According to one employee, “People just rushed in, shoving everyone, breaking things. It was like an orgy. We were on the verge of calling the police.” Some described the commotion as “riots,” and in some cases authorities had to be called in to restore order. “They are like animals,” said one horrified customer. “A woman had her hair pulled, an elderly lady took a box on her head, another had a bloody hand.”
What kind of product could cause such an uproar–one described as having more brand loyalty than Pepsi or McDonalds?
The product is a late-comer to the world of processed food, debuting in 1964. Its roots go back to the years after World War II when Pietro Ferrero, a pastry maker from Piedmont in the north of Italy, came up with a product that could compensate for a cocoa shortage. The first attempt was a hard brick of cocoa and hazelnut paste—the region was a center for hazelnut production—that had to be sliced with a knife. Later he created a spreadable version by adding vegetable oil to the mix.
Pietro’s son Michelle was a marketing genius. In 1964 he changed the name from SuperCrema to Nutella—as one commentator described it “nuts for Anglo-American coolness and ‘ella’ to give it a soft, [and chic] Italian ending.” (Note the pearls, manicure and South-of-France tan in the Nutella ad!) People around the world loved Nutella so much—using it much like Americans use peanut butter—that growth was astounding. One jar is sold every 2.5 seconds globally and Michelle Ferraro is now the world’s twentieth richest man, worth twenty-six billion dollars.
Profits like that can’t be made on products containing expensive ingredients. Today more than half of Nutella is sugar (56.7 percent) while 20 percent is palm oil. Just 13 percent is hazelnuts, with slightly less as cocoa. Other ingredients include skimmed milk powder, whey powder, soy lecithin and vanillin (artificial vanilla). Peanut butter is definitely healthier. The company once claimed that Nutella was “part of a nutritious breakfast,” but that led to a class action suit against Ferrero for false advertising. In April, 2012, he agreed to pay a three million dollar settlement (up to four dollars per jar for up to five jars in returns by customers).
Unfortunately for Michelle, his son Pietro Ferrero, heir to the Nutella empire, died of an apparent heart attack in 2011. Did he grow up on too much sugary Nutella?
Recently in the U.K., Nutella surpassed Marmite in sales. Most American have never heard of Marmite either, but its popularity worldwide is another success story. Marmite is a dark brown paste made of discarded yeast from beer and ale production. Originally used by vegetarians as a replacement for beef extracts, the paste was spread on crackers or melted in hot water to make a tea or broth.
Marmite’s ingredients today are yeast extract, salt, vegetable extract, niacin, thiamin, spice extracts, riboflavin, folic acid, celery extract and vitamin B12. Four different “extracts,” which translates into a whopping load of free glutamic acid, otherwise known as MSG.
If you surf around the Internet, you will find a number of articles reassuring Marmite lovers that the product contains no MSG, or at least not in any amounts to cause harm. But let’s see what Wikipedia says about yeast extract, otherwise known as autolyzed yeast. “Autolyzed yeast extract consists of concentrations of yeast cells that are allowed to die and break up, so that the yeasts’ endogenous digestive enzymes break their proteins down into simpler compounds (amino acids and peptides.” And there’s rub: when you break down proteins into “simpler compounds,” you invariably free some of the glutamine from the peptide chain. Glutamine is an essential amino acid, needed for good health, but nature’s way is to bind up the compound in peptide chains; once freed by industrial processing it behaves very differently in the body, causing everything from headaches to weight gain.
Autolyzed yeast is not only the main ingredient in Marmite, but also in similar products, such as AussieMite, Mightymite, Vegemite (Australia), Promite, Oxo (Ireland, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa and the United Kingdom), Cenovis (Switzerland), Vitam-R (Germany) and Maggi sauce. Bovril (Ireland and the United Kingdom) switched from beef extract to yeast extract for 2005 and most of 2006, but later switched back—but that does not mean this product is free of MSG either, on the contrary, there’s a lot of glutamine in beef and beef broth, from which Bovril is extracted.
As we read in Wikipedia, yeast extract is used as a “flavor enhancer” in processed foods of all kinds. Hydrolyzed yeast or hydrolyzed yeast extract is another version used as a flavor enhancer. “It mimics MSG when combined with sodium.”
Oh, and did you notice that they add B vitamins to Marmite? Looks like not may natural vitamins are left after the autolyzing process.
So it seems that most of the world is spreading either Nutella—loaded with sugar—or a version of Marmite—loaded with MSG—on their bread. This is a case of “pick your poison.” But it is easy to make your own delicious spreads, either sweet or savory, using ingredients that are good for you. Here are a couple of recipes you might enjoy. (Warning: be careful of the Nut Butter—it’s impossible to stop eating it, so if you are trying to keep your weight down, don’t even make it. But it’s a great food for growing children or those trying to gain weight.)
From Nourishing Traditions
Makes 2 cups
2 cups crispy nuts such as peanuts, almonds or cashews
¾ cup coconut oil
2 tablespoons raw honey
1 teaspoon sea salt
Place salt and nuts in a food processor and grind to a fine powder. Add honey and coconut oil and process until “butter” becomes smooth. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator, but serve at room temperature.
CHEDDAR CHEESE SPREAD
From Nourishing Fats
Makes about 3 cups
Combine all ingredients in a food processor until smooth. Transfer to ramekins or a small soufflé dish, cover and store in the refrigerator. Serve at room temperature.