What is red palm oil?

Just when I thought that the whole coconut oil frenzy had finally died down, turns out there is a new “miracle oil” on the block – red palm oil. This was bought to my attention the other day when a dietitian I work with received a question from one of her clients saying that she had seen the product on the Dr. Oz show.

Red palm oil looks a lot like coconut oil in texture except it’s red in color. It comes from the pulp of the fruit of the palm plant (not the kernel as is the case with palm kernel oil) and is commonly used in African and South Asian cuisines. It’s semi-solid at room temperature and contains vitamin E and carotenoids which give it its red color. It was on the Dr Oz show claiming to prevent and help manage conditions such as Alzeimer’s, heart disease and belly fat.

I have to admit that the clip on the Dr. Oz show, sensationalized as it may be, did sound quite convincing (which is why dietitians always end up getting questions soon after).

http://www.doctoroz.com/videos/miracle-fat-red-palm-fruit-oil-pt-1
http://www.doctoroz.com/videos/miracle-fat-red-palm-fruit-oil-pt-2

One of things that I’m trying to do is to find these products and send them out to my dietitian network so when they receive questions, they are at least somewhat familiar with the product and can have an informed response. So I obtained a jar of red palm oil to see what all the hype was about and sent it out for my colleagues to try.

Isolating a specific ingredient and saying it’s a miracle food is nothing new. We’ve heard this story before with olive oil and the Mediterranean diet, coconut oil and the Caribbean and tropical Asian regions and red wine with the French. Basically you can’t isolate one particular food or ingredient and boast that it is the cure all for everything because diet and eating doesn’t work that way. It’s a whole bunch of things in combination (eating habits, lifestyle, culture, environment, genetics, etc).

And at the end of the day, whether I choose to use any ingredient ultimately comes down to taste. Does it taste any good? What is it like to cook with? Like coconut oil, I see red palm oil having a niche market with people who prefer to cook with vegetable oil but prefer one that is very heat stable (coconut oil fits the bill in this case because it’s more saturated). It’s also catering to a demographic who don’t want to use butter because they think it’s “unhealthy” or  margarine because it’s “not natural”. In this case, coconut oil fits as a possible option because people view it as being more natural and healthier than butter because it’s a vegetable oil and doesn’t raise bad cholesterol as much as butter (however, oils such as olive oil, sunflower oil and canola oil are still better choices in this regard).

Both coconut oil and red palm oil are considerably more expensive when compared to other fats and oils ($12-$15 for a 475 mL jar). However, at the end of the day, oil is still practically 100% fat and no matter what shape, form, plant or animal it came from, it should still be used sparingly.

But having said all that, could red palm oil be an even better oil for coconut oil enthusiasts? It’s heat stable, claims to be ‘better’ on the lipid profile compared to other types of saturated fat and has the ‘added benefit’ of containing carotenoids.

palm_oil_label

I sent this product out through my network of dietitians so they could provide their expert review and professional opinion. Check out their comments below this post to see what they had to say.

My thoughts:
Red palm oil isn’t as saturated as coconut oil so it will be interesting to see if it’s as heat stable. And I’m very curious to find out how it tastes. I can see the flavour of coconut oil lending itself quite well to Thai,Caribbean and Malaysian cuisines but I’m not quite sure where red palm oil fits in. I’ll just have to try it. But at a price that’s two to three times the amount of what I am used to paying for fat/oil (my personal choices are olive oil, vegetable oil and butter – depending on what I’m making), it’s going to take quite a bit of convincing.

Check out what the expert reviewer panel has to say about red palm oil in the comments section below.

Still want more information about red palm oil? Go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palm_oil

Interested in reading Dr. Oz’s take on red palm oil? Go to:
http://www.doctoroz.com/videos/why-you-should-give-red-palm-oil-try

If you are interested in reading a science-based response from other medically trained colleagues (who are not Dr. Oz), check out: http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/index.php/the-dr-oz-red-palm-oil-non-miracle/