Nutella, for those who've never tasted it, is the "original creamy, chocolaty hazelnut spread." Popular in Europe (it's made in Italy), Nutella is mainly eaten at breakfast or for dessert by smearing it on bread or a croissant, or folding into a crepe. "Nutella" is a brand name, but like "Kleenex" or "Xerox," it has been "genericized" to refer to any spread made with hazelnuts and cocoa.
Nutella inspires fierce passion in its diehard fans. Brand-name Nutella is indeed creamy, with a consistency and taste of chocolate icing, but not as sweet, and with a nutty aftertaste. I admit to being a fan -- one of my favorite breakfasts is a made-from-scratch, hot-out-of-the-oven croissant slathered with Nutella and washed down with a double espresso.
My first experience with Nutella came during a college summer abroad in Italy. My roommate was a chubby Greek kid named Dimitry. Dimitry would sooth his crippling homesickness by constantly spooning Nutella out of a container he always carried in his bag. Turns out it's a great comfort food. In the ensuing years I've continued to eat Nutella off-and-on, picking up a small jar at the supermarket or, if circumstances warrant, a jumbo container at Costco.
Recently, I received an email newsletter from the Midtown Farmer's Market announcing a new vendor that features homemade, artisanal "Nutella." This past Saturday I decided to stop by and check it out.
The local vendor is called Grateful Bread and is owned by Al Marcus. The "Nutella" that Al makes from scratch is actually labeled as gianduia, the original Italian hazelnut confectionery that was the inspiration for brand-name Nutella. Al's ingredient list includes hazelnuts, Dutch-process cocoa, confectioner's sugar, artisan vanilla extract and salt. This is basically the same ingredient list as brand-name Nutella, with the exception of palm oil (probably used to create the creamy consistency).
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I purchased a small container of gianduia from Al, then stopped off at Kroger to pick up a jar of Nutella and also a jar of generic Kroger "hazelnut spread." A taste test was in order.
The gianduia had a very pronounced nutty flavor, much more than Nutella. I suspect the gianduia contained as much as 50 percent hazelnut paste, whereas Nutella is known to contain only 13 percent hazelnut. Also, the gianduia was both creamy and grainy, reflecting the presence of the finely chopped hazelnuts.
Ultimately, comparing gianduia to Nutella is comparing apples to oranges. They are born from the same tradition, but the resulting flavor profiles are very different. Grateful Bread's gianduia has a wonderful depth and complexity of flavor manifested in the combination of hazelnuts, cocoa, sugar, vanilla and salt. Traditional Nutella sticks to the less challenging and more widely palatable combination of creamy chocolate with a nutty finish.
Interestingly, the generic "hazelnut spread" from Kroger is virtually identical to brand-name Nutella. The taste is indistinguishable -- the only difference is that the generic version is less creamy. At a couple bucks less for a 13-ounce jar, the generic version is a great alternative if you need to buy in bulk - say, if you've had a bad day, or maybe you're just homesick.