Palm oil is an edible vegetable oil that comes from the fruit grown on the oil palm tree and is everywhere—from our toothpaste, ice-creams, cosmetics, pizza, chocolates to even some fuels.
That’s because no other crop produces the same amount of oil per acre like oil palm does. In other words, it is one of the most cheaply produced oils in the world.
Earlier, oil palm trees were found only in West and South-West Africa. But as its popularity grew as a versatile edible oil, their cultivation spread to North and South America as well as Asian countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia.
These two South Asian countries alone boast of 13 million hectares of oil palm plantations—approximately half of the world’s total.
Why is the usage of palm oil so controversial?
The oil itself is not evil; its production and manufacturing is what is worrisome. For starters, acres and acres of high-quality forests are wiped out so that oil palm trees can be grown there.
Deforestation not only leads to a spike in carbon dioxide and black carbon in the atmosphere, which then leads to climate change, while also rendering wildlife species homeless.
Among the animals that suffer are orangutans—about 1,00,000 of them have died due to loss of habitat in the last 17 years—tigers, rhinos and elephants.
Does palm oil have any benefits?
It is said to have some health benefits if consumed in moderation. The vegetable oil is an excellent source of tocotrienols—a form of Vitamin E—that provides protection to the cells and can reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer.
It also has a high melting point and high saturated fat content, which makes it ideal for creating melt-in-the-mouth confectionery.
There are such great alternatives available today that one needn’t wholly depend on palm oil for nutrition. You can choose from alternatives like sunflower oil, coconut oil, and black seed oil.
- Organic cold-pressed sunflower oil, for example, is hygienically extracted from organically grown and cultivated sunflower crops produced and processed as per NOP/NPOP standards, making it a healthier choice for the planet.
- Unrefined, cold-pressed coconut oil, is an excellent alternative because its procured using traditional methods and comes packed with antioxidants as well as antibacterial and potent medicinal properties.
- Extracted from organically grown and cultivated black seeds, the black seed oil is a rich source of calcium, iron, sodium, and potassium, as well as fatty acids. It’s great for promoting heart health, fighting allergies and infections, and maintaining overall health.
The Final Verdict
While it is nearly impossible to avoid the ubiquitous palm oil entirely, we can definitely work towards ensuring that the ones being bought and sold are sustainable and certified.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)