As of today, nearly half of the world population consumes palm oil. Since 1980, palm oil production has increased tenfold with a prediction that it will continue to increase in the future.
According to statista.com, the consumption of palm oil during 2020 to 2021 was 75.45 million metric tons and the second most consumed soybean oil was at 59.48 million metric tons.
Bangladesh annually consumes around three million tonnes of edible oils, of which about 53 percent is palm oil on average.
It has also been the leading edible oil since 2003 in Bangladesh, mainly because of its price competitiveness, versatile uses and compatibility in preparing local dishes.
Where palm is used
The easier question is: Where is palm not being used? It is used in every household kitchen, in hotels and restaurants, fast food outlets, bakeries, food and other industries.
Palm oil is widely used mainly because of the qualities of the oil, which directly influences the taste, stability and texture of the overall product. The bland taste of the oil does not affect flavours and instead allows target ingredients to shine.
Frying and deep frying
The distinct aromas, flavours and mouthfeel of deep-fried foods is irresistible. Simply envisioning crispy fried chicken can water one's mouth. This sensory description is frequently called "golden, crispy, crunchy" and it is generally associated with deep frying.
During deep-frying, the oil undergoes physical and chemical changes due to the presence of oxygen and moisture. As a result of various reactions, the degradation of the frying oil takes place, which hinges on fatty acid composition.
The stability of the oils that contain higher amounts of polyunsaturated fatty acids degrades faster. While palm oil contains only 10 percent polyunsaturated fatty acids, soybean oil contains 61 percent and sunflower oil contains 62 percent.
Palm oil contains less linolenic acid which is highly susceptible to oxidation during frying. For polyunsaturated oils to be used for deep frying, these oils need to undergo partial hydrogenation to increase the oil's stability, which is unfortunately harmful as it causes the formation of trans fatty acids.
Today, oils with lower stability such as sunflower and soybean oil are commonly blended with palm oil to gain a higher melting point for better frying application.
Palm oil consists mostly of saturated and monounsaturated fats, making it a great choice for deep frying as it sustains the natural taste of food.
Repeat frying is safe
Many households and industrial kitchens are accustomed to repeat frying to ensure cost-effectiveness. After one frying session, sometimes the oil is too fresh to be thrown away.
However, reheating vegetable oil at a high temperature leads to the production of rancid odour and flavour due to oxidation. Hydroperoxides and aldehydes are formed and absorbed into the food and eventually enter our system after ingestion. These have been indicated as potentially harmful components.
Palm oil is commonly used in baking in many ways. It does not require to be hydrogenated, saving the food manufacturer's cost. Hydrogenated fats result in trans-fat, which is linked to heart disease.
Palm oil is also the preferred choice in making margarine for the same reason, as it naturally solidifies at room temperature.
Palm oil-based margarine can be used to make cookies, cakes, bread, pastries and more. It retains moisture in baked goods. Palm oil as a shortening also functions as a flavour carrier since it does not interfere with the overall flavour of the product.
This oil can be used to make the icing glossy and smooth or as a releasing agent between the doughs or batters and the pan, and it does not add any flavour.
Red palm oil comes with its own antioxidants, which protects cholesterol from going rancid, and beta-carotene - a precursor to vitamin A, and contains phytosterols which prevent cholesterol absorption.
Jaheda Begum is the Head of Food & Beverage Production at National Hotel & Tourism Training Institute, Bangladesh Parjatan Corporation
Sheikh Mehdi Hasan is the Deputy Manager of Bangladesh Parjatan Corporation and a PhD researcher in Malaysia.