Nutella: Four great ways to eat it – and five definite no-nos

Is the chocolate spread best on croissants, pancakes or ice cream? Or straight from the jar?

Nutella: it is less a hazelnut chocolate spread than a global phenomenon. Photograph: iStock

Nutella: it is less a hazelnut chocolate spread than a global phenomenon. Photograph: iStock

 

The subject of heists in Germany and chaos in French supermarkets, blessed by the high priests of the kitchen pass (Nigella Lawson, Yotam Ottolenghi) but also slathered on chips in Aberdeen, Nutella’s popularity knows no bounds.

It is less a hazelnut chocolate spread (other brands are available but, honestly, have you ever tried them?) than a global phenomenon – one that has turned its Italian parent company, Ferrero, into a €12 billion-a-year business.

Nutella is seemingly irresistible to humans and animals alike. Not bad for a creation whose origins lie, twice over, in war, privation and improvisation. Napoleonic trade bans restricted cocoa’s availability in 19th-century Piedmont, inspiring the first gianduja or gianduiotto blends with local hazelnuts. In similar circumstances after the second World War, the Ferrero family created its own cocoa and hazelnut mix, which, in 1964, became the easily spreadable SuperCrema version of Nutella which – recipe tweaks aside – we know today.

The smooth brand has encountered bumps in the road. But, since 2015, criticism of Nutella’s use of palm oil has largely subsided after the then French environment minister, Ségolène Royal, was forced into an embarrassing public apology. Royal had called for a Nutella boycott but, among others, Greenpeace leapt to Ferrero’s defence, stating that it is leading the way in terms of sustainability, transparency and regulation of palm-oil production. Ferrero (which says it uses just 0.3 per cent of global palm oil each year) was the best-rated manufacturer on the 2020 WWF palm oil scorecard.

There are other reasons, perhaps, to not wantonly scarf Nutella. It is 56.3 per cent sugar and contains 80 calories per 15 grams (not unlike jams, for reference). So, if it is best enjoyed as an infrequent indulgence, you had better optimise your use of it.

ACCEPTABLE APPLICATIONS

Chocolate spread in spoon. A jar of hazelnut chocolate spread.Chocolate spread in spoon. A jar of hazelnut chocolate spread.
Serving suggestion: ignore what the label says about not storing Nutella in the fridge. Photograph: iStock

Cold, from the jar

“DO NOT STORE IN THE FRIDGE” orders the label, bossily. But for an exceptional Nutella experience, ignore that. It’s true: in the fridge, Nutella hardens into a solid, user-unfriendly lump. But, perversely, unlike most foods (which, flavourwise, come alive as they warm; it’s a volatile compounds thing), Nutella is most exquisite served cold. Silky smooth, melting instantly in the mouth, its ganache-like quality – rich, dense, intense, layered – is one which, in Michelin-starred restaurants is only achieved at great cost in time, money and emotional anguish. Here it is in a jar, €2.69 for 350g. True, you might have to wrap a tea towel around your hand to help you hack at the hardened Nutella with a spoon. Also true: once you discover refrigerated Nutella you might find it difficult to ever go into the kitchen again without eating it. But licked from a teaspoon, slowly – go full “tantric chocolate”, here – it is sensational. Where warm Nutella is slightly too sickly sweet, cooling it punches up its nuttiness so that (dangerously), it is far more moreish. It makes the idea of putting Nutella on anything seem almost redundant.

Ice cream

From Calpol syringes to caramel-based sauces, a surprising amount of energy is expended online trying to render Nutella in a pourable form. Heating it in a bowl of hot water or microwaving it (try 15- to 20-second increments), will produce a runnier consistency if not a pouring sauce exactly. Do not be tempted to hammer it in the microwave for minutes on end. Instead of a sauce, you will end up with a smouldering, carbonised chunk that could pass as recently landed asteroid debris. However, heating Nutella is probably a retrograde step. Warmed, Nutella has a thinner texture and a narrower flavour profile. Better to simply spoon room-temperature Nutella on to vanilla ice cream, and accept it won’t quite ooze into its crevices but will taste of more. A smaller two-scoops-and-a-blob serve is wise: too much Nutella and ice cream quickly gets cloying. The cold temperatures and all that fat in the mouth mean the Nutella does not quite sing with the full fervour it does when served au naturel, but it definitely works in a quick dessert kind of way.

