Harvested from the seeds of the West African oil palm, it’s pale in colour and odourless, making it a convenient food additive. This has put governments and businesses under pressure to find alternatives to palm oil. Is this the end of palm oil? “Ever since the demise of hydrogenated fats and partially hydrogenated fats, people immediately switched to palm oil as the solution,” said Alejandro Marangoni, professor and Canada Research Chair in Food, Health and Aging at the University of Guelph. But our addiction to palm oil is costing the Earth due to the harm it does to the rainforests. read In both food and non-food products there are 1000’s of palm oil derivatives (ingredients derived from palm oil) as it is a very versatile ingredient. African shea nuts, for example, are collected and sold in small volumes by local communities, rather than grown in plantation, making the supply small and vulnerable to disruption. As if that weren’t enough good news for one story, this could also have massive environmental implications — palm oil isn’t just bad for heart health, it’s also terrible for rainforests around the world and the species that call them home. I highly recommend using it … the environmental impact that palm oil is having around the world. biofuels derived from palm oil and other food-based crops would have to be phased out, suggests it could be a viable alternative to palm oil, created a strain of algae that produced double the amount of oil, experimental algal farm at its Ohio plant, high rates of oil production into leafy plants such as tobacco and sorghum. rights reserved. Palm oil is the world’s most popular vegetable oil. to colleagues, clients or customers, or inquire about Palm oil is in nearly everything – it’s in close to 50% of the packaged … If Malaysia want to think long term, it should stop thinking of relying on palm oil exports to keep its economy going. But maybe we can curb this; I mean, at the rate that we’re going, we’re going to be left with nothing.”. These have passed the hurdle of technical feasibility but still present challenges in terms of affordability, acceptability, and sustainability. “People from the Malaysian Palm Oil Board talk about sustainable palm oil, but I struggle to see how they’re selling anything as sustainable,” says Kyle Reynolds, a crop scientist who until recently worked at Australia's CSIRO research centre. But how does it compete price-wise?”. The most common approach is to find other vegetable oils that offer similar properties. When designing a palm oil free soap, UK cosmetics brand LUSH shifted to a blend of rapeseed and coconut oil. It might have been in the bread you toasted for breakfast, or the margarine you smeared on it, or in the creamer you stirred into your coffee. Since trans fats (hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated fats) are considered unsafe for human health, the move to palm oil was definitely an upgrade. Under ideal conditions, high-yield oil palm cultivars can produce more than 25 times as much oil as soy can for the same area of farmland. Pies will never be the same. image copyright Getty Images image caption New palm oil … (Find out more about saturated fats. These aren’t the only recipes that could be tweaked to dispense with the palm oil. The destruction of rainforest to make way for oil palm plantations turns rich, vibrant habitats packed with species into desolate monocultures (Credit: Getty Images). Right now, just 4% of all of the world’s cane sugar is certified as sustainable under Bonsucro. Ecover’s experience highlights just some of the difficulties of finding a viable palm oil alternative. This makes it difficult for people wishing to avoid palm oil (for dietary, allergy or ethical reasons) to know whether the product they wish to buy contains palm oil or a palm oil derivative. Palm oil keeps chocolate bars from melting, works as a stabilizer and emulsifier in ice cream, and gives supermarket bread a longer shelf life, to name a few of its many applications. Palm oil’s ubiquitous presence in our lives is, in part, down to its unique chemistry. Scientists in Canada create a low-cost alternative to palm oil that uses a simple enzyme to turn liquid vegetable oils into solids. “But that has led to a huge loss in the tropical forest habitat and the animals that live there. Digesting partial glycerols have been shown to lower our total cholesterol. Oil palm plantations linked to deforestation and biodiversity loss. “It should be possible to produce palm oil in a non-palm oil plant. expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Toronto So what can we do while we wait? But none of these ingredients are as cheap or readily available as palm oil. Fortunately, Marangoni and his colleague, Reed Nicholson, graduate researcher in food science, also at the University of Guelph, started working on the problem a couple of years ago and discovered an easy fix: just add enzymes. Speed read. Nicholson and Marangoni published the results of their research, “Enzymatic glycerolysis converts vegetable oils into structural fats with the potential to replace palm oil in food products” in the October issue of the journal Nature Food. “I wish I had better news for you.”