I’ve been meaning to write this post for over a year, but well, you know – life gets in the way. I do have some exciting news to tell you though: I’ve come awfully close to perfecting an almost-raw (depends on sweetener of choice) chocolate-hazelnut spread that rivals Nutella. I ain’t gonna lie — until about two years ago, I found Nutella to be mouthwatering-ly delicious.
But then, something happened: I discovered real food. After enjoying things like McDonald’s greasy fries, Coldstone icecream and … yes, you guessed it — Nutella — for years, they suddenly tasted disgusting in comparison to real food treats like raw grass-fed cream with dates and walnuts, for instance, or organic potatoes fried in a healthy saturated fat. It was such a relief to me to find out that I can simply make healthy, homemade real food versions of these comfort foods, and that they would blow their ‘original’ junk food counterparts out of the water in terms of both taste and nutrition!
What is Nutella made of anyway?
Consider Nutella. While you and I know that Nutella is a junk food item, some others have been swayed by Ferrero’s clever marketing tactics. This brave mom recently sued Nutella for misleading the public into thinking that Nutella is a “healthy product”.
But, as one example, what the claims of healthfulness sharply contradict is the fact that one serving (just 2 tablespoons) of the chocolaty goodness is comprised of a heaping 21 grams of refined sugar — which is terrible news if you’re trying to stay in shape, or if you have (or are predisposed to) any kind of metabolic condition. Okay, so it has a ton of sugar … is that it? I can deal with a little extra sugar. Oh, that’s just brushing the surface, my friend. Here are some of the obvious and not-so-obvious issues with Nutella’s list of ingredients, besides the sugar:
(1) “Modified” palm oil: One thing that’s getting a lot of flack is the ‘saturated fat’ content in Nutella. The problem is, saturated fat in general is not a problem! In fact, the body needs a good amount of saturated fat to function properly. But just like not all meat is created equal (meat glue, anyone?), saturated fat sources aren’t all the same. The fat in Nutella used to be hydrogenated palm oil … you know what that means? Hydrogenated means that it is a trans fat! When consumers riled up against the trans fat content, the company changed the terminology to ‘modified palm oil.’ Modified, in what way exactly? This is how the Nutella official website describes it: ”This palm oil is adjusted to assure the best consistency for easy spreading by reducing the level of saturated fat” (Nutella USA).
Notice that they use the word ‘adjusted’ because it sounds milder than ‘modified’? Clever, huh. Well, they leave it ambiguous for a reason: Ferrero does not want you to know (because maybe then you’ll refuse to eat it, and then they’ll lose a loyal Nutella-loving customer, and that’s not good for their pocketbook). Here’s the thing: palm oil is available in nature and it’s healthy when consumed moderately in whole form. But when you ‘modify’ it to reduce the saturated fat content, you’ll also end up changing its chemical structure, thereby ruining it! Here’s what one website had to say about what this ‘modification’ of palm oil entails:
Once anti-trans fat laws were passed, manufacturers of inexpensive chocolate could not simply use palm oil, whose melting point is not sharp enough. So what they did instead is rely on the interesterification of triglycerides, one of several methods of “modifying an oil”. Eighty percent of cocoa butter triglycerides have palmitic and stearic acids in the R1 and R3 positions with oleic acid in the R2 slot. To create an impostor molecule from palm oil, a stearic acid residue is introduced at the R1 and R3 positions, where it’s normally absent.
There are different ways of interesterifying. The superior method relies on enzymes because it leaves the R2 position unchanged. The catalyst that creates a greater hodge-podge of products is sodium methoxide. In either case, we don’t exactly have the equivalent of a “Nurse’s Study” to investigate the health impact of these molecules that are being included in foods (Science 20).
The problem is that something healthful like palm oil can very easily made very unhealthful with a few tweaks in the laboratory. Also, something worth noting: companies can lawfully claim that a product has 0 grams of trans fat, even while the product contains 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving. Don’t believe me? Read for yourself on the FDA website. Here’s the problem, trans fats are known to be bad, but these other modifications are just as much of a wild card as trans fats used to be before it use confirmed that they were bad for us. So, why are we repeating the same mistakes we’ve made in the past?
(2) Skim milk powder: That’s one of the ingredients in Nutella that is touted to be “healthy”. Is it? Think about it logically first, then I’ll present the facts: milk doesn’t come out of a cow or goat watered down, homogenized, and dried into powder. It’s not natural. If you give a newborn baby or a calf skim powdered milk, they would probably suffer from malnutrition and develop all sorts of disorders within a matter of days. Yeah, but we’re adults and want to fit in our jeans, not be well-fed and plump, right? What if I told you that skim milk is given to animals like pigs to fatten them up? Yes, it’s true. Also, when fat is homogenized and/or taken out of milk, some molecules become oxidized. Here’s a snippet to explain what that means when you ingest it:
Powdered skim (which is also added to organic low-fat milks) is produced by spraying the liquid under heat and high pressure, a process that oxidizes the cholesterol. In animal studies, oxidized cholesterol triggers a host of biological changes, leading to plaque formation in the arteries and heart disease, Spanish researchers reported in 1996 (Details).
All this talk about skim milk and I can’t believe I didn’t even mention the fact that Nutella likely uses conventional milk from cows that have been injected with rBGH (milk-producing genetically modified hormone developed by Monsanto) and a good amount of antibiotics. Seriously, you still think the skim milk ingredient in Nutella is healthy? (p.s. You should check out my post on raw milk if you haven’t already.)
(3) “Reduced minerals whey (milk): Yeah, that doesn’t sound natural to me either. Why do we need to reduce the minerals in whey and turn it into dried ash? Natural whey is in liquid form- it’s what happens to milk when it clabbers (sours) or in yogurt. It’s a wonderful food when consumed in whole liquid form from grass-fed cows. But dried, separated, and filtered? No thank you.
(4) Soy lecithin: Soy is in everything. You know why, right? Well, it’s dirt cheap to produce, and it can be used in many processed foods to give certain characteristics that make these products more marketable. For example, in Nutella, soy lecithin is used as an emulsifier; in other words, to keep all the ingredients together. Part of what makes Nutella desirable is its smooth and creamy consistency … if it separates and part of it becomes liquidy, you wouldn’t be inclined to think of it as a flawlessly designed food. So, they add an emulsifier. Most store-bought chocolates, even organic ones, have an emulsifier added. But when it does not state that the soy used is non-GMO, you can be absolutely certain that they have used genetically modified soy in the product you are consuming, because something like 93% of all soy grown is genetically modified, and when it isn’t, companies tend to want to state that it’s not.
(5) Vanillin (artificial flavor): If you’ve been reading in the health food world for any amount of time, you will quickly come across the ‘flavors’ industry … you see, when it says ‘natural flavors’ or ‘artificial flavors’ on a package, it doesn’t just mean one little chemical, or even two, or three. The word ‘flavor’ in an ingredient list implies that potentially dozens (or maybe hundreds?) of chemicals were put together to come up with this flavor. If derived from ‘natural’ sources originally, then they fall under the category of ‘natural flavor’ (even if heavily messed with and adulterated to a point where they no longer resemble their original form); and if completely constructed in the lab, it’s called ‘artificial flavor’ – it can be the same identical substance, but on one package might be referred to as “natural flavor” and on another package, it might be referred to as an “artificial flavor”, depending on how it was obtained. In the case of vanillin, it’s made with wood pulp and a bunch of chemical solvents. If this doesn’t sound like real food to you, it’s because it isn’t!
The only good thing that Nutella has are hazelnuts, and for a 13 oz jar, it’s kind of pathetic that they only use a little over half a cup of nuts. Hey, gotta fit in all that sugar somewhere! Unprocessed cocoa is healthy too, except that the kind in Nutella is super processed and probably not fair trade. Also, it doesn’t actually contain that much cocoa — in fact, the Italian government has forbidden Nutella from labeling it as a chocolate cream because it doesn’t contain enough cocoa to be actually considered a chocolate product. Crazy, huh?
A better Nutella is possible if you make the chocolaty spread at home
All this info about how crummy processed Nutella is made may turn your intellect off from desiring it forever, but your gut might give in when you see a tiny French-inspired bakery with freshly-baked croissants and Nutella goodness oozing from the corners. You can now obey your craving with your intellect at ease, because I have tried (and succeeded) at making a homemade Nutella that puts the machines at Ferrero to shame. I’m clearly very biased, but I swear it’s better than the original.
I have made this a few times, each time tweaking the recipe a little. I’ve tried a very chocolaty version (the pictures of the spread on sourdough pumpernickel toast had more cocao powder than the recipe below calls for), and I’ve tried a more milky version (pictured in this post in a jar next to strawberries). I’ve also tried a vegan version with almond milk and coconut butter — it was good but not as creamy as the version with milk. I consulted a variety of online recipes to come up with this version, most notably Nutmeg Nanny’s version and Chocolate Covered Katie’s vegan version. The main difference in my version is the heavy cream and raw milk, which give it a richness and creaminess that is lacking in the other versions. Also, as much as I love raw cacao, it tends take over the taste if you add too much. Something around 1/4 cup is best if you’re using a pure raw cacao; if using a milder cacao, you can probably increase it to about 1/3 cup.
