International Face Off: Nutella

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[Photographs: Carrie Vasios]

Have you ever noticed how some products that we have at home just seem to taste better abroad? Cadbury chocolate, Fage Greek yogurt, and Coca-Cola all taste different when imbibed overseas or simply below the border. Heck, I've even heard it said that Barilla pasta tastes better in Italy (they claim it's because of the water).

For me, this question becomes most pressing regarding Nutella, the Italian chocolate-hazelnut spread that is akin to my personal crack. Given that I would forgo entire food groups to keep Nutella in my life, it was important for me to find out: was I eating the best possible version? Thus, under the pretense of "visiting my family," I flew all the way from California to New York City to go to Buon Italia, an Italian food store that imports Nutella from Italy.

The obvious first move was to arrange a blind taste test that would pit the real deal against the readily available supermarket version (which is made in Canada).

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They look identical on the spoon.

I was both relieved and saddened to find that without any identifying markers, I could easily tell which spoonful of spread was the Italian version. Moreover, four friends could also accurately tell the difference, noting that one "tasted like sugar" and the other "like hazelnuts."

This sums up the difference in taste. The Italian Nutella had a rich, intense hazelnut flavor. The chocolate played a more supporting role and the overall effect was sweet but not cloyingly so. The local supermarket Nutella tasted like sugar. Someone noted that the hazelnuts seemed "like an afterthought" and the chocolate was definitely more prominent. Though they looked identical on the spoon, the Italian version had a thicker mouth feel and the supermarket version left a slight film on the tongue.

The ingredients listed on the jars are practically identical: sugar, palm oil, hazelnuts, cocoa, skim milk, reduced minerals whey (milk), lecithin as emulsifier (soy), vanillin: an artificial flavor. The sole difference is that the Italian version lists two percentages: hazelnuts (13%) and milk (5%) while the American version keeps mum. The website for American Nutella says, "Each 13 oz. jar contains more than 50 hazelnuts." If I had to guess, I'd say Italian Nutella uses a few more nuts than that.

Sure, I'm disappointed that I've been living a half-life. It's difficult to have tried the best and settle for the mediocre. It's why I'm afraid to fly first class or buy a piece of furniture that isn't from Ikea. But though American Nutella may be sugary, it still tastes pretty darn good, and the truth is I won't stop buying it. When possible, I'll just load up on the real stuff because it makes me feel like this:

[Video: NutellaItalia2011 on Youtube]

Have you tried Italian Nutella? Are there other products you think taste better abroad?


About the author: Carrie Vasios is the editor of Serious Eats: Sweets. She likes to peruse her large collection of cookbooks while eating jam from the jar. You can follow her on Twitter @carrievasios

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