2. What is palm oil?
You might be asking yourself what palm oil has to do with vegan butter. Good question. First, let’s talk about what it is. Then, I’ll explain why you should care.
A grove of oil palm trees / Source
Palm oil comes from trees
First, the Oil palm tree (Elaeis guineensis) is a member of the palm family of trees. They’re native to West and Central Africa but also grown extensively in Indonesia and Malaysia. Oil palms are an excellent source of oil.
“In total, 50 million tons of palm oil is produced annually, supplying over 30% of the world’s vegetable oil production. This single vegetable oil is found in approximately 40 – 50% of household products in countries such as United States, Canada, Australia, and England.” (3)
How is it used?
Palm oil comes from the fruit. It makes soap, shampoo, cosmetics, toothpaste, candles, household cleaners, and laundry detergent.
In contrast, palm kernel oil comes from the seeds. Foods like margarine, ice cream, cookies, and bread can contain this oil. Some pharmaceuticals even include it.
Eventually, the left-over solid material is pressed into a cake and fed to cattle after processing. (4)
An overhead view of a large oil palm farm / Source
Its production affects animals
Cheaper than other vegetable oils, another use for palm oil is as a biofuel. As a result, it is more popular than ever. Demand has caused a free-for-all approach to clear forests to plant oil palms.
Not shockingly, this is bad for animals.
“According to the World Wildlife Fund, an area the equivalent size of 300 football fields of rainforest is cleared each hour to make way for palm oil production. This large-scale deforestation is pushing many species to extinction, and findings show that if nothing changes species like the orangutan could become extinct in the wild within the next 5-10 years, and Sumatran tigers less than 3 years.” (3)
A bulldozer harvesting oil palm fruits / Source
It has many names
Finding out if a product contains palm oil is more difficult than you imagine. Surprisingly there are many different names for it. Not to mention, it’s in a variety of products.
Look at just some of its many names:
- Vegetable Oil – #
- Vegetable Fat – #
- Palm Kernel – #
- Palm Oil Kernel – #
- Palm Fruit Oil – #
- Palmate – #
- Palmitate – #
- Cetyl Palmitate – #
- Octyl Palmitate – #
- Palmolein – #
- Palm Stearine – #
- Palmitoyl Oxostearamide – #
- Palmitoyl Tetrapeptide-3 – #
- Palmityl Alcohol – #
- Glyceryl Stearate – #
- Elaeis Guineensis – #
- Hydrated Palm Glycerides – #
- Stearic Acid – #
- Steareth -2 – *
- Sodium Laureth Sulfate – ^
- Sodium Lauryl Sulfate – ^
- Sodium Lauryl Sulfoacetate – ^
- Sodium Lauryl Lactylate/Sulphate – *
- Sodium Dodecyl Sulphate – ^
- Sodium Isostearoyl Lactylaye – ^
- Sodium Kernelate – #
- Sodium Palm Kernelate – #
- Cetyl Alcohol – ^
# – Definitely palm oil
* – Often palm oil, but could be other vegetable oils
^ – Either palm oil or coconut oil
What does palm oil have to do with vegan butter?
Notably, several brands of plant-based butter contain this oil. Nutiva says its products are responsibly sourced and sustainably produced in its Red Palm Oil FAQ section. Melt Organic uses Rainforest Alliance Certified oil.
Unfortunately, not all brands talk about the use of it in their products.
There are conflicting opinions on this subject, too. Technically, palm oil is a vegan product. It has overlapping ethical, environmental, and humanitarian issues surrounding its production.
Deciding to consume it is a topic that vegans should be discussing. Ultimately any time an animal loses their life or home to a human, it becomes a vegan issue.
Sustainable palm oil
Why sustainable palm oil? Because it helps animals.
The fact is, the demand for palm oil has never been higher. Because of this demand, we'll see it in more vegan products. Creating a demand for sustainable palm oil effectively conveys to brands that we won't contribute to deforestation and biodiversity loss with unsustainable palm oil.
Saving the orangutans and their forests means addressing the catastrophic impacts of conventional palm oil production. We can start by making sustainable palm oil the norm.