Oils and fats serve many functions in the food we eat. In food products, palm oil is often combined with other oils and fats, which together determine the fatty acid composition and functionality of the end product. Palm oil offers versatile and functional benefits. Its main advantages are:
Stability at high cooking temperatures: palm oil maintains its characteristics even under high temperatures. It performs better at high temperatures than some other oils and fats.
Stability over time: palm oil is very suitable for use in products with a long self life. Products containing palm oil maintain their flavours and structure – such as crispiness or crunch – for a longer period of time.
Solid or semi-solid state at room temperature: a higher solid content, as a result of the presence of saturated fat, is needed for the physical and chemical properties of certain food products; for example, margarine without saturated fat would be liquid at room temperature.
Smooth and creamy texture: palm oil is a very suitable solution for increasing solidity and improving the consistency of the product. Food products with palm oil have an excellent mouth feel fulfilling specific characteristics needed in different products. For example, palm oil is responsible for the smooth and creamy texture and spreadability in margarine and chocolate spreads and the crispiness and crunch in biscuits and croissants.
One of the reasons for the increase in palm oil use in the food industry in the nineties is the move away from using unhealthy trans fats. Because palm oil is naturally smooth and stable, it is a good replacement for partially-hydrogenated fat containing trans fatty acids. Like most natural seed oils, palm oil only contains very little amounts of trans fats (<1 per cent).
In many food applications, the use of palm oil and palm oil fractions has been instrumental in lowering trans fat levels. The successful reduction of trans fatty acids in margarine for example, has been predominantly the result of using specific combinations of palm oil and liquid oils.