Earthy, with a musky sweetness, tasting red palm oil is an interesting experience. Something about the way it tastes and smells reminds me of wet leaves.
Because I have a stubborn streak a mile wide, I have to this point avoided trying red palm oil because of all of the “superfood” hype. Today, however, there it was, right in front of me, ready to try. So, try I did. My response? Myeh. Then I proceeded to cook my hazelnut, sweet potato pancakes in it. It worked well as a cooking fat, although it is not meant for high heat.
Red Palm oil is supposedly not to be confused with the “palm oil” that you find in every ingredient under the sun. Although, they come from the same source, the Palm Oil tree; it appears to be a matter of processing that decides whether or not it is something healthy for you or something very harmful. The unrefined palm oil, is red in color because it contains beta carotenes and other phytonutrients that contribute to health.
Okay so why don’t I love the red palm oil situation? Well, first of all, while there is a moderate amount of data supporting unrefined red palm oil as beneficial to the body, it isn’t really any better than any of the other fat you can eat to support your health, and in fact, in some cases definitely offers less benefit.
However, since it has been touted as a miracle superfood, the consumer demand has skyrocketed contributing the absolute decimation of the environments that naturally produce Palm Oil trees. That, in turn, results in the absolute decimation of homes for other beings like the Orangutans, Sumatran Tiger, Rhinoceros, and Pygmy Elephant, and this is by all means the short list. If you want to know more about all of that, you can check out “Say No to Palm Oil” and now I will just continue on with the culinary perspectives.
In the kitchen, unrefined red palm oil can be used as a cooking oil for things that require medium heat or less. It can also be added as a baking ingredient or an accompaniment to dressings and sauces. It is often used in African and Asian cuisine and gives a lovely red tinge to the foods cooked with it. It is quite mild in flavor so doesn’t really impact the overall taste of whatever it is added to, which could be exactly what you’re looking for if you have a lot of flavors going on that need to be synergized but not altered.
From a health perspective, as I said, I was reluctant to get on the superfood bandwagon until I had a chance to do my own research. I’ve now had that chance and found there is really no abundance of data that suggests it’s worth the deforestation that is occurring to secure it for consumption. It does indeed have many beneficial properties when unrefined. It has a particular configuration of fatty acids that allows it to contribute to absorption and assimilation of the other nutrients you eat. It also, when unrefined, rich in Medium Chain Triglycerides, which if you remember from coconut oil, can help boost metabolic function and regulate insulin production. Studies suggest that red palm oil has a high concentration phytonutrients like beta carotene, tocopherols, and vitamin E, which contribute to the reduction of cardiovascular disease, oxidative stress, and the increase of metabolic and immune function.
Caveat: Be aware that refined and hydrogenated palm oils, the kind you find in most foods, does exactly the opposite and contributes to systemic inflammation as well as dysregulation of insulin production, among other things.
My thoughts? It’s not often that I am troubled by the flavors I research for this daily blog, however, I have to say, this is one that truly impacted me. There is so much damage being done to supply this product to the world at large, when truly there are so many other ways to get these nutrients in other foods.