Americans aren’t used to bright red/orange cooking oils that have a creamy, buttery texture suitable for sweet or savory. But in Malaysia, cold-pressed red palm oil is embedded in their culture. Malaysian families have enjoyed this wholesome oil for generations.
Malaysian cuisine is infused with influences from China, India and Southeast Asia. This is a largely untapped cooking style here in the U.S, blending familiar flavors with the more exotic. Without the heat associated with some Asian cooking styles, Malaysian cuisine combines such spices as turmeric, cumin, chilies, cardamom and coriander with aromatic seasonings including curry, tamarind, ginger and lemongrass. And of course, it relies on Malaysian red palm oil.
Naturally semi-solid, palm oil is a pantry staple in Malaysia that is stable at high temperatures, odorless and retains the flavor of other ingredients. (It also doesn’t leave a sticky residue in pans!) Considered a healthy oil, it is packed with carotenoids and antioxidants. In fact, baking bread with palm oil can increase its vitamin E content nearly ten-fold.
The oil palm trees, which bear fruit for 25-plus years, feed and shelter wildlife. Malaysian farmers pride themselves on depending on nature to minimize their need for harmful chemical pesticides. Barn owls patrol the oil palm crops to keep predators in balance. These sustainably cultivated plantations support hundreds of thousands of family farmers, rescuing them from generations of poverty.
The locals also know that their oil palm plantations are literally a breath of fresh air, acting as net carbon sinks by absorbing large amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Geographically, Malaysia may be small but it’s impact is mighty. While more than 55% of its lush land remains covered by protected rainforests, the country remains the second largest palm oil producer in the world. This is even more remarkable considering that oil palm plantations account for roughly just 16% of Malaysia’s land.
Perhaps surprising to Americans who are used to crops that get cleared and replanted every year, is what happens to an oil palm tree once it is too old to bear fruit. Recycling has been part of oil farmers’ sustainable agricultural practices for 100 years. Wood from the trunk is used to make furniture or as biomass, reducing the country’s dependence on other natural resources. The palm fronds become animal feed, are recycled as organic matter or are turned into fiberboard.
Their sustainable processes ultimately became the basis for the national certification Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil standards, which became mandatory as of 2019.
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