All white now… the cheapest, milkiest bread is best for Nutella on toast. Photograph: iStock
All white now: the cheapest, milkiest bread is best for Nutella on toast. Photograph: iStock

Toast

Eating Nutella on anything but the blandest white sliced pan is an act of deep self-loathing. Worthy brown, seeded and/or wholemeal throw gritty bran into what should be the smooth-gear interaction of butter and Nutella. Yet, somewhat contradictorily (and unlike the banana and Nutella sandwich, below), eating Nutella plain on untoasted white sliced creates a juvenile, sweet, gummy mouthful that quickly gets nauseating. Toasted white bread is much better. Toasting dials down the bread’s sweetness, gives it a tempering, savoury edge. But, in truth, compared with what is possible in the banana sandwich, it’s all a bit one-note.

While this looks nice enough, it’s marked down for the poshness of the bread, and should really be paired with tea. Photograph: iStock
While this looks nice enough, it’s marked down for the poshness of the bread, and should really be paired with tea. Photograph: iStock

Banana and Nutella sandwich

A symphony of flavours that interact with rare mutual sympathy. The bread must be soft, white, milky and thin. Do not toast it. The banana adds lubrication and freshness that make toasting unnecessary, damaging even. The flavours interlock such that the butter’s saltiness is emphasised, which, in turn, seems to bring a new brightness and contrast to the Nutella. Meanwhile, the banana, as well as creating layers of differential creaminess with the butter, acts as a palate-cleansing reset at the end of each mouthful, refreshing the sandwich in a way that means it works, without becoming too much, to the last bite. Note: do not be tempted to trowel on butter and chocolate spread. A thin screed of each is ideal.

ILL-ADVISED APPLICATIONS

Croissant

Not the worst way to eat Nutella. But, texturally, a croissant is nicer with a few squares of a chocolate bar. All but the freshest, most lubricious croissant will become a slog if larded with gluey Nutella.

Waffles, French toast or both

Bafflingly rich, sweet, stodgy foods. The addition of Nutella, even more so than whipped cream, compounds this problem. Galumphing, maximalist cooking that makes you long for delicacy, refinement and finesse.

Treat the laciest French crepe to a thin layer of Nutella and that works. Photograph: iStock
Photograph: iStock

Pancakes

Treat the laciest French crepe to a thin layer of Nutella and that works. But a big pile of thick, US-style pancakes, smothered in Nutella? That’s a clagfest of rapidly diminishing returns.

As a dip for fresh fruit

That has an unmistakable 1970s feel. Dipping fruit into softened Nutella brings two great things together and ruins both. Although it is not as leftfield as serving chocolate spread on a charcuterie board to pair with the cheese. Or adding it to a grilled cheese sandwich.

On a sweet pizza

No. The end. Never. And don’t come at us with obscure Italian dessert pizza traditions, as if that justifies anything. This is not a matter of authenticity, it is a matter of common sense.

WHEN

Served straight from the spoon? Then likely every time you walk into the kitchen. You have been warned. Otherwise, Nutella works any time – breakfast (toast); dinner (banana sandwich); tea (ice cream) – you feel that Covid-19/late-stage capitalism/life is squeezing your skull to the extent that you need a momentary lift, a boost, a jolt of pleasure to remind you you are alive.

DRINK

A huge mug of tea: a titanic tidal wave of tannins to sluice the decks clean of all that sugar and fat. Nutella and a decent brew are true comrades. – Guardian

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