To make this easier, lets start with a picture...
The orange fruit, if pressed and processed into oil, turns into what we call "red palm oil".
The white portion is the kernel of the nut, and provides the raw material for "palm kernel oil".
Red palm oil has an extremely high concentration of antioxidants like vit A and E while palm kernel oil is relatively devoid of such nutrients (thus it's pure white color vs the vibrant yellow/red of the fruit and skin).
Red palm oil from the fruit is also higher in monounsaturated fats vs the highly saturated fat found in the kernel.
Regarding palm oil and the environment, there are responsible producers. I reviewed one such source, Jungle Products, in a post I did a while back.
While industrial producers of palm oil (typically the palm kernel oil used in a wide range of industries not just limited to food production) can be accused of practicing a damaging form of monoculture, we shouldn't throw the baby out with the bath water.
The use of responsibly produced and fairly traded palm oil products is no different than supporting producers of grass-fed beef. Any food product, especially in this age of "opacity" (i.e. we generally don't see where our food comes from, know who makes it, and even what exactly is in it), can be grow/harvested in a way that is harmful to people, plants/animals, and the environment. This applies to bananas, coconuts, cows, chickens, etc. just well as it does to palm oil.
While it might be alright for human consumption, it's terrible for the health of ecosystems in places where it is farmed. There's all kinds of hub-bub about "oh it's sustainably farmed in such and such a place..."
The simple truth is, that ANY consumption of palm oil, leads to the demand for low priced palm oil, which is where the ecosystem destroying, species massacre-ing plantations in SE Asia come into the picture. Red palm oil is in a host of industrially produced cosmetic, hygiene and food items that enter the market with competitive prices because the price of ingredients is kept low.
People around here sometimes mention things like Industrial farming, and how it is a horrible thing. People bring up points from the vegetarian myth, like how these industrial farming processes create monocrops and wipe out ecosystems, entire species, and turn parts of the world into deserts.
Well..what do you think palm oil plantations are? Think about THAT next time you consider how healthy any form of palm oil is.
Palm kernel oil has a very similar fatty acid profile to coconut oil. I cook with it because it has none of the coconut flavor/aroma that comes through with CO. If/when I use up my CO that will be the last I buy, but I'll buy PKO again. Perhaps I'm ultra sensitive to the taste, but even having tried different brands and such, that coconutty flavor comes through (and if it doesn't it's been highly processed) and dominates the taste of dishes. PKO is tasteless. Mine is flakes that are really easy to use as well. PKO is popular in soap making and not so much for dietary, but food grade sources are available.
I like Spectrum's Vegetable Shortening, which is Palm Oil. Its rather difficult to get palm oil locally since its not very popular item around here. I have to get it online. According to them its sustainable and doesn't kill some random monkeys in a third world country.
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