Nutella versus Peanut Butter: vive la différence

The U.S. and France: so very similar and yet so very different. Some of these differences became starkly apparent to me when I taught English in Paris for a year.

  • Consider paper sizes (8.5 x 11 versus A4).
  • Or temperature calculations (Fahrenheit versusCelsius).
  • Or pens (Parker versus Bic).

For a conversation course, I’d set up a mock debate on Nutella versus Peanut Butter.

Learning a language through conversation

It was a way to get my French students to talk because I knew I was taking advantage of a national pastime firmly embedded in French culture. That of sitting around and talking loudly, although not necessarily informatively, about ideas. Granted, we weren’t talking about the Enlightenment, but my inspiration for the debate was the fact that I was running out of my last jar of peanut butter from my sister’s recent visit.          

The French didn’t share my enthusiasm, though. At the very mention of peanut butter, most would scrunch up their face, or make a horrified grimace. Then they would often respond with something like,

I prefer Nutella.

Sure, Nutella is good, but its chocolate-hazelnut flavor is nothing like peanut butter.

My French friends declared:

Peanut butter has too much fat. It isn’t good for you.

Granted, there is some fat in peanut butter. But I was in France, where everything was drowning in butter and foie gras is its own food group!

I’d assigned half the class to defend peanut butter, which they begrudgingly accepted.

On Team Nutella, my student Aline broached the subject of health:

Zee Americans with zee peanut butter! You LOVE your peanut butter! Peanut butter makes you FAT and you DIE.

To underscore her point, she gestured wildly, her hands flying away from her belly and derrière, and she puffed out her cheeks to their largest size to indicate massive weight gain.

Are Peanut Butter or Nutella healthy? – the debate

I’d designated Johann, a quiet and diligent student, to head up Team Peanut Butter. He glanced at the notecards I’d drafted that morning for him, then read them verbatim.

“Peanut butter is better than Nutella…euh, it has lots of protein. Peanut butter is,” he paused, looking down at the word, which he pronounced with a grimace, “healthy.”

Over the chorus of disapproval from the class, Aline riposted, “Mais non, it’s not healthy, so gras, and full of huile.” I stage-whispered the English vocabulary to Aline, “it’s fatty and oily.”

The day before, I’d just licked my penultimate spoonful of the delicious stuff [peanut butter], which I slathered on pretzels before even taking my coat off upon returning home from teaching. I made my tartines with peanut butter and honey in the morning to go with my coffee.

The three ingredients, peanuts, oil, and salt, are a delectable, filling mixture, and reminded me of home.

Try convincing my French students, though. In France, chocolate in all its forms is considered the main part of a balanced breakfast, preferably when coupled with pastry carbohydrates:-

  • thick chocolate bars inside a croissant (the pain au chocolat), or
  • chocolate squares imprinted with the image of a little schoolboy stuck to a buttery biscuit (“Petits écoliers”).
  • Chocolate shavings mixed in with your breakfast cereal (“Fitness” flakes).
  • Hot chocolate.
  • Chocolate sprinkles.
  • And the omnipresent Nutella. I was confused because peanut-flavored snacks and peanuts themselves filled each apéritif section in the épicerie. So, the French don’t hate peanuts or artificial peanut flavoring, just peanut butter.

Team Nutella wins though bias may have existed

And such was the case in that particular English conversation class when the clear winner of our debate was Team Nutella. The students supposedly defending peanut butter were just getting more and more disgusted by their topic, especially when Johann mentioned the concept of a peanut butter sandwich with bananes. Their shocked faces said it all. Stop, s’il vous plaît.

For Team Nutella, Aline made her final point. “Moi, I prefer Nutella.”
N’importe quoi. 

So, for the more curious we’ll leave you to make your own nutritional assessment?

Which is your favourite Nutella or Peanut Butter and why? Share your thoughts and experiences with us below in comments.

Image credits:
Petits écoliers via openfoodfactsPain au chocolate by Luc Viator

About the Contributor

Sage Goellner

I’m a dyed-in-the-wool Francophile and outreach professor at the UW-Madison. As an online educator, I’ve taught French to students from Alaska to Australia. I live with my husband, two sons, and a Baudelarian cat; my dream is to write full-time in sidewalk cafés and grow lavender on the terrace.

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