This is a question I get asked a lot, as I play host to my friends for dinner, including cooking for them (which you can see in my video on The Oil Palm).
When we’re eating dinner, they are always looking a bit confused when they see the slightly orange coloured chicken breast on their plate, probably wondering what this is! They want to know what is responsible for this colour of the food. It is of course the red palm oil that gives it the lovely colour. The conversation switches from “wow, I had no idea it could actually be delicious” to “but isn’t palm oil bad for us and the environment?” or “I read that it contains a lot of saturated fats.”
It’s here where the chemistry student/athlete/food expert in me comes up:
- They are much better off with saturated fats, than with all those carbohydrates and sugars that they are eating all the time.
- Added to this, palm oil actually is a healthy product. Because for instance the virgin oil extracted from the red palm fruits is a better source for beta-carotenes (precursor for vitamin A) and vitamin E, such as tocotrienols, than most vegetables. Palm oil for instance contains 10 times more beta-carotenes than carrots and 30 times more than tomatoes.
- Just to make sure they don’t have to be guilty about eating our meal, because we can guarantee there were no animals harmed whatsoever (besides the chicken they’ve eaten, obviously). We always cook with palm oil from brands that guarantee sustainability. Malaysia, for example, has even created its own countrywide sustainability standard to give assurance about the products.
- When it comes to the environment, I think the best way to keep nature and mankind in balance is to teach consumers what’s right. And that there are sustainable production methods to help the environment on one side and on the other side improving the lives of small farmers (like in Malaysia, but also in Africa for example). There are millions of small farmers producing palm oil across the developing world.
- Rather than not eating/using products containing palm oil, it is better to support those farmers, and to know the reality about sustainable palm oil. It would be the same discussion with any other food product, after all. But that I’m happy and comfortable to be able to buy natural products in the super market (or like my palm oil in the bio-shop) in exchange for a bit more balance between nature and mankind.
After which most of our friends have had more than enough serious talk for one night and we continue enjoying our fantastic dinner. Cooked in palm oil, of course.