. A similar oil palm known as Elaeis oleifera is found in South America, but it’s rarely grown commercially. palm stearine. The most controlled and efficient way to grow them is in large closed vats, but in this arrangement algae and yeast need to be fed sugar to grow, and lots of it. Talk with Shara Ticku, the co-founder Most other vegetable oils need to be partially hydrogenated – where hydrogen atoms are chemically added to the fat molecules – to achieve the same consistency, a process which results in unhealthy trans-fats. Know the Dark Truth of Palm Oil and Get Its Alternatives. “Something that has high biomass should be more adaptable, able to grow in multiple climates.”, At their laboratory in Canberra, CSIRO researchers have inserted genes for high rates of oil production into leafy plants such as tobacco and sorghum. Palm oil empty fruit bunches at Langkon, Sabah. “We’re not going to necessarily eliminate the palm oil industry,” he said, “But the palm industry, along with the beef industry, is in expansion mode and on the verge of destroying what’s left of tropical rainforests. It means it would need processing to achieve similar properties. Normally, tobacco leaves contain less than 1% vegetable oil, but Reynolds’ plants boast up to 35%, meaning they yield even more vegetable oil than soy bean. Oil palms are also easy to grow in the tropics and highly profitable for farmers, even in difficult soils, which has seen the area turned over to growing this crop rapidly increase in recent years. Some of … Star Newspapers Limited and/or its licensors. His team hopes to grow the alga in vats or open ponds, allowing this oil to be harvested. “If politicians say ‘No, we’re not going to take palm oil’, then there’s a really open and good market for algal palm oil,” he says. Palm plantations are also on the rise in Central America, South America (Colombia and Ecuador) as well as west and central Africa. The use of palm oil in Beauty Care has long been criticized for the negative environmental and ecological impacts surrounding the industry—specifically deforestation, biodiversity destruction, animal cruelty and socio-economic violations. “While we have looked at this in the past, palm oil provides very unique physical performance characteristics that are highly challenging to duplicate,” says spokesperson Mollie Wulff. A hectare of oil palm can reliably produce four tonnes of vegetable oil every year, compared to 0.67 tonnes for rapeseed, 0.48 tonnes for sunflowers, and just 0.38 tonnes for soy beans. All that’s required is the will to make that change happen – and for that will to become as ubiquitous as palm oil itself. Meanwhile, food and cosmetic scientists are making concoctions with even more exotic alternatives, such as oils from shea, sal, jojoba, kokum, illipé, jatropha and mango kernels. ), The unique chemistry of palm oil give it a high melting point and make it high in saturated fats, meaning it is hugely versatile (Credit: Getty Images). Palm oil alternatives The closest substitute for palm oil is babassu oil, which comes from a native Brazilian palm tree. Join one million Future fans by liking us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter or Instagram. “The new monoacylglycerols and diacylglycerols (the partial glycerols) produced by glycerolysis have a higher melting point than the original triaglycerols (the molecules that make up fats and oils) so, just by doing that, we can turn an oil into a fat without changing the overall composition of the oil,” he explained. • Why the world is running out of sand• How do you bring a forest back to life?• The wall holding back a desert. Some firms are also investigating whether yeasts can be engineered to produce the kinds of oils demanded by the food and cosmetic industry, although work here is at an even earlier stage than algal oil farms. Marangoni doesn’t think that’s in the cards, unfortunately. Can we do it? Olive Oil:A no-brainer, olive oil goes great on toast, pasta, you name it. Even the vehicle you travelled in today – bus, train, or car – ran on fuel containing palm oil. “The short answer is no, we are not closer. “Mandatory labelling of trans fat content in foods became law in Canada and the United States in 2006, and you had to declare the amount of trans fatty acids on your food labels. Supermarket chain Iceland won praise in 2018 when it announced it would phase out palm oil from all its own-brand products (even releasing a heartrending Christmas advert featuring a homeless orangutan that was banned for being overtly political). “One way this alga does that is by producing this oil.”, Oil can be extracted from algae but growing it on a scale that could compete with palm oil is proving difficult (Credit: Getty Images). And, best of all, the new product can actually lower our bad cholesterol (LDL) and raise our good cholesterol (HDL) — sort of a reverse trans fat. Palm-Free Alternatives . The "melt in the mouth" texture possible with palm oil make it perfect for use in peanut butter and other spreads (Credit: Getty Images). And the oil produced by the tobacco is “quite a long way” from palm oil, as