Why is palm oil used?
Posted on 19th May 2020 at 19:55
Why is palm oil used?
In this article we are going to cover a few subjects about why palm oil is used. They will include:
Palm oil is used in a wide variety of products because it is extremely cheap to produce due to production mainly being in poorer, less economically developed countries and its high efficiency in producing the most oil per hectare of land used when compared to other vegetable oils.
Palm oil is widely considered the utility oil of the world. Its ability to maintain its properties even under high temperatures and lack of any distinct taste makes it extremely popular to substitute it into products for other more expensive oils and immediately increase your profit margin.
Let’s all be honest about why palm oil is used. It’s cheap. Like really cheap. It is by far the cheapest oil available and it’s easy to see why.
Palm oil produces 4 tonnes of oil per hectare of land which is double the amount of its closest competitor coconut oil, which will produce 2 tonnes per hectare, and has a much more appealing marketing image, especially with a lot of high profile celebrities touting its miraculous properties.
Palm oil is about half the price of it's nearest competitor oil. You can see why when it produces so much oil per hectare of land.
Each palm tree produces bunches or spikelets as they are sometimes called. These bunches of palm fruit can weigh between 10 - 25kg. A single palm tree will produce 12 - 14 of these a year.
The palm oil industry has also become very efficient at turning the fruit into oil. This process is no longer performed at farms and small holdings. The crop is taken to a dedicated palm oil mill where they extract the maximum amount of oil from the fruit.
This process has made palm oil incredibly efficient, as the mill, with its modern extracting equipment is considerably more effective than a farmer, some mills can process up to 20 tonnes per hour.
Palm oil trees are only able to grow in a tropical climate, which include a vast amount of poorer countries, with questionable labour laws. Well lets just say they have strong laws which are poorly enforced. In Indonesia, the legal working age is 15, but children as young as 8 years old have been found to be working on palm oil plantations.
Palm oil is used because it's cheap, but it's cheap for a reason. Child labour, unsustainable practices and production in poorer countries with very low wages. I think that about sums up why palm oil is used.
It's not as widely publicised as the child labour on clothes and footwear, but it is happening, so every time you chomp into that ice cream or chocolate bar just remember who made it.
Why is palm oil used in food?
According to Greenpalm.org palm oil is present in 50% of all products on supermarket shelves and now the EU has introduced the measure of food packaging having to declare if palm oil is present in the ingredients.
It’s incredibly cheap and can easily be swapped into recipes instead of more expensive oils. Palm oil will almost always be in the cheapest products that require a fat in them.
This is because it produces more oil per hectare than any other commercially produced oil in the world. There is no distinct taste to it, so it will not affect the taste or quality of the product.
From December 2014, companies must now put on their label palm oil instead of vegetable oil. Previously palm oil was allowed to be called vegetable oil, which has a much better reputation than the dreaded palm oil, destroyer of forests and killer of the orang-utan habitat.
Palm oil is less than half the price of its competitors, and in business money talks. Palm oil has a very mild taste and is easy to switch out other oils or butters and substitute in this cheaper alternative.
For instance palm oil is regularly substituted into chocolate for the much more expensive alternative of cocoa butter. It seems strange to substitute out something that comes from the cocoa tree, but large manufacturers have done it and you probably haven’t even noticed. This is because there is no distinct taste in palm oil. If they substituted it for a more distinct tasting oil such as sesame, you would notice a big difference in taste.
Here is a list of food items that you can find palm oil in:
Cookies and Biscuits
Low fat spreads
Cooking oils and butters
These are the most common items in which you will find palm oil in your food, but palm oil use is rising in foods as more companies look for cheaper ingredients to increase their profit margins and please shareholders.
The problem with putting it in so much food is that palm oil is high in saturated fat which has been linked to heart disease. A much healthier alternative to palm oil in your food is olive oil and rapeseed oil are much better for your heart.
This is because these oils are high in monounsaturated fats which have been shown to lower the risk of heart disease.
Why is palm oil used in cosmetics?
Palm oil isn’t just used in the food industry; it has been used in the cosmetic industry as well for a long period of time. One of the first large soap brands actually have it in their name and mixed palm oil with olive oil to create their soap. Palm oil is literally everywhere in the cosmetics industry with around 70% of products containing palm oil or derivatives of palm oil.
