Even the FDA doesn’t know whether Nutella is a spread or dessert and wants your input

Nutella is a culinary mystery. Is it part of a complete breakfast or a sweet after dinner treat? Even the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) can’t say. It’s true: despite this chocolate hazelnut goodness being around for years, the FDA doesn’t know whether Nutella is a spread or dessert.

If Nutella is officially classified as a spread, its recommended serving size will go down to one tablespoon, half of the current serving size. That’ll give us 100 calories and 5.5 grams of fat, which sound OK for a dessert but not so great when it comes to starting your day without a major sugar crash.

The FDA wasn’t always so confused about the nature of Nutella, which in 1993 was classified as a dessert topping. This classification was based on a 1991 consumer survey in which the FDA said “a significant number of Americans” reported that they primarily used Nutella as a topping for ice cream.

However, for years Nutella’s parent company, Ferrero, has been pushing for the ambiguous foodstuff to be categorized as a spread, like jelly or peanut butter. To back this up, Nutella is often portrayed in ads as a breakfast spread to be eaten on toast with a glass of orange juice in a well-lit kitchen — the visual signifiers of healthy eating, without any of the legally binding language.

Nutella pastry
CREDIT: Roberto Machado Noa/Getty Images

Ferrero’s strategy may have worked a little too well. In 2012, it had to pay more than $3 million to a woman in California after she sued the company for tricking her into believing Nutella was good for her kids. Clearly FDA intervention (or reading the nutritional information on the jars, I guess) is needed to prevent this from happening again.

To hopefully solve the spread/dessert debate once and for all, the government is turning to the American public. Until Jan. 3, you can join the policy-making process by sending the FDA your Nutella thoughts and consumption habits, either through the Federal eRulemaking Portal at Regulations.gov or snail mail. The FDA also wants input on how you think it should categorize “flavored nut butter spreads (e.g., cocoa, cookie, and coffee flavored) and products used as fillings for cupcakes and other desserts, such as cakes and pastries.”

I’m all for listening to the public, but the public cannot be trusted in this matter. If we have the chance to nudge policy towards giving us carte blanche to eat Nutella straight out of the jar, we’re going to push it past “spread” and all the way into “essential food group.” Let’s keep Nutella in the dessert category, if only to save ourselves.

Tags: dessert, food, nutella