I’ve also tried keeping the skins on the hazelnuts (out of laziness), and also taking them off — this sounds obvious, but peeling the hazelnuts results in a much smoother and creamier spread. I’ve also tried making these in a Vitamix and in a much weaker blender — no surprise on which outperformed the other (hint: it’s not the no-name blender, hah). I also recently tried making this in a Cuisinart food processor, and the result was pretty close to when I used the Vitamix. Okay, let’s get to the recipe now, shall we?
Better-Than-Nutella Creamy Chocolate-Hazelnut Spread
Prep Time: soaking time + 30 minutes
Cook Time: none – it’s raw
Keywords: blender raw dessert low-sodium soy-free sugar-free vegetarian vegan gluten-free raw milk hazelnuts spread fall spring summer winter
Adapted from Nutmeg Nanny, with my own modifications.
- 2 cups raw hazelnuts / filberts, peeled and soaked overnight, then roasted
- 1/2 cup pure Grade B maple syrup (raw honey usually tastes too distinct for this recipe, but you can use a mild honey if you don’t have maple syrup on hand)
- 1/4 cup unsweetened raw cacao powder (preferably fair trade – I use Pacari)
- 2 tablespoons grass-fed heavy cream
- 1/3 cup grass-fed whole milk (preferably raw)
- 4 tablespoons organic virgin coconut oil
- 1 teaspoon fair-trade pure vanilla extract
- dash of unrefined salt (I use Himalayan)
*To make this vegan, use coconut manna instead of the heavy cream and homemade (unflavored) almond milk or homemade coconut milk instead of the dairy milk (by the way, store-bought coconut milk in the dairy section barely has any coconut in it – it’s sugar-water essentially with a bunch of stuff added. The ones in cans for cooking might be different – more real – than the drinking milk substitutes in boxes). I will not lie – the one with dairy is much tastier than the vegan version (at least it is to me), but the vegan version is pretty good too.
(1) Remove the skins from the hazelnuts: At first, I used to soak the hazelnuts with the skin on and then rub the skins off after roasting. That’s kind of an ineffective process that doesn’t remove all the skins. I recently learned a trick via a Chowhound post that makes the process much easier: cover nuts with water in a saucepan and add a couple of tablespoons of aluminum-free baking soda. Bring to a boil, and leave for 3 min, and then drain and rinse with cool water. Rub the hazelnuts between your hands and the skins should slip right off. So easy!
(2) Soak the hazelnuts overnight: This step is pretty important to make the hazelnuts more digestible, and get rid of some of the phytic acid that can inhibit the absorption of other nutrients. Cover 2 cups of peeled hazelnuts with warm water and a dash of salt. Leave to soak overnight, or for as long as 24 hours. Rinse well before use.
(3) Toast the hazelnuts: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Spread the hazelnuts on a baking sheet and roast for about 15 minutes, or until fragrant. Make sure to roll the nuts halfway so all sides can roast evenly. Alternatively, you can toast in a skillet on the stovetop — add hazelnuts and stir on medium heat (constantly stir or the nuts will burn). If you over-roast, they will start tasting like coffee — so unless you’re going for that flavor, I would only toast enough to dry them out.
(4) Blend hazelnuts to a nut butter consistency: Add the peeled hazelnuts to your food processor and blend on and off for about 3-4 minutes, scraping the sides of the processor container throughout, until the nuts have become completely smooth.
(5) Add other ingredients and blend: Add sweetener, unsweetened raw cocao powder, coconut oil, heavy cream, whole milk, vanilla, and salt, and blend for 2-3 minutes on and off until all ingredients are very well integrated. Taste-test the mixture, and adjust ingredients to your liking.
(6) Refrigerate and enjoy: Add blended spread to a glass jar and refrigerate. It will keep for a couple of weeks (if it stays that long!). Enjoy with a glass of cold raw milk, in various raw desserts or smoothies, with fresh berries (it’s yummy with strawberries!), or just off the spoon.
This post has been shared on The Nourishing Gourmet’s Pennywise Platter Thursday and Real Food Freaks’ Freaky Friday.