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Palm Oil: What is really true?
Important questions and answers

Currently, palm oil is probably the most controversial raw material in the food industry. Emotions are running high with respect to palm oil. In light of numerous reports about burning rainforests and poor working conditions on conventional, industrial palm oil plantations especially in Indonesia and in other parts of Asia, it seems plausible that many consumers are skeptical about products made with palm oil.

In this context, another question arises: is it at all possible to cultivate and produce palm oil in a sustainable and fair manner? Could we enjoy delicious treats such as creamy chocolate spread without having to feel guilty? Rapunzel Naturkost, the organic pioneer located in Southern Germany shows that this is possible and why this is appropriate and important.

Why does Rapunzel use palm oil?

Palm oil ensures a perfect structure and consistency in many food products. Especially in bread spreads with high nut content (e.g. Samba with 45 % hazelnuts) palm oil binds naturally occurring nut oils. 

From where does Rapunzel purchase palm oil?

Rapunzel purchases exclusively fair trade palm oil for its products from our HAND IN HAND partner: Serendipalm from Ghana.

Mehr über die Fairhandels-Partner erfahren

How cheap is palm oil?

Rapunzel uses only fair trade, organic palm oil. The price of fair trade, organic palm oil surpasses by far the world market price for conventional palm oil. The product price is further increased, because Rapunzel pays a special organic and fair trade bonus to Rapunzel’s proprietary HAND IN HAND fair trade program.

Palm Oil and Health

Palm oil is often criticized. Many discussions center around the health effects of palm oil.

What are the alternatives to palm oil?

There are hardly any alternatives. Other fats with saturated fatty acids such a cocoa butter and coconut oil have a totally different consistency and a different melting point. At room temperature, chocolate is solid. This is due to cocoa butter. Coconut fat, on the other hand, is almost liquid at 25°C. Sunflower oil also lacks the desired properties and bread spreads with a high nut content will secret oil on the surface. In general, the secretion of oil can be reduced through the addition of emulsifiers or sugar – Rapunzel wants to avoid adding both to its bread spreads.

What is the difference between organic palm oil and conventional palm oil?

There are significant differences with respect to the cultivation methods.
Conventionally cultivated oil palms are utilized for seven years; in organic agriculture, the oil palms are cultivated for approx. 20 years. Organically cultivated areas are permanently used and new plants are continuously grown in order to replace the old plants little by little. In addition, organic agriculture supports biodiversity and promotes mixed cultures e.g. with passion fruits, bananas, coffee and cocoa.

In organic agriculture, legumes are sown as fertilizing undergrowth. The legumes suppress unwanted weeds and provide natural fertilization, because they bind nitrogen from air and thus contribute to soil fertility. In conventional agriculture, the great demand for bio-diesel has generated the spreading of huge monoculture plantations and dramatic damages to nature, people and animals (e.g. clearing of primary and secondary forests, extensive land use for newly cultivated oil palm plantations etc.).

How sustainable is Rapunzel palm oil?

In organic oil palm cultivation, the main focus is on the preservation of soil fertility. This ensures sustainable utilization. Oil palms are permanent crops. This guarantees sustainability and promotes the biodiversity in the soil. Generally speaking, planted sites can be used indefinitely, but the sustainability of a particular site also depends on the site’s soil type.

Both in Latin America and Western Africa, there are many soil types that are well-suited for the long-term cultivation of oil palms thanks to their natural properties. Especially the soil structure and the clay mineral content are important for permanent agricultural use.

Has rainforest been cleared for the production Rapunzel palm oil?

No. For the production of organic palm fat, no primary forest such as rainforest may be cleared or burned. This is an absolute exclusion criterion. Secondary forest is also spared for the production of Rapunzel palm oil. Palm fruit are cultivated in areas that have been used for agricultural purposes for a long time already.

What about toxic dietary substances in palm oil?

Refined cooking oils made for example from sunflower oil, canola seed oil, palm oil and also shea butter may develop toxic dietary substances such as glycidyl fatty acid ester, 3-monochloropropane- 1,2-diol (3-MCPD) and 2-monochloro-1,3-propanediol (2-MCPD). These substances are highly suspected to be genotoxic for humans. The development of these fat toxins depends significantly on the temperature during steam distillation, the so-called deodorization process. Since temperature is such a decisive factor, these toxic substances may also develop at home during roasting and deepfrying.

Is Rapunzel palm oil unhealthy?

No, by no means. Rapunzel uses only non-hydrogenated palm oil. Non-hydrogenated palm oil has no trans-fatty acids. Palm oil contains about 50 percent saturated fatty acids, 40 percent monounsaturated and 10 percent polyunsaturated fatty acids. Compared to other fats such as cocoa butter, coconut oil or butter, palm oil is therefore richer in unsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids that are important for our health. The human body needs not only unsaturated but also saturated fatty acids in order to stabilize cell membranes.
Additionally, palm oil also contains high concentrations of valuable vitamin E, namely between 60 and 100 mg per 100 g. Vitamin E is known for its strong antioxidant effects. These socalled tocotrienols are also proven to lower cholesterol levels and supposedly have positive effects on the heart and the nerves.

Compared to other fats, palm oil can also bind high amounts of liquid oils with its unsaturated fatty acids. This is particularly advantageous for bread spreads made with hazelnuts, such as high quality nut-nougat spreads. In these bread spreads, palm oil prevents the settling of nut oils on the surface and maintains the readily spreadable consistency without adding any additives. In addition, and in contrast to animal fats, palm oil behaves neutrally with respect to cholesterol – a fact that is due to the particular molecular position of the saturated fatty acids in palm oil.

What are Rapunzel’s strategies for the minimization of toxic dietary substances?

Rapunzel defined a strict target value for toxic dietary substances associated with cooking oils and fats. The relevant values for palm oil that is used by Rapunzel are monitored by regular analyses. Over the last several years, we established a number of on-site measures aimed at reducing possible toxic dietary substances in cooperation with our Hand IN HAND partners. This includes for example trainings for our farmers and optimized on-site processing. Similar to olives, palm fruits are very sensitive and they start to degrade quickly after the harvest. Therefore, we ensure that fresh palm fruits are processed within 24 hours. The farmers pay attention to the best time of harvest and to a gentle harvest process. Additionally, the raw palm oil is deodorized at temperatures significantly below 240°C. Thanks to all these activities, Rapunzel was able to reduce possible toxic dietary substances to a minimum. This is also evidence for a well-working, cross process cooperation with our suppliers from developing countries. This is a big advantage of organic agriculture and fair trade sourcing since we understand the supply chain and cooperate directly with the producers.

What about palmitic acid?

At the moment, a particular study is often cited which argues that palmitic acid may be carcinogenic. Palmitic acid is one of the most dominating fatty acids in breast milk; in cow milk, palmitic acid is even the fatty acid with the highest concentration. This shows that palmitic acid apparently has an important function for our body. The mentioned study is a baseline study – direct dietary recommendations can however not be deduced from this study.

Fair trade and organic farming are central for Rapunzel

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