Why palm oil dominates the supermarket shelves

Posted on: January 20, 2015

“The palm tree is about 10 times as productive as a plant like a soya bean or a rapeseed,” says Kurt Berger, a food technologist who formerly worked at major British food manufacturer J Lyons & Co. In an article in The Guardian about palm oil, Berger says: “In a world that is short of food, having a plant that is as productive as that, is a significant benefit.”

The article explains why palm oil dominates the supermarket shelves. “Palm oil’s technical utility comes from its high melting point. Since palm oil is semi-solid at room temperature, it has a variety of uses from baking products and spreads to frying”.

Half of packaged items in the grocery store contain palm oil. In food, palm oil is a good replacement for partially-hydrogenated fat containing trans fatty acids, which are considered unhealthy. 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.

In spite of these benefits, there are concerns about the sustainability of palm oil. The answer is in making palm oil production more sustainable. “When you look at what these wet tropics can produce that will earn them a hard currency, it’s a very limited number of things,” Berger says. “You can limit palm oil, you can be careful about how you produce it, but I think it’s quite wrong to prevent it.”

Read the full article here.