The Hunt for the Perfect Palm Oil Substitute
If you could name any oil that’s used in almost everything, everywhere, what oil would you say?
Vegetable oil? Nope.
Olive oil? Wrong Again.
Coconut oil? Nuh uh.
The answer is palm oil.
From soaps to foods for human and animal alike, palm oil is a regular ingredient. It’s possible that more than 50% of the products we use either contain palm oil or palm oil fractions that were used in production.
This oil is commonly used because of the consistencies it creates in foods, makeup, shampoos and other products. It’s smoke point makes it suitable for processed foods. Much like coconut oil, palm oil is also a solid at room temperature which makes it a very stable oil to use in production.
So why do we want to use palm oil substitutes?
Palm Oil and How it Affects Our Environment
At this stage of palm oil production, the extensive clearing of forests, the destruction of habitats, and other activities result in significant environmental damage. Species like orangutans face the continuous loss of their habitat, leading to a decline in their population. Predictions indicate that orangutans could become extinct in less than 50 years.
This isn’t to say that palm oil production is evil or to be considered an economic drain. In fact, palm oil produces jobs for struggling countries, adds economic value to low-income countries, and is possibly the cheapest sustainable crop to date.
The largest environmental effect from palm oil is deforestation and it’s effect on global warming and the prevalence of species. Because the demand for palm oil increases regularly, it is difficult to not create more palm oil farms and therefore increase deforestation.
However, one way that this deforestation can be avoided is to maintain the current production of palm oil while also searching for alternative, equally sustainable oils. Additionally, many companies are working on decreasing their use of palm oil while searching high and low for oils and blends that might yield a similar consistency.
How is Palm oil used?
The RSPO, or Round Table for Sustainable Palm Oil, is consistently working on how to provide sustainable harvests of palm oil that don’t damage the environment. As they work against the negative connotations of palm oil, they have worked to decrease deforestation and increase jobs in order to maintain palm oil yield.
This does lead to the question of, why is palm oil even used?
Let’s Go Back in Time
Dive back into history to when Europeans landed on the Guinea coast and noticed the prevalence of the oil. It was used to feed captured individuals, grease the wheels of the Industrial Revolution, light homes without a stinky candle, as well as make luxurious soaps.
Because processing was crude at that point, plantations began to develop in Africa, India, and more countries. As these plantations appeared and society continued to move forward, palm oil became more and more prevalent. More lands were destroyed, indigenous peoples were removed from their home lands, and yet more were forced to work under unsavory conditions.
Palm oil wasn’t just a tool to create better smelling candles, smoother makeups, or the modern processed food. It was a political tool that allowed struggling countries to bring economic changes to their homeland: but at the cost of people’s lives, animal life, and the destruction of some of the most beautiful tropical forests in the world.
Palm Oil Today
Like stated before, palm oil is now used in foods, makeups, pet food, candles, and more. This massive list goes to show just how much palm oil has influenced the technological and scientific development of cosmetics and the food industry.
What are Some Possible Palm Oil Substitutes?
The good news is that there are many businesses that are working to remove palm oil from their products however, the problem becomes sustainability. If every company were to completely stop working with palm oil, then the environment would suffer more than it has. This is why sustainable palm oil incorporated with equally sustainable options is the best way to go.
Before diving into some of these healthy and natural alternatives, keep in mind that there are several challenges such as funding and equal sustainability. However, this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t do our own part in incorporating more brands that work to use sustainable products by watching the ingredients list and trying to use the following oils!
Canola and Sunflower Seed Oil
Canola oil is actually called LEAR or low-erucic-acid rapeseed oil. The term ‘canola’ came from its country of origin, Canada, and the fact that it is an oil. Canola oil is low in saturated fats and full of omega-3 fatty acids. The largest issue is that it does contain triglycerides especially when heavily processed. Because of the affordability, canola oil is a great substitute when used in moderation.
The same goes for sunflower oil. While it is lower in triglycerides, it s beneficial for your heart, body, and mind. With only 13 g of saturated fats per 100 grams of oil, sunflower oil is definitely a great substitute for palm oil.
Heterotrophic Algal Oil
Developing algal oil is still in its infancy and therefore still extremely expensive. The benefit of this type of oil is that it is sustainable with minimal environmental impact. The best part is that scientists have found the highest producing species. The largest issue other than cost is that sustainable sugar hasn’t been achieved just yet. However, this can be alleviated by using a multitude of sugar crops other than just sugar cane.
While it may not have the same flavor of palm oil, annatto oil, or achiote oil, is another substitute that does provide the same colorations as palm oil. This oil is relatively simple to make by using annatto seeds and cooking them for a few minutes in olive oil. Essentially, Annatto oil is dyed olive oil. Great color, yet not the taste of palm oil.
Coconut oil is an incredibly healthy, stable, and nutritious oil that is a great addition to your diet or your hair and skin care routine.
More and more products are using coconut oil as a substitute for palm oil. The largest difference is in the sweetness and flavor of the oil. Jackson's Sea Salt Sweet Potato Chips with Coconut Oil is one such product.
Ghee is a tasty alternative to palm oil. Ghee is slightly browned butter with the milk solids removed. This is a huge staple in Indian cooking and adds a delicious flavor to meals: if palm oil and ghee are combined, then the combination allows a cut in the use of palm oil while maintaining the same characteristics found in straight palm oil. Unfortunately, the reddish color of palm oil would be reduced or lost.
Cocoa butter not only smells amazing, it tastes great too! Try making an all-natural body butter and you’ll be hard pressed to not use it as a cooking oil for deserts. Much like coconut oil, cocoa butter is a solid at room temperature which would yield a similar consistency to palm oil. With the antioxidant count, and long shelf life (especially if refrigerated), it’s a great alternative for some baking, lotions, and even hair creams.
Olive oil is perhaps one of the most common ancient oils that humans use on a regular basis. Olive oil has been used for years to make soaps, cook, and more in many countries. Instead of using palm oil in making soaps, olive oil is the better choice as it lathers up better, lasts longer, and is far more sustainable.
The hunt for a sustainable substitutes for palm oil is something that will probably continue for some time as we work to develop the technology necessary to support oil producing plants. If we as a world work to incorporate other vegetable oils with palm oil, perhaps the drain on our environment will decrease.
Even though palm oil is not sustainable, many oils if mass produced are not sustainable. Humans often require vast amounts of many things in order to survive or maintain lifestyles. As we work to include substitutes by combining them with palm oil, we will continue to help and responsibly care for our environment.