How to spot palm oil – and how to avoid it
Palm oil is found in half of the products on a supermarket shelf: from the frozen pizza, to your dedorant, to your lipstick, laundry detergent, cookies, nutella etc…However, it is the main driver of tropical deforestation. Of course there are no laws banning such ingredients, and companies’ are not obliged to obviously list whether they use palm oil or not…
So what is palm oil?
It is a vegetable oil derived from the fruit of oil palm trees, the scientific name is Elaeis guineensis. Two types of oil can be produced; crude palm oil comes from squeezing the fleshy fruit, and palm kernel oil which comes from crushing the kernel, or the stone in the middle of the fruit. (taken from WWF).
Here a few palm oil’s synonyms so you can get aquainted:
Vegetable Oil, Vegetable Fat, Palmate, Palmitate, Palmolein, Palm Kernel, Palm Kernel Oil, Palm Fruit Oil, Glyceryl, Stearate, Stearic Acid, Palmitic Acid, Elaeis Guineensis, Palmitoyl Oxostearamide, Palm Stearine, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Sodium Kernelate, Sodium Palm Kernelate, Palmitoyl Tetrapeptide-3, Hydrate Palm Glycerides, Etyl Palmidite, Octyl Palmitate, Palmityl Alcohol, Sodium Lauryl Lactylate/Suphate.
1. Ingredients that definitely contain, or are derived from, palm oil
- Anything containing the word ‘palm’
- eg. palm kernel, palm stearine, palm fruit oil or more technical name such as palmitate, palmate, and palmitoyl.
- There are a lot of other technical names containing the word ‘palm’. If you see this forming part of a word, you can assume the product contains a derivative of palm oil.
2. Derivatives of palm oil
- such as: Elaeis Guineensis, Saponified Elaeis Guineensis and Sodium Kernelate.
3. Products made from palm oil
*these could be products of coconut oil too, check with the brand to make sure
- SLS – present in most soaps, foam washes, shower gels, bubble baths and anything else that foams when you use it. This may also be listed as Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate or Sodium Lauryl Sulfoacetate.
- Ingredients containing the words ‘sodium’ or ‘sulphate’, such as Sodium Dodecyl Sulphate (also known as SDS or NADS), Sodium Isostearoyl Lactylaye and Fatty alcohol sulphate.
- Anything containing the words ‘cetyl’ or ‘isopropyl’.
- Ingredients containing the wordS ‘Steareth’, Stearate or Lactylate
- ‘Cocoa butter equivalent’ or ‘cocoa butter substitute’ (CBE or CBS)
- Ingredients containing ‘glycerol’ or ‘glyceryl’
Why is Palm Oil used in everything?
Palm oil is an extremely versatile oil that has many different properties and functions which makes it so useful and so widely used. It is semi-solid at room temperature so can keep spreads spreadable; it is resistant to oxidation and so can give products a longer shelf-life; it’s stable at high temperatures and so helps to give fried products a crispy and crunchy texture; it’s also odourless and colourless so doesn’t alter the look or smell of food products. In Asian and African countries, palm oil is used widely as a cooking oil, just like we might use sunflower or olive oil here. (taken from the WWF).
What can be used instead?
Avanguard bio-tech companies are producing synthetic palm oil and circular alternatives.
Here 2 examples:
- American company: C-16 —lab-grown synthetic palm oil.
- Scottish company: Revive Eco — turning coffee ground into a palm oil alternative