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PALM OIL – BACKGROUND, USES, AND MORE

Palm oil is an essential component of cooking in most West African and tropical cuisine. This versatile ingredient has been used for centuries and can be found in a lot of food.

Background

Palm oil has been used since 3000 B.C with palm oil traces located in Egyptian tombs. The trade of palm oil has been on for decades and it is believed that the Arabian traders are the ones who introduced palm oil to the Egyptians. The process of extracting oil from palm plants begun in Africa and is regarded as one of the earliest commodities of trade. 

Since then, palm oil had been used as a good source of both unsaturated and saturated fats following its multiple benefits in addition to being a source food.  

The process of extracting oil from palm plant begun in Africa so it is believed that Palm oil originates from West Africa, and is regarded as one of the earliest commodities of trade. It thrives well in any other humid tropical area. As of today, Malasia is the worlds leading palm Oil producer.

It is commonly used as a cooking ingredient in the tropical belt of Southeast Asia, Africa, and some parts of Brazil an it is commonly semi-solid at room temperature.

What is Palm Oil

Palm oil is an edible oil with a high concentration of saturated fat mainly derived from the reddish pulp (mesocarp) of oil palm fruits and it is used as a source of fat when it is included in meals. Like all fats, palm oil is composed of fatty acids that are esterified with glycerol.

The red palm oil is known for its distinct bright reddish-orange color due to the presence of high β-carotene and it has a balance between savory and earthy flavor which makes it a good base for most soups and stews.

Is palm oil the same as palm kernel oil? What is the difference between palm oil and palm kernel oil?

No. The simple answer is no. Palm oil is different from palm kernel oil. Although they both come from the same tree ((Elaeis guineensis), Palm oil comes from the palm fruit, while palm kernel oil is extracted from the palm seed. Both palm oil and palm kernel oil are used for different purposes.

Palm oil in it's liquid state inside a bowl

Types of Palm Oil

Palm oil can be categorized into two different types;

  1. Red Palm Oil
  2. White palm oil

Red palm oil is mostly used as a cooking oil and can also be blended into vegetable oil and mayonnaise. It contains carotenoids, vitamin E, and sterols and that makes it healthy when consumed in moderation. The red palm oil is dark red because it is rich in carotenes, like lycopene, alpha-carotene, and beta-carotene.

The white palm oil does not contain carotenes, and it has been refined, deodorized, and bleached from the crude palm oil. It loses the characteristic deep red color of red palm oil because of the refining process it undergoes – it does not contain carotene.

Nutrient Composition

The nutrient composition of a tablespoon which is 14grams of palm oil is;

  1. 7g of Saturated fat
  2. 5g of unsaturated fat
  3. 1.5g of polyunsaturated fat
  4. 114g of Calories
  5. Vitamin E
  6. Carotenoids
  7. Sterols

Flavor profile/Texture/Taste

  • Palm oil is half saturated and unsaturated fats each.
  • It has a smooth and creamy texture.
  • It would have an earthy taste and a silky feel on the tongue if it tasted uncooked.
  • Doesn’t turn rancid because it resists oxidation.

Countries That Grows and Produces Palm Oil

Palm oil is a tropical oil that grows within only 10 degrees south or north of the equator. So they ideally grow on the continent of Africa, Asia, and South America. Here are the nations that produce palm oil:

  •  Indonesia, which is the largest producer of palm oil
  • Malaysia is the second-largest producer
  • Thailand
  • Colombia
  • Nigeria
  • Ecuador
  • Guatemala
  • Papua New Guinea

Examples of What Palm Oil is Used For

  1. Production of biscuits and cookies.
  2. For baking – soft loaves of bread.
  3. Prevents margarine and butter oxidation.
  4. Improves the shelf life of the cake and improves the texture.
  5. For salad dressing and cooking of different delicacies of stew and soup.
  6. For frying of meat, fish, and other products.
  7. Helps to prevent the frozen meal from sticking together when added.
  8. Used in the production of infant formula.

Palm oil is also used in/for; vegetable shortening, vitamins, pizza base, dog and cat food, Non-diary creamer, whipping cream, etc.

Palm oil in a glass jar

Modern Uses

There are diverse uses of palm oil. It is used for;

  1.  Frying because it has good stability for the high temperature required for frying, especially for deep frying.
  2. Cooking.
  3. As an ingredient in many processed food.
  4. Used in animal feeds and even as fuel.
  5. It is also used in industries to manufacture toothpaste, lipstick, shampoo, creams, detergents, cosmetics, lubricants, wax, soap, ink, etc.

Advantages

  1. Palm oil is one of the cheapest and most popular oils worldwide.
  2. It has a high smoke point which means it has good temperature stability required for heating and frying.
  3. It gives food a luscious, fattier, and creamier taste.
  4. Its texture gives food a rich look.
  5. It can be processed into products of different characteristics.
  6. The presence of vitamin E, which is a powerful antioxidant, keeps the oil from becoming rancid in high temperatures
  7. It doesn’t contain Trans Fatty Acids.
  8. It gives fried products a crunchy and crispy characteristic feel.

Palm oil is widely used worldwide for cooking and in other manufacturing industries because of its benefits, its diverse uses, and the low cost of getting it compared to other oils. Palm oil is the perfect ingredient for doing most of your cooking but do not forget to moderately use it.

Why Are Some People Concerned?:

  1. Effect on our system: Just like all fats and oils, when they are exposed to high heat, they can become damaged. This is true of palm oil as well. When overheated, they can form various harmful compounds which is not good for us. However, this happens when the oil has been heated repeatedly. Heating palm oil repeatedly causes a decrease in its antioxidant activity, thereby causing more harm than good when consumed. Note that, Palm oil in its original state will not have that effect on the body.
  2. Effect on the ecosystem: This is a very sensitive topic but I’ll touch on it a bit. When palm oil is harvested, the habitat of rare and endangered species is destroyed because the plantation is usually burnt down during harvest. This has been a concern to a lot of people. If you are concerned with this, it is best to source your palm oil from farmers with best practices and avoid those with illegal practices. If in doubt, feel free to email the seller to know more about the source of the palm oil before purchasing it.

Some recipes that uses Palm Oil

Palm oil is usually used in a lot of cooking in west Africa. Here are some:

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