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 the mesocarp of the fruit of oil palms. It is also called red palm oil because of its high content of carotenoids. It is the most produced vegetable oil in the world.2

The food industry utilizes about 90% of palm oil, while the remaining 10% finds application in soap and oleochemical manufacturing.1


Palm oil originated in western Guinea and is now grown in many tropical countries around the around. The largest producing countries are Malaysia and Indonesia.2

The fruit is obtained from the African palm.3 Palm fruit produces two distinct types of oils: oil from the mesocarp and oil from the inside kernel. The mesocarp of palm fruit contains about 56% to 70% edible oil when fully ripened.1  It is an orange-red color due to high levels of beta-carotene content.3

To minimize the destruction of  the environment from enlarging oil palm plantations due to increasing demand, the Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) have third parties to certify sustainable palm oil and trace the supply chain.4 So in order to be RSPO-certified, growers must adhere to eight principles.5


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.6 Therefore, it is suitable for confectionery manufacturing without the need for hydrogenation.

It has a high melting point of 36 oC, due to its high saturated fats content compared to rapeseed and sunflower oil.7

This oil also has high oxidative stability, contributed by the antioxidants, which leads to a long shelf life. There are also no trans fatty acids: the 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 it 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.8 Palm oil slows crystallization properties.1


Palm oil contains minor components that demonstrate major nutritional and health benefits. The micronutrients include carotenoids, tocopherols, tocotrienols, sterols, phospholipids, glycerolipids and squalene. 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. It is composed of 52% saturated fatty acids, 38% monounsaturated fatty acids and 10% polyunsaturated fatty acids.3

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%).4 Both animals and human studies show that consumption does not give rise to elevated serum cholesterol levels.9

In one tablespoon of palm oil is 119 calories, 13.5g of total fat, 6.7g of saturated fat, 5g of monounsaturated fats, and 1.3g of polyunsaturated fats.3

Commercial production

The basic operation of 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: via crystallization yields mainly palm olein, the liquid fraction and palm stearin, the solid fraction (different physical and chemical properties of these fractions).6
  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.6


Palm oil is commonly used in cooking oil and margarine to enhance the taste of processed foods. The carotenoid content in the palm oil may perish if it is boiled and become colorless.The solid fat profile of is quite close to that of butter and it is therefore highly suitable for use in place of margarine.

Palm oil and its fractionation produce can be used to blend with other oils to make shortening which is suitable for short pastry and biscuits. When palm diacylglycerol enriched shortening was used to produce Madeira cakes, this resulted in a softer and airier texture and an increase in the moistness and volume of the cake.11

For bread dough application, use up to 10% dry flour weight. In the production of white bread with both strong and weak flour, the addition of palm oil at 4% improved the loaf volume and oven spring. This addition of fat coats the gluten proteins and starch granules, strengthening the gluten matrix to allow for more gas retention, resulting in the oven spring increase. This addition of palm oil also decreased the bread density and crumb porosity.10

In cookie applications, total replacement of the fat system is possible, but this may affect the color. Palm diacylglycerol enriched margarine produced cookies that were more compact and with a softer texture.11

Baker’s whipping cream produced from palm oil and its products has superior stability and it has adequate stand-up properties in summer weather.6

FDA regulation

Palm kernel oil is GRAS regulated by FDA in article 21CFR172.861 of the Code of Federal Regulations when it is part of the food additive, cocoa butter substitute and is added to food for human consumption.12

Palm oil is GRAS regulated by FDA in article 21CFR176.210 of the Code of Federal Regulations when used as defoaming agents in the manufacture of paper and paperboard for food packaging.13


  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. Hansen, Sune Balle, et al. “Trends in Global Palm Oil Sustainability Research.” Journal of Cleaner Production, vol. 100, 17 Mar. 2015, pp. 140–149., doi:10.1016/j.jclepro.2015.03.051.
  3. Marcus, Jacqueline B. Culinary Nutrition: the Science and Practice of Healthy Cooking. Academic Press/Elsevier, 2013.
  4. “Is Your Palm Oil Sustainable? | Blog.” Bakerpedia. 22 Mar. 2017. Accessed 14 Apr. 2017.
  5. “Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil.” Who Is RSPO Tall Infographic-August 2017, July 2017,
  6. 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.
  7. O’Sullivan, Maurice G. A Handbook for Sensory and Consumer-Driven New Product Development: Innovative Technologies for the Food and Beverage Industry. Elsevier, 2017.
  8. 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.
  9. Odia, Osaretin J. “Palm Oil and the Heart: A Review.” World Journal of Cardiology 7.3 (2015): 144.
  10. Chin, Nyuk Ling, et al. “Palm Oil Shortening Effects On Baking Performance Of White Bread.”Journal of Food Process Engineering, vol. 33, no. 3, 2009, pp. 413–433., doi:10.1111/j.1745-4530.2008.00282.x.
  11. Cheong, Ling-Zhi, et al. “Baking Performance of Palm Diacylglycerol Bakery Fats and Sensory Evaluation of Baked Products.” European Journal of Lipid Science and Technology, vol. 113, no. 2, 2011, pp. 253–261., doi:10.1002/ejlt.201000296.
  12. “CFR – Code of Federal Regulations 21CFR172.861” 01 Apr. Accessed 2 May 2018.
  13. “CFR – Code of Federal Regulations 21CFR176.210” 01 Apr. Accessed 2 May 2018.

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