lovers’ lower BMI also could not be accounted for by exercise or eating less overall.
I don’t have a sweet tooth, primarily because when growing up, my dad Esa had diabetes and we tried to limit tempting foods (see Shut out diabetes with healthy living, 10 April 2012). But for many years, I always had one slice of chocolate every evening before brushing my teeth and going to bed. I can only eat dark chocolate, preferably the Fair Trade variety. My theory being that it keeps my sugar needs and cravings, should they occur, in check.
I choose Fair Trade chocolate whenever available because it helps small farms and cooperatives selling cocoa beans and other products such as coffee, bananas and sugar, to make lasting improvements in their communities, by going towards schools, hospitals, and other improvements in infrastructure. Fair Trade guarantees that a significant portion of the money spent will go towards improving the communities where the cocoa was produced.
One of my favorite dark chocolates is the Lindt 90% cocoa bar. It first came with a “caution” and “tasting instructions” for the five taste sensations the eater experiences, including a spike of acidity, astringency and bitterness to be replaced by a sense of fruitiness and cocoa flavor. But the packaging for the Noirissime chocolate bar then omitted the graph of acidity, astringency, bitterness, fruitiness, and cocoa flavor. In place of that, a new set of instructions declares, “To best experience Excellence 99% cocoa, taste a small piece and let it melt in your mouth...”
I haven’t found the Lindt 99% in Dubai yet, so I stick to dark chocolate and of course peanut butter. One cube of dark chocolate or a couple of spoons of peanut butter per night is keeping me happy and slim...
Sorry, Nutella: “It’s not you. It’s me!”