It is one of the favorite food products of the French. A comfort food, a cuddly food, a food that is hard to give up once you have plunged the spoon into the pot. This hazelnut and chocolate spread is terribly addictive, especially in case of stress and fatigue.
After a long day, at snack time, the spread is much more desirable than steamed broccoli, but less healthy than a handful of almonds. A pure pleasure for some, disgusting for others. Problematic, in any case, when we know that the first ingredient is sugar. Manufacturers use palm oil, a fat blacklisted for its effects on our arteries and our planet.
How to explain this incredible success? What does spread tell about our societies? How to choose the best products?
Why are the French addicted to this “little contemporary treat”?
More than half of French people regularly consume spreads. And they are particularly addicted to Nutella. Each year, they consume 84,000 tonnes of it, i.e. 26% of the world total, according to Conso Globe. Every second, in France, the French eat three kilos of spread. Six out of ten households consume five jars on average per year.
For the sociologist Ronan Chastellier, it is “a little contemporary treat that has become a mass event!” For him, confinement has reinstated the place of the snack. It’s a gentle regression that means that when you’re initiated, it’s hard to do without it.
It is a food that seems comforting. According to Catherine Lacrosnière, nutritionist, there are three explanations for this: “First there is the taste of chocolate. We know that when we eat it, we absorb a molecule that is close to the structure of endorphins, you know, those famous hormones of happiness. Secondly, it’s sweet. And sugar is still the first thing we love. You present something sweet to a baby, he will love it. You give him something bitter or salty, he’s not going to like it. Sugar is childhood, it’s comfort. And then the fat. Nutella and other pasta, it still melts in your mouth. And this fat is very addictive, we want to come back to it.”
For Danièle Gerkens, editor-in-chief of “ELLE à Table”, it is in a way a tradition, an emotion that is shared from generation to generation. Today, we have three generations of French people who have eaten Nutella.
Some tips for choosing your spread?
Industrial spreads are ultra-processed products, some of which contain unsavory ingredients. But it is also the quantity of certain ingredients that poses a problem. So you have to look at the list of ingredients (and taste of course!) to find your ideal spread. The guests help us to see things more clearly.
Anthony Fardet, food engineer and specialist in ultra-processing, gives us his first criterion. “The degree of transformation, for me, is the first criterion. A spread can be single-ingredient, that is, the fat from oilseeds that are ground normally can be self-sufficient. To give fondant and a good texture, you don’t necessarily have to add more. If we add fat and sugar, we must obviously take into account the quantity added. It is the addition that is the problem and not the fat itself.
He adds : “There are different types of sugar that are more or less processed. So, even if it may seem paradoxical, you should still prefer sucrose to table sugar, to glucose-fructose.”
Additionally, the market leading brand contains palm oil, which poses serious problems. According to Camille Dorioz, agricultural engineer, “The first is obviously environmental, with deforestation in Indonesia (…) but also the protection of human rights. There is another point which is very important on palm oil, it is the exploitation of children in palm oil farms in Indonesia.”
To consume with moderation
Industrial spreads all contain refined sugar. If children eat it every day, they will exceed their recommended daily sugar intake. Danièle Gerkens clarifies this: “if indeed children eat bread with Nutella, or even other products, rusks, brioches, etc., in fact they do a blood sugar spike within 2 hours. So that means that behind, they are exhausted and they will be yo-yoing all day.”
Consumed in excess – by young and old – sugar also promotes what are called the great diseases of the century. This can contribute to chronic inflammation in our body. Doctor Catherine Lacrosnière explains to us: “When this inflammation is in the pancreas, it promotes diabetes. When it is at the level of fat cells, it is obesity.”
Spreads are therefore not all the same in terms of taste and contributions… Do you want to rediscover the taste of your childhood, think about your health or pay attention to the planet? All the answers you are looking for are in this show.
Camille Dorioz : Agronomist by training, specialized in agro-ecology, campaign manager for Foodwatch France.
Daniele Gerkens : editor-in-chief of “ELLE à Table”, “ELLE Décoration”, “Art & Décoration”. Book: “The taste of the family” (co-written with Mauro Colagreco), Hachette Pratique, November 17, 2021. “Zero sugar”, I read, 2017.
Catherine Lacrosniere: Nutritionist doctor in Paris. Book: “Anti-inflammatory food – Naturally healthy”, Albin Michel, January 30, 2019.
Anthony Fardet : food engineer from AgroParisTech and doctor in Human Nutrition from the University of Aix-Marseille. Books: “Why complicate everything? Eating well is so simple! “, Thierry Souccar, November 25, 2021. “Stop ultra-processed foods! Let’s eat real”, Thierry Souccar, 2017.
Ronan Chastellier: Sociologist and lecturer at the Institute of Political Studies in Paris. President of “Tendanço”, a polling, trends and strategy firm. Book: “Tendançologie – The making of Glamour”, Eyrolles, 2008