Foods that contain palm oil

Demand for palm oil has undergone a phenomenal growth.  It’s the most consumed vegetable oil on the planet, with 72% of it used in the food industry.

According to a 2015 report by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, worldwide use is expected to more than double by 2030 and triple by 2050. 

Why is palm oil so widely used in foods?

Palm oil is widely used in food because it is economical to grow and has a largely neutral flavour. As the whole of the palm fruit is used to make oil, including the flesh and the stone, it’s about 10 times as productive as soya bean or rapeseed.

It’s a super efficient crop which makes it around nine times as productive per hectare than the next most productive oil. It also doesn’t require as many fertilisers or pesticides as other common alternatives.

Palm oil is also semi solid at room temperature. Other vegetable oils have to be partially hydrogenated to make them more solid, which creates trans fats or trans fatty acids which raise cholesterol. This makes palm oil healthier than alternatives.

Add to this the fact that it’s odourless, colourless, and is resistant to oxidisation giving it a longer shelf life, and it’s easy to see why palm oil is such a popular choice for producers.

Which foods commonly contain palm oil?

Palm oil is a cheap substitute for butter or hydrated vegetable oils, so is especially common in pastry dough and baked goods. It is commonly found in everyday items, such as biscuits, butter/margarine and bread.

It can be difficult to know if a product contains palm oil or its derivatives, because they can appear on ingredients lists under 200 different names. One helpful tip to help know if a product contains palm oil is to look out for these four words: Palm, Stear, Laur, Glyc.

These words will help you spot over half of the fatty acid compounds that are often made from palm oil.

You can find a full list of foods that contain palm oil below

Why is palm oil considered bad for the environment?

Palm oil production is considered to be a major driver of deforestation of the world’s most bio-diverse forests.

It is wiping out the habitat of endangered species such as Orangutan, pygmy elephants and Sumatran rhino.

A global average of 8kg of palm oil is consumed by each individual in a year. In order to produce palm oil on such a massive scale, it is said that the equivalent of 300 football fields of rainforests is cleared every hour.

What’s sustainable palm oil?

There has been a shift towards use of sustainable palm oil in recent years. At Ethical Consumer, we expect responsible companies to have all of the possible palm products used in its global supply chain certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) plus something extra like full disclosure of volumes, suppliers, or traceability to the mill.

The RSPO has faced criticism for failure to adequately audit companies or penalise them when they break rules, and for its standards being weak. Other initiatives such as The Palm Oil Innovation Group (POIG) and High Carbon Stock (HCS) approach are pushing for standards higher than those expected by the RSPO.

Another way companies can demonstrate engagement on this issue is by sourcing palm oil that is certified as organic.

Some food products and brands do use sustainable palm oil. You can find out which on our palm oil free list.

List of foods that contain palm oil

Biscuits/Cookies

Palm oil helps to ‘shorten’ the dough which results in a crumbly and melt-in-the-mouth texture. This can produce cookies that have a softer texture and are more compact. Cookies and biscuits made with palm oil are free from Trans Fatty Acids (TFA), making them healthier than alternatives that contain other vegetable oils.

Bread

As it is both a cheap product and solid at room temperature, palm oil is commonly used in baking. Palm oil improves loaf volume and keeps bread soft.

Breakfast bars

Palm oil keeps breakfast bars from melting during transport and is a healthier alternative to hydrogenated oils.

Butter/Margarine

Palm oil prevents butter and margarine from oxidation. Oil oxidation is a chemical reaction involving oxygen that degrades the quality of oil contributing to off flavour and smell. It provides consistency, texture ad structure. It is solid at room temperature and has no trans fats

Cake

The high oxidative stability of palm oil improves the shelf life of cakes. It can also improve the texture of cake, making it softer, airier and increasing moistness and volume.

Cereal

Palm oil is used to keep cereal crunchy and fresh.

Chocolate/Chocolate spread

Palm oil gives a smooth and shiny appearance to chocolate and chocolate spread. Also, it helps to stop it melting as easily in warmer temperatures.

Crackers

Palm oil is used to give crackers a creamy texture and flavour.

Crisps

As a cheaper alternative to other vegetable oils, palm oil is often used to fry potato chips/crisps.

Dog food /cat food

Palm oil is used a filler. It is edible and heat resistant, giving pet food a longer shelf life and acting as a natural preservative.

Doughnuts

Palm oil is used to fry doughnuts.

Dried nuts

As the cheapest vegetable oil, palm oil is regularly used to roast nuts.

Dry/canned soup

Palm oil functions as a natural preservative in processed meals.

Fast food

Palm oil enhances the taste of processed food, and is used for frying because it has a high melting point. It also leads to fast food being less greasy.

Frozen meals

Palm oil is added to frozen meals to prevent them sticking. It also functions as a natural preservative in processed meals.

Frozen waffles and pancakes

Palm oil is used as it is cheaper than other vegetable oils.

Gravy granules

Palm oil gives a thick consistency to gravy when hot water is added to the granules.

Ice cream

Palm oil increases the melting point for ice cream. It also provides a suitable replacement for dairy fats, giving ice cream a thicker consistency while keeping it smooth and creamy.

Infant formula

Palm oil is used in infant formula to replicate a fatty acid that is present in human breast milk. It is the primary fat present in instant formula. It is also used to make it creamy in texture.

Instant noodles

The average pack of instant noodles contains 20% palm oil. The instant noodles are fried in palm oil.

Microwave popcorn

Palm oil gives a buttery taste to microwave popcorn and helps the kernels to pop.

Non-dairy creamer

Palm oil aids in giving non-dairy creamer a creamy flavour and texture.

Peanut butter

Palm oil keeps the nut oil from separating from the solid part of the nut. Adding the palm oil results in peanut butter that does not require to be stirred and spreads more evenly.

Pizza bases

Palm oil prevents dough from sticking and enhances texture. It also adds a crispiness to the pizza base.

Salad dressing

Palm oil is a very stable oil due to its high content of vitamin E, a natural anti-oxidant.

Stock cubes

Palm oil contains nutrients like carotenoids and vitamin E. Due to these health benefits, it is added to stock cubes.

Vegetable shortening

Palm oil is used in producing vegetable shortening because it is solid at room temperature. It also gives a thick texture, which is good for cooking and baking.

Vitamins

The nutrients that palm oil contains makes it a good choice for use in vitamins.

Whipping cream

Palm oil is used in whipping cream because of its stability, including in warmer temperatures.