Red palm oil: a West African legacy 2

Red Palm

Slow Food Perth co-leader Pauline Tresise writes about carotino and red palm oil.

CAROTINO is a blend of red palm oil and canola oil and has recently reached the shelves in our supermarkets. Red palm oil comes only from the fruit of the palm tree but does not include oil from the seed. It is available in Australia from African grocers and on-line at

The following data illustrates some of the nutritional benefits of red palm oil:
Red palm oil: vitamin E 80mg, carotene 50mg
Sunflower oil: vitamin E 39mg, carotene zero
Safflower oil: vitamin E 27.4mg, carotene zero
Maize oil: vitamin E 20.7mg, carotene zero
Olive oil: vitamin E 7.6mg, carotene zero

Red palm oil has been used as a food source in Africa for thousands of years and with the spread of the red palm Elaeis guineensis, the oil has been incorporated into local foods of many cultures. Palm fruit oil contains important vitamins and other phytonutrients. It does not contain any cholesterol, trans fatty acids, sodium preservatives or artificial colours. It is exceptionally stable during frying. Like olive oil palm oil, fruit yields two distinct products, palm oil (90%) and palm kernel oil (10%)

The oil palm originated in west and central Africa and was introduced into Indonesia and Malaya in the early 1900s. Its cultivation has spread throughout the tropics in more than sixteen countries and the oil is consumed in over 130 countries with Malaysia and Indonesia accounting for around 83% of world palm oil production.

Oil palms begin producing the oil-bearing fruit bunches as early as two and half years after planting while the lifespan of the oil palm can be at least 120 years. Ninety percent of the red palm oil is used for food and it is the oil from the fruit that has the orange red colour. The palm kernel oil of the seed is colourless and is used for non-edible purposes such as making soaps, cosmetics, detergents and bio diesel One hundred kilos of fruit produce 22 kilos of oil and the high productivity of oil 7000 litres per hectare per year has made this oil a prime source of vegetable oil for many tropical countries.

But there is more to the story…

Cultivation of the oil palm has expanded tremendously in recent years such that its cultivation has doubled every ten years since the 80s and many areas of palm trees are now replacing large areas of the natural rainforest ecosystems in Malaysia and Indonesia. But why this increase? One of the answers is the oil palm’s unparalleled productivity. It is the most productive oil tree in the world and a single hectare of oil palm may yield up to 7000 litres of raw oil. For comparison soybeans and corn crops often heralded as top biofuel sources generate only 446 and 172 litres per hectare respectively. Since the increase and demand for fuel oil in industry and transport, the search for alternative oil to crude oil is also one of the factors in the development of bio diesel oils such as palm oil. Besides fuel the crop is used for a myriad of purposes from ingredients in food products to engine lubricants. For example today almost half of Malaysia’s cultivated lands is dedicated to the oil palm and it is making it the world’s largest producer with Indonesia gaining ground.

While oil palm production is a major source of income for the main producer countries, Malaysia and Indonesia, bad practices in parts of the industry have also brought about loss of wildlife habitat, displacement of indigenous peoples, and a high ecological and social costs through associated road-building, soil erosion, air and water pollution, and chemical contamination. But the good news is that many large companies are joining the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).The RSPO is made up of growers, processors, traders, consumer goods manufacturers, retailers, investors, environmental groups, these participants are committed to meeting the increasing demand for palm oil in a sustainable economic, social and environmental way.

The Palm tree/oil can be cultivated sustainably as already evidenced by family farms in Africa, South America and some Malaysian producers, such as Golden Hope Plantations who are helping to preserve the biodiversity and bring economic opportunities to desperately poor rural populations.

And now a unique ‘made in Malaysia’ cooking oil, Carotino, developed by the Palm Oil Research Institute in Malaysia, is appearing on our super market shelves. It is a blend of the natural red palm fruit oil and canola. This oil is expected to make significant contributions to the health and nutritional status of consumers around the world in the next years. It is also a very stable oil and can be used as well for frying. The palm fats are not hydrogenated and are trans fatty acid free. During cooking the oil imparts a yellow golden hue to the foods as the carotenes are transferred.

It is also endorsed by the Heart Foundation of Australia.

But why not try the 100% pure red palm oil, available in Australia from African and Middle Eastern grocers It is also available at This oil is made from the fruits of red oil palms growing along the rivers and streams of small scale family farms that have existed for many centuries inside the forest of West Africa known to them as “Beyond Organic tree”. Work is provided for the people of this forest jungle region of West Africa and this helps pay for their education. No chemical solvents are ever used The fruits are selected, separated, washed and trimmed to soften the pulses for a warm first pressing, They collect the very heavy Red Oil from the pulp without breaking the shell as a very different oil occurs inside nut.

Chicken in red palm oil
1 chicken, cut up for frying
½ tsp. of ground coriander
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp. dried orange peel
1 tsp dried minced garlic
¼ cup red palm oil

In a large cast iron or frying skillet, melt the red palm oil. Heat the red palm oil over high heat until you notice the traditional “burn off” that is a result of not filtering the oil. You will notice a small amount of smoke followed by the oil darkening several shades. Turn the heat to medium. In a small bowl, mix the salt and spices. Dust the chicken with the spice mixture. Place the chicken in the skillet and cover with a lid. Cook each side of the chicken until well browned and thoroughly cooked. Drain and serve with Coconut Jasmine Rice and
Serves 4-6 depending on size of the chicken

Tomato gari foto from Chef Bathie []
Popular in Ghana and neighbouring countries in West Africa. Traditionally made from gari Cassava semolina

For The Gari-fota
2 cups couscous cooked (if you do not have gari)
(If using gari, 2 cups gari plus 1½ cups of warm water with salt and pepper
½ cup natural red palm oil
2 medium onions -finely chopped
3 ripe tomatoes -peeled and chopped
1 tbsp tomato paste
2 cloves of garlic- minced
6 eggs- beaten
salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil in a saucepan, add onions- fry until tender (but not brown) – add garlic and tomato paste, cook for one minute then add chopped tomatoes. Slowly pour in the egg white whilst stirring, (as in making scrambled eggs) and fold in the couscous. Remove from the heat.

For the tomatoes
8 medium-sized vine-ripened tomatoes
2 tsp caster sugar
1/3 cup olive oil

Cut the tops from tomatoes, then using a tsp.- scoop out most of the flesh- sprinkle inside the sugar. To drain them: place the tomatoes upside down on a wire rack about ½ hour. Season to taste with salt & pepper. Fill each with 2 tbsp of gari-foto and cover with the tomato top (as a lid). Brush an ovenproof dish with some olive oil, place in the stuffed tomatoes drizzle with olive oil and bake at 200C for 3-5 minutes until just tender-serve warm or room temperature with herb salad (parsley, coriander and mint leaves, with a green shallot, (if you do not have ‘wild’ leaves!)

More information
Health facts on palm oil
Shield & Spear

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2 thoughts on “Red palm oil: a West African legacy

  • marnie tonkin

    great article, great product, i really appreciate the important infor about the effect of mass clearance of land to produce palm oil, which has a huge effect on native animals and environment, which outways the benefits, encouraging to hear of organisations attempting to tackle these issues.

  • roslyn scott

    Thankyou for your very informative article on origin, cultivation and food value of this product. I have received a cookbook with several recipes calling for red-palm oil hence my interest. Fortunately there is a supplier in my town. It will definately be on my shopping list and I cannot wait to use it in my gluten-free cooking now I have some knowledge of its health benefits.