It may seem weird that sustainable Malaysian palm oil has been on my mind for a long time. When I was offered the chance to sample this product for review, I was definitely intrigued.
Why the interest in such a seemingly random topic? Because the fate of the critically endangered Bornean orangutan is directly tied to palm oil farming practices. The high demand for this oil has resulted in the the destruction of the rainforests that are vital to the existence of orangutans in the wild. Great swaths of the forest are clearcut to make way for unethical palm oil plantations. The orangutan has experienced a 25% decline in population over the last ten years. Try to imagine if one fourth of our own species had been wiped out. It’s a catastrophic number.
One of my dear friends passionately brought this situation to my attention a few years ago and I’ve been mildly obsessed ever since. The problem is that palm oil is so ubiquitous in modern daily life that it can seem impossible to escape. It’s an ingredient in everything from pizza to laundry detergent- in fact, it’s present in about 50% of pre-packaged foods in supermarkets. It leaves me questioning every purchase. What is the price of an orangutan’s life? Apparently in America, that price is quite literally a packet of sandwich cookies.
The bright side of this bleak picture is that as awareness grows, we as consumers have the power to help change the course we’re on. A number of companies have begun to produce palm oil in a more sustainable manner. The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) has developed sustainability standards for palm oil produced with minimal impact on wildlife, local people and the environment. You can help by buying only products that contain certified sustainable palm oil.
There’s clearly a reason humans are clamoring to grow so much palm oil, and this is where the good aspects of it come into play. Palm oil is efficient, versatile and high-yielding plus it is non-GMO and naturally free of trans-fatty acids, making it a healthy replacement option for partially hydrogenated oils. A one-acre palm oil plantation produces eleven times more oil than one acre of soybeans.
I received a bottle of Carotino Malaysian Red Palm Oil. It was cold when it shipped, so it actually solidified- which apparently doesn’t hurt the oil at all. After warming up, it became a beautiful translucent red color. The oil contains natural alpha and beta carotenes and Vitamin E. It can be used in cooking or as a salad oil.
Though palm oil can be used in so many ways, I decided to try it out on one of my favorite treats: popcorn! I like that it turns popcorn into a healthier snack. I used some fresh popping kernels, just on the stove in a covered pan. It didn’t take much oil at all for the corn to pop up light and fluffy with a delicious flavor. You could also drizzle a little more on with salt or Parmesan cheese while the popcorn is still hot.
Though there are still great strides to be made, I’m happy to know that 100% of Malaysian palm oil will be certified sustainable by the end of 2009. Please check your labels before buying products- the orangutans and I will both thank you!