A recent claim has been raised by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) affecting various popular products in the market like Nutella. According to EFSA, studies show that palm oil can potentially cause cancer after it has been exposed to high temperature. This claim has greatly affected Nutella’s performance in the market, raising questions whether the product contains cancer causing agent.
Nutella is a popular brand of chocolate spread made of hazelnut and cocoa. It is made by Ferrero, an Italian company that was established in 1964. It was Pietro Ferrero, who initially introduced this product to the market as Pasta Gianduja. Pasta Gianduja were sold in solid block form before it was rebranded as Supercrema. Supercrema is the creamy, smooth and velvety version of this product. In the hopes of expanding their market, Michele Ferrero, son of Pietro Ferrero, made some improvements on the product and relaunching it later as Nutella in 1963.
Nutella products primarily use hazelnuts as its main component. This is mainly due to the shortage of cocoa products during its development stage, and the abundance of hazelnut in the area where Pietro lives. Aside from hazelnut, Nutella also contains modified palm oil, sugar, skimmed milk and cocoa solids. Due to the high concentration of hazelnut over cocoa of this product, many countries technically identify Nutella as hazelnut cream. Modified palm oil, which is the ingredient in question, is in charge of keeping Nutella in its solid or pasty finish even when at room temperature, serving as a replacement for cocoa butter that Nutella lacks.
Based on the studies conducted by EFSA, vegetable oil forms carcinogenic substances when exposed to high temperature during the refining process. Palm fats and palm oil are classified as vegetable oils that display the highest concentration of these substances when refined. These substances include, 2-monochloropropanediol (2-MCPD), glycidyl fatty acid esters (GE) and 3-monochloropropanediol (3-MCPD). However, EFSA did not directly recommend an absolute elimination of palm oil consumption.
This report caused major concern among Nutella consumers, which required the company to come out in the open and make a stand regarding the safety of its product. Based on the reports presented by Ferrero, the modified palm oil used in their products are not hydrogenated. It is mainly a combination of naturally extracted solid and liquid oils from palm fruits processed under closely monitored temperature. The modification applied to the palm oil is mainly designed to strike a balance between its two forms in order to achieve the spreadable consistency that the company is aiming for.
The growing concern regarding this report had European retailers pulling out Nutella products from their grocery shelves, resulting in a 3 % decrease in Nutella’s profit since the news came out. Although no outright ban of the product has been ordered the European Commission is out to conduct further investigation regarding the matter. Aside from Nutella, the final verdict regarding this claim could affect other major products such as margarine, packaged bread, ice cream, cosmetics, and detergents, which are all using palm oil as part of their main ingredient.