What Is Palm Oil and Why Do We Hear About It So Much?

Palm oil is a highly versatile edible vegetable oil, derived from the mesocarp (reddish pulp) of the fruit of the oil palms, primarily the African oil palm Elaeis guineensis. It is in nearly 50% of the packaged products found in supermarkets such as bread, pizza, pasties, margarine, peanut butter and chocolate. This breadth of use is representative of its versatility. For example, it is odourless & colourless, so it does not impact on the fragrance of cosmetics or the flavour of food. It is semi-solid at room temperature, which makes it an effective spread, it is also resistant to oxidation which gives the products it is in a longer shelf life.

Why Is Palm Oil Used In Soap?

Palm oil makes an excellent bar of soap and produces a bar of higher quality than alternative oils. It has a very low base odour which means that the bar will smell much nicer with a perfume with no base odour coming through. Palm oil based soaps also create a great lather whilst in use, which makes it highly effective at cleaning. It produces a firmer, harder bar which makes it much longer lasting than other options which can easily disintegrate and fall apart. Finally, it is less resource hungry to make and in being so does make it more environmentally friendly than its alternatives.

Why Not Use a Palm Oil Alternative?

Demand for everyday products such as bread and margarine are directly linked to the human population on the earth. If human society stopped using palm oil and switched to another crop, then it would be shifting the issue elsewhere and in a way that would be far worse for the environment.
Palm oil is an exceptionally efficient crop, it produces more oil per hectare of land than any other equivalent vegetable oil crop. Thereby satisfying 35% of the world vegetable oil demand on just 10% of the land. