A reader expressed surprise that I had included what she thought was commercial chocolate-hazelnut paste in my avocado-chocolate pudding; please let me take this opportunity to clear up the misunderstanding with today’s recipe for a healthy alternative to Nutella.
First, a confession: as a child, I was a Nutella addict. Persuaded by advertisements like this one
that the sugary chocolate paste was an excellent source of energy for
growing children, my mother bought a steady supply of the sweet
confection and we ate it greedily, usually by the spoonful when no one
was looking, but also at breakfast, spread on white toast.
the way, notice how the mom in the commercial talks about “multigrain
toast,” “whole wheat waffles” and “simple, quality ingredients like
hazelnuts”? I call that “health claim by association”: when you’re
selling a less-than-healthy product, pair it with healthy ones and hope
their health halo will extend to your sugary confection. Does Nutella
make you “ready to tackle the day”? Yes, for about an hour before the
likely blood-sugar crash… No to mention the long-term effects of eating
nutrient-depleted sugar pastes on white bread, washed down with OJ
year-in, year out… But I digress.)
was only decades later, when I began to understand the connection
between health and food, that I realized why spooning down Nutella was
not a good idea. A look at the ingredients as posted on their U.S.
website (1) sends shudders down my spine: they are listed (in this
order) as “sugar, palm oil, hazelnuts, cocoa, skim milk, reduced
minerals whey (milk), lecithin as emulsifier (soy), vanillin: an
Hazelnuts in third place — that doesn’t sound so bad, you say? No, it doesn’t – until you realize that third place comes a loooong
way after sugar (which accounts for 54.4% of the paste) and palm oil
(30.3%), leaving only a measly 15% for hazelnuts, milk and cocoa (2).
Oh, and artificial flavoring.
packs in 200 calories per two-tablespoon serving. I’m no calorie-phobe,
but when fast-developing children regularly eat 200 calories that are
entirely devoid of nutritional value, that’s a disaster. This is not to
say that we can’t occasionally indulge in a teaspoon of Nutella at a
hotel or when visiting a Nutella-eater’s house, but let’s try not to
bring it into our homes, because once it’s there, it’s hard to stop at
Especially when we can make our own vastly more nutritious (and, I would argue, more delicious) Nutella replacement!
The following recipe, taken from my book Zest for Life,
is inspired by Nutella (even I can’t deny that hazelnuts and chocolate
are a match made in heaven), but is free from palm oil, sugar,
artificial flavorings and dairy.
it’s heavy on hazelnuts, whose skins have an antioxidant capacity 7-8
times that of dark chocolate, 10 times that of espresso coffee, and 25
times that of blackberries (3). Hazelnuts also provide healthy
monounsaturated fats and protein, so this home-made paste is likely to
keep you sated longer than commercial equivalents and thus curb
The paste’s sweetness comes from honey (whose praises I sang in the previous post)
and prunes which, in addition to having a moderate glycemic impact,
contain natural compounds that have been shown to selectively kill human
breast cancer cells while leaving healthy cells intact (which I have
written about here).
These compounds – chlorogenic and neo-chlorogenic acid – have also been
shown in rodent studies to inhibit the spread of cancer cells
Homemade Hazelnut-Chocolate Spread (makes about 10oz/1¼ cup/300g)
5¼ oz/⅔ cup/150g hazelnut butter
½ cup/100g prune puree (health-food shop, or make it yourself: combine
1/2 cup pitted prunes with 3-4 tbsp hot water in a food processor and
blend until smooth.)
2-3 tbsp honey (to taste)
1 heaped tbsp pure, unsweetened cocoa
2-3 tbsp lukewarm water
1 tsp natural vanilla extract
a mixing bowl, combine all the ingredients except hazelnut butter and
mix. With a metal spoon, carefully fold hazelnut paste into this
mixture, taking care not to stir too vigorously or the oil may separate
out. Add a little lukewarm water if you want a softer paste.
Transfer to an empty, clean jam jar; keeps for about two weeks in the refrigerator.
on wholegrain toast, waffles and pancakes, dab on banana slices or stir
into yogurt. (This paste is rich in calories, so enjoy sparingly – for
even nutrient-dense calories are calories!)
(1) U.S. Nutella website: http://www.nutellausa.com/ingredients.htm
(2) Australian Nutella website: http://www.nutella.com.au/faq/
(3) Del Rio D., Calani L., Dall’Asta M., Brighenti F.: Polyphenolic composition of hazelnut skin. J Agric Food Chem. 2011 Sep 28;59(18):9935-41: