American food manufacturers love Malaysian palm oil. This versatile and sustainable ingredient is found in many packaged products, from our favorite cookies and granola bars to breads and frozen pizzas. But with today’s consumer penchant for choosing foods produced closer to home, why are food producers choosing an oil grown thousands of miles away instead of a locally produced fat? It comes down to science.
Palm oil’s physical composition makes it a healthy alternative to trans fats
For years, food manufacturers used partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs) to give their products a rich, creamy texture and long shelf life. The hydrogenation process turns a liquid oil, often soybean or canola, into a more solid fat. Unfortunately, this industrial process also produces a harmful byproduct, trans fats, known to increase heart disease risk. The Food and Drug Adminishttration has severely restricted PHOs use in the American food supply. Many food manufacturers have returned to using tropical fats, which are naturally more solid at room temperature. Malaysian palm oil’s balanced fatty acid composition – 50 percent unsaturated fats and 50 percent saturated fats – makes it an ideal and healthy choice.
Palm oil production puts less stress on the environment than other edible oils
During the 20th century, the Earth’s population ballooned from 1.6 billion to more than six billion. We’re now at more than seven billion. To provide enough nutritious food for each person without putting undue stress on the environment, experts suggest turning to high-yield and sustainably produced crops such as Malaysian palm oil. Oil palm plantations – palm oil is derived from the fruit of the Elaeis guineensis (oil palm) tree – produce significantly more oil than annual crops, such as corn, soybean and canola. A single acre of oil palm produces 11 times more oil than soybeans, and 10 times more than sunflower. Of the major oil crops, oil palm occupies the least land, but produces the most oil. Research is also underway to improve this astonishing yield, enabling Malaysia to increase production without stressing the environment. Plus, being a perennial tree crop, the supply of palm oil is reliable, and not as easily affected by weather and other agricultural issues.
Malaysian palm oil is uniquely versatile and heat stable
All oils begin to smoke and break down into harmful chemicals when overheated, but thanks to Malaysian palm oil’s high quality and physical composition, it is more heat stable than many other oils. Palm oil’s smoke point is in excess of 450 degrees Fahrenheit, much higher than other better-for-you oils. Olive oil begins to degrade at 380 degrees Fahrenheit and coconut at 347 degrees.
With these facts, it’s no wonder that food manufacturers, as well as science-savvy consumers, are embracing the use of Malaysian certified sustainable palm oil.
Robin Miller is a health and nutrition editor with more than 30 years of industry experience. She researches and writes about the nutritional benefits of palm fruit oil, with the goal of giving readers factual, science-based information that will be useful in their daily lives.