bowl of palm oil

Palm oil is used in baking as an ingredient lubricant, emulsifier, flavor additive, and to impart moisture.

Palm Oil

What is Palm Oil?

Palm oil is the oil extracted from mesocarp of the fruit of oil palms. It is also called red palm oil because of its high content of carotenoids. The edible food industry utilizes about 90% of palm oil, while the remaining 10% finds application in soap and oleochemical manufacturing.1


Palm fruit produces two distinct types of oils: palm oil from the mesocarp and palm kernel oil from the inside kernel. The mesocarp of palm fruit contains about 56% to 70% edible oil when fully ripened.1

To minimize the destruction of  the environment from enlarging oil palm plantations, due to the increasing demand for palm oil, the Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) have third parties to certify sustainable palm oil and trace the palm oil supply chain.2


Palm oil contains minor components that demonstrate major nutritional and health benefits. The micronutrients include carotenoids, tocopherols, tocotrienols, sterols, phospholipids, glycerolipids and squalene.1 Beta-carotene is the most potent provitamin A carotenoid. Tocopherols and tocotrienols (termed tocochromanols) are usually called vitamin E. They act as anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory agents, control atherosclerosis, and decrease cholesterol.1

Palm oil has almost equal parts saturated and unsaturated fatty acids. Myristic acid (1%), stearic acid (5%) and palmitic acid (44%) make up the saturated fatty acid component in addition to monounsaturated oleic acid (39%), and polyunsaturated linoleic acid (11%).2 Both animals and human studies show that palm oil consumption does not give rise to elevated serum cholesterol levels.3


Palm oil is the only vegetable oil with almost 50-50 composition of saturated and unsaturated fatty acids, which makes it act similarly to butter.4 Therefore, palm oil is suitable for confectionary manufacturing without the need for hydrogenation.

This oil also has high oxidative stability, contributed by the antioxidants, which leads to the long shelf life of palm oil. There are also no trans fatty acids: FDA banned the use of partially hydrogenated oils in 2013.

Palm oil is β’ tending due to its high content of palmitic acid (44%). And palm oil plays the role of a β’ promoter in margarines and shortenings. The β’ has relatively small crystals, which enables it to incorporate relatively large amounts of liquid oil in the crystal network. This phenomenon leads to the production of smooth, continuous and homogeneous products. Shortenings and margarines containing β’ crystals appear smooth and shiny, in contrast to those containing β crystals which produce a dull and mottled product.5 Palm oil slows crystallization properties.3

Commercial Production

The basic operation of palm oil extraction includes: fruit sterilization, fruit loosening/stripping, digestion, extraction, clarification, refining, bleaching, deodorization.1

Palm oil can also be further treated to enlarge its application:

  1. Fractionation: fractionation of palm oil via crystallization yields mainly palm olein, the liquid fraction and palm stearin, the solid fraction (different physical and chemical properties of these fractions).4
  2. Interesterification
  3. Blending: customized blending of palm oil and fractions with other oils are used in different food products ranging from margarines to soup mixes and infant formulate. 4


Palm oil and its fractionation produce can be used to blend with other oil to make shortening which is suitable for short pastry and biscuits.

The solid fat profile of palm oil is quite close to that of butter and it is therefore highly suitable for use in margarine.

Baker’s whipping cream produced from palm oil and its products has superior stability and it has adequate stand-up properties in summer weather.4

FDA Regulation

The food additive, cocoa butter substitute from palm kernel oil can be directly added to food for human consumption, regulated by FDA in the article 21CFR172.861.6 Palm oil can be used as defoaming agents in the manufacture of paper and paperboard for food packaging (FDA article 21CFR176.210).7


  1. Mba, Ogan I., Marie-Josée Dumont, and Michael Ngadi. “Palm Oil: Processing, Characterization and Utilization in the Food Industry – A Review.” Food Bioscience 10 (2015): 26-41.
  2. “Is Your Palm Oil Sustainable? | Blog.” Bakerpedia. 22 Mar. 2017. Accessed 14 Apr. 2017.
  3. Odia, Osaretin J. “Palm Oil and the Heart: A Review.” World Journal of Cardiology 7.3 (2015): 144.
  4. Berger, Kurt G. “Trans-free Fats with the Products of the Oil Palm – a Selective Review.”Czech J. Food Sci. 25.4 (2007): 174-81.
  5. Aini, Idris Nor, and Mat Sahri Miskandar. “Utilization of Palm Oil and Palm Products in Shortenings and Margarines.” European Journal of Lipid Science and Technology 109.4 (2007): 422-32.
  6. “CFR – Code of Federal Regulations 21CFR172.861” 01 Apr. 2016. Accessed 13 Apr. 2017.
  7. “CFR – Code of Federal Regulations 21CFR176.210” 01 Apr. 2016. Accessed 13 Apr. 2017.