That oil you never use (or think you don’t).
Palm oil has quickly been gaining in popularity over the past decades as more and more food manufactures are turning to it as a cheap additive to many of their products. Although it is a very commonly found additive in many of the products on your shelves, this product has a much larger impact that just adding flavor or body to certain food products.
Originally selectively grown in Central Africa, it became one of the main crops throughout the sub saharan region of the continent. Now it is still widely known throughout the region but it’s range has spread throughout the globe to such places as South East Asia and South America.
Currently it is largest produced consumable oil product globally, accounting for approximately 56% of all consumable oils produced, giving it a total of 103 millions metric tonnes produced every year.
It is a resilient crop which is easy to grow and provides fruit for up to 20 years – these are greatly the reasons it has become so ubiquitous throughout the globe.
Currently in Southern Thailand, the crop can be seen throughout the landscape of Krabi and other neighboring provinces. The growth of Palm oil extends through Malaysia, Indonesia and all the way to Northern Australia. The Palm Oil is one of the most efficient oil producing crops world wide, with 1 hectare (10,000 Sq. meters) of land being able to produce up to 7 metric tonnes of usable oil. This amazing efficiency for Palm oil is one of the reasons we see plantations expanding and being planted everywhere you turn. Many of the local families of Krabi are supported entirely from this crop.
The crop is in great controversy due to the region of the world it thrives in, the tropics. The tropics is an area which is also home to a huge range of rainforests which absorb a enormous amount of CO2 that we produce as well as giving off an equally large amount of oxygen. These forests are essential to our planets ecosystem but they also contain the vast majority of plant and animal species on the planet.
The issue with this part of the world is also where there are very low levels of environmental regulation in place. Making this part of the globe a perfect place for widespread deforestation and palm plantations, which has not overtaken much of Malaysia and Indonesia. Borneo is currently being deforested at an alarming rate. Estimates range but most place the total land destroyed by logging, palm oil plantations and building and industrial uses at least 60% of the total land area of Borneo. The governments of both countries Indonesia and Malaysia blame much of this deforestation to small scale rogue clear cutters but many activist groups accuse the government of encouraging this practice.
Palm oil is not only a product used for frying food and in cooking, it is widely used across the food industry in a number of products you might not expect it to be. Some of the more common products which you will see on your grocery shelf which contact some degree of palm oil are:
- Ice Cream
- Cookies and biscuits
- Pizza and bread dough
- Instant noodles
- Candy bars
- Shaving cream
- Lipstick and lip balm
- Tooth paste
- Vitamin pills
…and much more
These are only a handful of the products which you can find in your local grocery store of convenience shop which contain palm oil products.
The use of palm oil is controversial, as it is an incredibly efficient crop for the land to produce. Although the region of the world it lives in is slowly being destroyed to make way for increased demand.