As guilty food pleasures go, dipping a spoon (or, dare we say it, a pinkie finger) into a jar of Nutella is right up there with ripping open a packet of crisps, tipping your head back and shaking the contents straight into your mouth. It's unabashedly indulgent.
While we all have our culinary vices, there’s something about this chocolate and hazelnut spread that really does seem to encourage people to abandon all sense of decorum. In a rather extreme example of this, last month, when French supermarket chain Intermarché slashed the price of Nutella by 70 per cent, complete chaos ensued – with reports of punches being thrown, hair being pulled and general bad behaviour that bordered on the farcical.
It is highly unlikely that cut-price jam, marmalade, peanut butter or even Marmite, which is famed for its divisiveness, would cause such a frenzy. So what is it about the sweet, smooth, nutty spread that inspires such adulation?
"I grew up in Paris, where street food meant crêpe stalls, and Nutella was the most popular sweet filling by a long way," says UAE-based Syrian-German chef and cookbook author Dalia Dogmoch Soubra.
"These days, I'm well aware that Nutella is far from healthy, but I still have incredible memories of lace-thin crepes oozing with melted chocolate and hazelnuts."
Soubra says that, for this reason, while eating Nutella is by no means an everyday occurrence, there is still a place for it in her kitchen and indeed in her cookbook, Food, Love and Life from Dalia's Kitchen, which features a recipe for raspberry pancakes with toasted hazelnuts and Nutella swirls.
Raki Phillips, co-founder of Dubai-based online dessert delivery company SugarMoo, confides that when researching popular flavours and ingredients to use, Nutella comes out on top time and time again.
“We dig deep into what our demographic likes and dislikes, and our research has found that people particularly like pairing Nutella and bananas, hence our Nutella banana cake was born.”
It's not just in the UAE that the taste for Nutella runs deep; the spread is a global phenomenon. It was created in the 1940s by members of the Ferrero family, who hail from the Piedmont region of north-west Italy, a gastronomic area of the world, famed not just for chocolate and hazelnuts, but highly prized white truffles, too. There are now 11 Nutella factories dotted around the globe. The product is available in more than 160 countries and sales are staggering.
It’s estimated that a jar is purchased every 2.5 seconds. The brand has a huge presence on social media, too.
According to the American Nutella website, in the past three years there have been (at the time of writing) 18,565,491 tweets relating to Nutella, and it was mentioned 11.73 times per minute in tweets over the past 12 days.
Instagrammers aren't averse either, with hashtag #nutella used 8,219,860 times.
Not all Nutella is created equal. Connoisseurs will agree that there are definitely nuanced differences in taste depending on the country in which it is produced.
The American version, for example, is believed to be deliberately sweeter than its European counterparts, while the German variety is thought to have the least sugary taste and a more pronounced hazelnut flavour.
Skim beneath that silky chocolate surface, though, and there are more serious issues than flavour discrepancies at play. Anyone who consumes Nutella regularly, should be aware of the nutritional breakdown and calorie count, if only to ensure that it’s slathered on toast with caution rather than abandon.
The My Fitness Pal website estimates that a single tablespoon contains 100 calories, 6.5 grams of fat (of which 2g are saturated) and 11g of sugar.
More problematic is the use of palm oil to give the spread its signature smoothness and relatively long shelf life.
Palm oil is a controversial ingredient, both from a health perspective – last year a European Food Safety Authority report identified it as a possible carcinogenic – and also in terms of environmental impact. Around the world, vast areas of land continue to be cleared to accommodate palm- oil plantations, contributing to deforestation and the destruction of animal habitats.
This element of the Nutella story is a tricky topic to navigate and is troubling for many fans. While there is no easy solution, making your own chocolate and hazelnut spread is quick to do, palm-oil-free and achievable for even the most inexperienced of cooks. It tastes pretty delicious, too.
Home-made chocolate hazelnut spread
Makes enough to fill three 250ml jars
To prepare: 10 minutes plus setting
To cook: 15 minutes
100g dark chocolate, broken into pieces
200g milk chocolate, broken into pieces
300ml whole milk
50ml condensed milk
Small pinch sea salt
Preheat the oven to 1800C, gas mark 4. Toast the hazelnuts in the oven for 6 to 8 minutes, until lightly browned.
Put the chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water. Leave to melt, stirring occasionally.
Lay a clean tea towel out on a work surface and tip the toasted nuts into the middle. Rub vigorously to remove the majority of the skins.
Warm the whole and condensed milk in a pan set over medium heat until just starting to come to the boil. Remove.
Tip the nuts into a blender and blitz to a fine powder. Add the melted chocolate. Then, with the motor running, pour in the warm milk. Add the sea salt and continue to blend until well combined. Divide among the jars and leave to cool completely. Chill in the fridge for about 3 hours to set.
Dalia Dogmoch Soubra’s raspberry pancakes with toasted hazelnuts and Nutella swirls
Makes 12-14 pancakes. To prepare: 15 minutes To cook: 20 minutes
1¾ cups milk
1½ tbsp white vinegar
2 tsp lemon juice
2 cups self-raising flour
¼ cup caster sugar
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
2 eggs, beaten
2 tbsp butter, melted plus more for cooking
1 cup raspberries
½ cup toasted hazelnuts, roughly chopped
Combine the milk, vinegar and lemon juice and let the mix stand until curdled. In a bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. When the milk has curdled (after approximately 10 to 15 minutes), add the beaten eggs. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir lightly. Add the melted butter and stir until just combined. Fold in the raspberries.
Heat a large pan over a medium heat and coat it with a bit of melted butter. Scoop approximately ¼ cup of the batter into the pan and cook until the underside is golden brown and the top marked with bubbles (approx 3 minutes). Flip and cook until it is golden.
Serve the pancakes hot with a generous swirl of Nutella, some fresh raspberries and a sprinkle of hazelnuts.
From ‘Food, Love and Life from Dalia’s Kitchen’ (CPI Publishers of BBC Good Food Middle East)
Dining out: Where to get your UAE Nutella fix
One of the new additions to the recently revamped menu at Carluccio's is a slice of Nutella cheesecake with a hazelnut-biscuit base, creamy Nutella centre and dusting of crushed nuts to finish. www.carluccios.com
Visit American-style smokehouse Perry & Blackwelder's, and after feasting on barbecued meat, dig into mini-doughnuts filled with Nutella and rolled in cinnamon.
The food at Publique in Souq Madinat Jumeirah is all about alpine-inspired decadence: fondue, raclette, charcuterie boards groaning with cured meat and cheese. This mood doesn't end with dessert. Try the home-made churros with salted butter caramel and Nutella sauces. www.publique.ae
Order pizza for pudding at Bussola Pizzeria. The pizza Nutella nocciole is a folded affair, with a crisp, golden base encasing a Nutella, toasted hazelnut and icing sugar filling. www.bussoladubai.com
SugarMoo's extremely decadent Nutella and banana cake features four layers of banana and chocolate sponge interspersed with (you guessed it) Nutella buttercream. It doesn't stop there. All this is covered with Nutella chocolate mousse and then topped with hazelnuts and Nutella brownies. www.sugarmoo.com
Freakshakes are one of the many food fads taking over the internet, mostly defined by over-the-top presentation and an ingredients list that guarantees a sugar rush. If you're a fan, Costa's The Chocolate One combines Nutella, biscotti, whipped cream, chocolate biscuits and sauce in drinkable form. www.costacoffee.ae