Updated: Apr 28, 2019
Chances are you have heard of the terms "palm oil", and "palm kernel oil" before, or at the very least read it in a products ingredient list. Whether through the use of soaps and other personal care products or by consuming "off the shelf" packaged food, some point in your life you have come into contact with palm kernel oil.
So, what exactly is this mysterious palm kernel oil we speak of? Palm kernel oil is edible plant oil derived from the kernel of the oil palm Elaeis. This is not to be confused with palm oil which is extracted from the pulp of the palm fruit, or coconut oil that is extracted from the kernel of the coconut. Palm kernel oil is found in many commercially packaged food items seen today. You will find it in things such as margarine, vegetable oil, creamers, chocolate, ice cream, as well as in protein and energy bars. If you don't see it, it could be hidden under another name. So, don't be fooled! "Palmitate" and "Glycerol Stearate" are also terms that can be associated with palm kernel oil.
Why is this highly processed oil so prevalent in today's society? This one isn't so hard. It's 'CHEAP! It is significantly lower in costs than other oils previously mentioned. When things are cheap, the benefits are reaped! Besides cost though, palm kernel oil is able to remain stable at high cooking temperatures. Thus, it is highly utilized in commercial cooking. On the manufacturing side, the oil has a substantially longer shelf life. This adds immensely to its financial feasibility.
The million dollar question around palm kernel oil is, "Is it healthy?" To many, it is. As it does not contain cholesterol or trans fatty acids, it is easy to see why some may think this way. What many don't know, is that it is high in lauric acid, which raises blood cholesterol levels both as LDL (bad cholesterol) and HDL (good cholesterol). As levels increase of LDL, also known as Low-Density Lipoprotein, chances of heart disease is elevated. Palm kernel oil inherits 80% of its total fat content to be saturated, which is not easy on the arteries. This is why just because palm kernel oil is free of trans fat and cholesterol, doesn't necessarily mean it's "healthy".
Whether you agree or disagree on the nutrition aspects of palm kernel oil, its use in today's commercial food production is a controversial subject. What has attracted the controversy is its large scale rainforest destruction that is a result of the oil's mass production. As rainforests are converted into plantations, a lot of ecosystems are affected in the process. These plantations are also pumping out greenhouse gasses such as carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide that take a toll on the environment and on the planet as a whole.
Palm kernel oil has been around for quite some time and may be around for even longer. As companies are pledging to avoid any oil that is a product of deforestation, the battle is far from over. Many countries around the world rely on palm kernel oil, making it extremely difficult to eliminate it from the supply chain altogether. As with everything else when it comes to our food, the only way to avoid it is to be diligent in reading all ingredient lists. There are many food products out there that do not utilize palm kernel oil. One great snack that does not use palm kernel is My Mindful Market Bites!