Nutella lovers, you might want to put your spoons down for this one. The European Food Safety Authority revealed that palm oil — a primary ingredient in Nutella — could be carcinogenic.
According to the EFSA, certain cancer-causing substances — glycidyl fatty acid esters (GE), 3-monochloropropanediol (3-MCPD) and 2-monochloropropanediol (2-MCPD) and their fatty acid esters — develop in vegetable oils when refined at high temperatures (about 200 degrees Celsius). The highest concentrations of these carcinogens were found in palm oils and palm fats. However, the report doesn't identify whether there is a specific type of palm oil to avoid.
The EFSA cites margarine and “pastries and cakes” as the main sources of exposure for consumers. Nevertheless, Italian company Ferrero, which owns everyone’s staple hazelnut spread, is getting major flack because it’s actively refuting the negative health claims.
According to Business Insider, Ferrero “has launched an advertising campaign to assure the public about the safety of Nutella,” which accounts for about a fifth of its sales. The confectionary firm can’t do much else because it refuses to swap out the palm oil, which is responsible for Nutella’s smooth texture and shelf life.
“Making Nutella without palm oil would produce an inferior substitute for the real product, it would be a step backward,” Ferrero’s purchasing manager Vincenzo Tapella told Reuters.
It also warrants mention that palm oil is the cheapest vegetable oil available, and switching to an alternative would cost the company an extra $8 million to $22 million a year, Daily Mail reports.
But you might be able to breathe easy, because Ferrero tells Reuters that they refine their palm oil at "just below 200 C," which comes short of the temperature mark at which carcinogens begin to form, according to the report. The EFSA declined to comment on the risks of refining palm oil at lower temperatures.
So, the EFSA isn't recommending that consumers stop eating Nutella until further study reveals the level of risk. But even before these awful findings, the $44 billion palm oil industry has long been wrought with controversy over “deforestation, species extinction, human rights violations and high greenhouse gas emissions,” SF Gate writes.
Tens of thousands of orangutans have been killed over the last two decades as a direct result of the palm oil industry. Deforestation in Southeast Asia caused by the cultivation of palm oil is “currently the greatest threat” to the future of wild orangutans, whose survival is entirely dependent on the health of rainforests, Robert Shumaker, the Indianapolis Zoo’s vice president of conservation and life sciences, tells Huffington Post.
Palm oil also poses a major treat to the livelihood and rights of indigenous communities. The Indonesian government has been giving indigenous land to private palm oil companies since the 1960's. "A single palm oil plantation can destroy the forests, watersheds, and forest resources of thousands of Indonesians, leaving entire forest communities to face poverty, many for the first time," the Rainforest Action Network reports.
Yikes. But even if you’ve tossed your beloved jar of Nutella by now, you're far from safe when it comes to palm oil. According to Huffington Post, it's in "half of all consumer goods," and can be listed under a variety of monickers. Other processed foods that contain the oil include packaged bread and ice cream, and it’s also found in nonedible items like lipstick and detergent.
You might — understandably — feel like curling up and crying over the possible end of eating “chocolate” for breakfast. But don’t lose hope just yet. You can actually make your own hazelnut spread at home. That way, you can control the ingredients you put into your body and avoid vegetable oil altogether. Bottom line, it’s going to be OK.