Recently, the internet and Nutella consumers worldwide were all a flutter when reports began to emerge that palm oil, an ingredient in the delicious chocolate spread may cause cancer.
Before you fly into a panic, however, take a few minutes to explore the origins of the controversy as well as Nutella’s reply.
In May last year, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) suggested that palm oil, an ingredient in Nutella can release cariogenic chemicals when processed at high temperatures.
This report was based on earlier studies which found that when processed at 200 degrees Celsius, palm oil releases glycidyl fatty esters (GE) which have been found to cause tumours in rats and mice.
The EFSA spokesperson maintained that “at the moment, there is no scientific evidence” of a link between exposure to GE and cancer in humans, noting that “our conclusions are based on available evidence on experimental animals. However, these effects occur with a biological mechanism that is plausible to be relevant for humans.”
Palm oil is used not just in Nutella but several other baked goods and packaged foods like chips, snacks, candy, and other spreads.
The Effects Of The Report
While the report from the EFSA maintained that more research is needed, people and the media freaked out. Headlines such as ‘Nutella causes cancer’ and ‘Study finds ingredient in Nutella may cause cancer’ began doing the rounds.
Some retailers in Italy such as Coop, a supermarket chain stopped selling Nutella as a precautionary step.
Nutella Hits Back
As a response, Nutella launched an ad campaign and added a new section to its website which explores palm oil including its origins and how Nutella uses it.
The website says “Palm oil is used in Nutella® to give the product its creamy texture, as well as to heighten the flavour of its ingredients, thanks to its properties that enable it to have a neutral odour and taste after the refining process. Furthermore, it is the best ingredient for giving Nutella® the right smoothness, guaranteeing its special spreadability and, above all, avoiding the hydrogenation process that would produce otherwise unhealthy trans fats. Palm fruit oil also helps to maintain the unique taste of Nutella® along its whole shelf life, due to its higher stability to oxidation compared to other vegetable oils.”
“The palm oil used by Ferrero is safe because it comes from freshly squeezed fruits and is processed at controlled temperatures,” said Ferrero’s purchasing manager Vincenzo Tapella in a television advertisement.
Making Nutella without palm oil would produce an inferior substitute for the real product, it would be a step backward,” he said to Reuters. However, some people are suggesting that Nutella is stalling on substituting palm oil because it would be expensive and cost the company an immense loss of profit.
As of now, there has been no ban on either the use of palm oil or on Nutella in Europe following the EFSA study.