Palm oil gets a bad rap around the world. Concerns have been raised about its environmental impact in pollution, contributing to deforestation, human-wildlife conflict, and climate change. Other claims state that its production involves exploitation of workers and child labour. However, it’s crucial to understand the close relationship that various cultures share with this ingredient.
Communities across Africa and South America embrace palm oil, having produced it sustainably for centuries. For many, palm oil is an essential ingredient in traditional dishes such as banga soup, efo riro and moqueca. Let’s debunk some of the common myths held against cooking with palm oil.
This narrative couldn’t be further from the truth. Palm oil is derived from the fleshy fruits of palm trees and contains antioxidants like vitamin E proven to support brain and heart health. While palm oil contains around 50% saturated fat – an excess of which can elevate cholesterol – it’s worth comparing to other oils. For coconut and olive oil, their percent of saturated fat is 90% and 15%, respectively. In addition, most cooking oils tally up around 120 calories per tablespoon.
Today, palm oil is an $88 billion industry with entrenched incentives. As its demand surged, global palm oil firms in search of profits expanded plantations, leading to massive deforestation and community conflicts. These actions inevitably tarnished palm oil’s reputation to date.
However, palm oil proves to be one of the most resource-efficient oils, producing more output per land than any other vegetable oil crop. Additionally, around the world, countries such as Malaysia, Ghana, Indonesia, Thailand, and Colombia have schemes and commitments to the sustainable production of palm oil.
While it’s true that many large corporations produce palm oil, about 40% of palm oil is produced by small-scale farms across Asia, Africa, and Latin America. In fact, Indonesia and Malaysia produce 90% of the world’s palm oil. While these farms provide some economic opportunities for rural communities, most small farmers live in poverty.
The key to more sustainable and equitable palm oil production is indigenous participation. By replacing corporate farming with ancestral practices that work in collaboration with the earth, the palm oil industry can create a brighter future for all.
Cooking with palm oil holds a special place in the hearts and kitchens of many African communities. Its distinct taste in soups and recipes is irreplaceable, emparting a unique flavor that cannot be replicated. Learn to create a new dish that uses palm oil through a virtual cooking class, like this Sierra Leonean !
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