the fatty acids that make them up are longer and more unsaturated. The alga produces an oil very similar to palm oil, coating its spores to help them survive the arid conditions. And by releasing their discovery into the world with no strings attached, Nicholson and Marangoni have made it possible for fat manufacturers to make the switch, quickly. A synthetic alternative then may only make a small dent in natural palm oil's global production. His research into the genetics of Chloroidium, a microscopic alga common in Abu Dhabi suggests it could be a viable alternative to palm oil. Even the electricity that powers the device you’re reading this on may have been generated in part from burning oil palm kernels. The Nutella Alternative is an East German product, which has now been brought as a palm oil-free version on the market. The team reviewed existing alternatives to palm oil from a technical, environmental and economic perspective, and grouped the alternatives into three distinct types of alternative technology including existing crop oils, alternative tropical oils and microbial single cell oils. It’s clear that for now, palm oil isn’t going anywhere. What if we could reduce the pressure on tropical rainforests by creating a plant that was just as productive as oil palm, but could grow anywhere? This move toward palm-free products creates an opportunity for vegetable oil producers in developing countries. The market for sustainable palm oil is already over-supplied, leading to producers selling certified oil unlabelled on the wider market. permissions/licensing, please go to: www.TorontoStarReprints.com. Looking for the best substitute for vegetable oil? It has since gone further and developed Movis, a custom-made soap base that contains sunflower oil, cocoa butter, extra virgin coconut oil, and wheatgerm. Take palm oil, for instance. Here are 10 easy vegetable oil alternatives, including olive oil, butter, applesauce, and more. “We’re not changing the molecular composition of the oil in terms of its fundamental nature, we’re just redistributing the molecules and making ‘partial glycerols,’ similar to the way that we digest fats in our body. Clearing of the rainforests in Malaysia and Indonesia is destroying the last remaining habitats of endangered species like Orangu-tans (Credit: Getty Images), “Oil palm can’t grow too far south or too far north, it’s very much a tropical crop,” says Reynolds. But getting these products to the point where they can compete economically and at scale with palm oil is a major hurdle. palmitic acid Those two nations alone boast around 13 million hectares of oil palm plantation, almost half the world’s total. If you used butter and milk, the cow those came from was probably fattened on it too. The move has left the EU searching for an alternative. Given the crisis, Nicholson and Marangoni decided to play the “altruism card” and give the technology away for free, instead of patenting and licensing it. It’s still the cheapest oil around and, therefore, important to people experiencing food insecurity around the globe. It was probably in the shampoo you used this morning, or the soap you scrubbed yourself with, the toothpaste you brushed with, the vitamin pills you swallowed or the make-up you applied. And the San Francisco-based biotech firm Solazyme has already developed algal-derived fuels for automobile, aircraft and military applications. But the rapid expansion of oil palm plantations is blamed for massive deforestation in Indonesia and Malaysia, and destroying the habitat of endangered native wildlife there, such as the orangutan, and increasing their risk of extinction. That sugar has to be grown somewhere, so the environmental impact of the end product is simply moved elsewhere. It’s nearly impossible to avoid, and just as difficult to replace. Alternative oils. (Find out more about the environmental impact that palm oil is having around the world.). To order But Nelson says it may require a major shift in the market for it to take off. And the RPSO has been criticised as opaque and ineffectual, with little power to compel change among growers. The oil can also be burned for fuel, as can the palm kernels left over after processing. palm olein. Looking at different oils on the same chart, you could use any of the following without changing the recipe: Sweet Almond Oil Cottonseed Oil (which is a primary ingredient in shortening) Grapeseed Oil Lard Tallow Venison Fat Olive Oil Rice Bran Oil … It’s almost certain that you’ve used palm oil today. Food giant General Mills – one of the biggest purchasers of palm oil in the US – has encountered similar trouble. Trans fat consumption raises low-density lipoproteins (LDL, a.k.a. However, a hybrid of the two plants is sometimes used in palm oil production. To do that, we have to take a step back and see what ultimate drives demand for palm oil. The title makes it sound complicated, but the process is simple and it’s really just about rearranging molecules, Marangoni said over the phone last week. It’s a texture thing. The plants can be crushed and the oil harvested from their leaves. 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