Palm oil derivatives, such as sodium lauryl sulphate, are used as emulsifiers and surfactants in products such as soap, shampoo, hand wash, shower gel moisturisers and beauty creams. An emulsifier is something which allows water and oil to mix. This is particularly useful when mixing soap and water, which is the basic make up of most hand washes and shower gels.
Surfactants are cleansers; they remove oil and grease from a surface. The surfactants that come from palm oil are particularly good at removing oil and grease from a surface.
These surfactants have been used in washing up liquid and laundry detergent since the 1950s. They are used because they break up the oils, fats and grease associated with stubborn stains.
They are not particularly great for skin though as they break down our skins grease. The problem is our skin needs its natural grease, sebum, which basically acts as the glue between our skin cells holding them together and stopping our skin from losing moisture.
When we expose our skin to prolonged use of these surfactants our skin can respond in two ways. One way is it will continue as normal producing the same amount of sebum it usually would. This is continually washed away by the surfactant and we end up with very dry skin and exacerbating dry skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis.
On the opposite end of the scale, some peoples skin react by making large amounts of sebum, which gives people very oily and greasy skin. This can lead to acne or breakouts of spots.
Our skin much prefers a natural soap with no surfactants in. This is because a natural soap which doesn’t contain palm oil or its chemical derivatives will lift the dirt, grease, bacteria and viruses away from your skin and the act of rinsing will easily wash them away. This leaves the sebum intact and your skin will lose less moisture and remain soft and moisturised.
Palm oil has a hugely diverse range of products it is included in, below is a list of just a few. There are a lot more but we’ve included some of the most common products.
Make up such as mascara
As you can see from the examples above there is palm oil in so many everyday products. It's really hard to stay away from, but luckily our products are completely palm oil free and you can check them out here or keep reading to find out more palm oil uses!
Palm oil for Biofuel?
Yes that’s right another use for palm oil which is rapidly increasing in demand is bio fuel. Palm oil production is incredibly wasteful with up to 90% of the mass going unused. Recently scientists have found a way of converting some of the waste into biodiesel, which is a good thing.
This involves using bentonite clay an abundant and renewable resource in Indonesia, due to the islands volcanic nature (bentonite clay is volcanic clay).
The clay is used as a catalyst to trigger reactions with the palm oil molecules to turn them into smaller, lighter hydrocarbon molecules which are almost identical to the hydrocarbon molecules of fuels like petrol and diesel.
So in summary about why palm oil is used it is incredibly cheap and can easily be swapped into recipes instead of more expensive oils. This is because it produces more oil per hectare than any other commercially produced oil in the world. There is little taste to it, so it will not affect the quality or taste of the product.
Also its use in cosmetics is down to its price point. This is because cosmetics and toiletries use oils to create their products. Palm oil when used in soap is incredibly drying as it is a cleanser, which is why when you use a soap that is mostly made up of palm oil or palm kernel oil, you can feel dry and rubbery after use.
When soap is super cleansing it leaves you dry, which is why we recommend using a soap without palm oil and a balance of good skin loving ingredients like these ones here.
Secondly it maintains its properties even at a high temperature so it’s perfect for cooking with.
Palm oil is one of the most heat resistant oils on the market which is good because it will not mutate when heated to a high temperature and will not smoke at a high temperature. If you compared cooking a steak with butter and one with palm oil, the steak cooked with butter would taste better but the one cooked with palm oil would have a less smoky kitchen. Plus the meal would also technically cost less.
Thirdly it has low oxidization which basically means it has a very long shelf life. This is important because lots of products want their products to be sat on shelves for a longer period of time, decreasing wastage and increasing profits. Palm oil is used in breads, cakes, and biscuits to increase their shelf life.
The final reason why palm oil is used is that its waste can make useful by products such as oleochemicals for use in detergents and cleaners. Also the waste can make bio fuels which as we know the world uses a lot of.
So now you know why palm oil is used. Cheap. Easy to cook with. Extends shelf life. Biofuel. These aren’t really valid reasons to be devastating entire eco-systems and polluting the world with forest fires, but these are the reasons palm oil is used.
Here at Seatree Cosmetics we are committed to never using palm oils and encouraging people to not use as much. A complete boycott would endanger the income of some of the poorest people in the world, but what we need to do is reduce our use and over reliance on this crop, so we can stop cutting down precious rainforest and habitat to some amazing bio-diverse wildlife found nowhere else in the world.
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I hope you have enjoyed this article, and we have plenty more on our blog if you want to read more about why natural palm oil free soap is so great.
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