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Palm oil time for a replacement?

| Consultancy , Kwaliteitszorg

A Spanish television programme recently raised the alarm on palm oil: it could pose a threat to public health. Palm oil has been the subject of discussion for quite some time now, because there is doubt about the sustainability of the product, for example. Are the concerns of the consumer justified? Should the food industry look for an alternative to palm oil?

Sustainability

The demand has been rising for years. As a result, the number of palm oil plantations has been steadily on the increase. In Indonesia and Malaysia a lot of land is in use for oil palm plantations, and a lot of tropical rainforest is being lost. Deforestation is a direct threat to many plants and animals. Cultivation has many adverse effects on nature, the environment and the working conditions of the local population.

Health

Foods with a high content of saturated fat are regarded as less healthy. Palm oil scores quite badly in this respect: it contains a lot of saturated fat. Of course, the amount of oil a product contains is relevant.
Vegetable oil contains GE, 3-MCPD and 2-MCPD; substances that are toxic and possibly carcinogenic, as revealed in a report by the EFSA. These substances are generated when oil is heated to above 200oC during the refining process. Consuming high concentrations could be harmful to a person’s health. Palm oil contains higher concentrations of harmful substances than other vegetable oils, meaning palm oil has a higher health risk. However, the quality of palm oil has increased in recent years, reducing the amount of GE, 3-MCPD and 2-MCPD.

Price and quality

Due to its excellent price/quality ratio, is it widely used. Because the output of plantations is high compared with other vegetable oils, palm oil is significantly cheaper than, for example, soya, rapeseed or sunflower oil.

The fat composition, smell and taste of palm oil make it easier to use it in many foodstuffs than other oils. The properties of the oil will have a significant impact on things such as the structure, mouth feel and melting behaviour of a product.

Are there any alternatives?

Where sustainability is concerned, is not necessarily advisable to replace palm oil with another vegetable oil. Other vegetable oils need soil after all, and the yield of oil palm plantations is many times higher than that of, for example, soya or sunflower oil. It is advisable, however, to choose palm oil that has been produced sustainably.

Sustainable oil is produced with consideration for the working conditions of employees, animals, the environment and nature. Existing rainforest is not cut down but existing plantations or land are used instead. The production of sustainable oil is supervised by certification bodies such as RSPO and Green Palm.

Other vegetable oils contain the same harmful substances in smaller amounts. Because the properties of other oils are very different from those of palm oil, it is currently difficult for the food industry to find an alternative.

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