A report from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) claims an ingredient found in the infamous hazelnut and chocolate spread Nutella could be cancerous.
The ingredient in question is palm oil, and the EFSA says it is more carcinogenic than any other oil. It is also the cheapest oil on the market, an attractive detail for food manufacturers.
According to the report, palm oil is more dangerous than other vegetable oils when refined at temperatures above 200 degrees Celsius. The process causes glycidyl fatty acid esters to form, and, when digested, release glycidol – a compound believed to cause tumors.
However, fans of the chocolatey treat may not need to worry. Nutella manufacturer Ferrero says the spread is created using an industrial process that combines a temperature of just below 200 degrees Celsius and extremely low pressure to minimize contaminants.
“The palm oil used by Ferrero is safe because it comes from freshly squeezed fruits and is processed at controlled temperatures,” says Vincenzo Tapella, Ferrero’s purchasing manager.
Palm oil is what gives Nutella its smooth texture and long shelf life. And, since the claim, Nutella’s profits have taken a 3 percent hit. This prompted Ferrero to launch a televised campaign assuring consumers that the way they use palm oil is not harmful.
“Making Nutella without palm oil would produce an inferior substitute for the real product, it would be a step backward,” Tapella said.
Palm oil became a topic of discussion in Italy when its largest supermarket chain, Coop, boycotted use of the ingredient in its own branded products. The supermarket described the decision as a “precaution.” Other popular brands, like Barilla, have also eliminated palm oil from their products.
Despite the controversy, Ferrero isn’t the only European food company that is continuing to use palm oil in their products. Nestlé and Unilever use it in products like chocolate and margarine.
However, Ferrero is the only European food company to take such a public stance on the use of the ingredient.
According to Reuters, Ferrero has performed “hundreds of thousands of tests” on contaminants of the palm oil they use plus the finished products.
The palm oil industry is also under the microscope and believes Ferrero plays a critical part by addressing misconceptions among consumers.
“It is good that Ferrero has clarified that the palm oil they use is safe and sustainable,” said Yusof Basiron, chief executive of the Malaysian Palm Oil Council.
While the report from the EFSA suggests palm oil generates carcinogens, it did not recommend consumers stop eating it, and acknowledged the need for further research.
“The health and safety of consumers is an absolute and first priority for Ferrero and we confirm that Ferrero products are safe,” the company said in a statement.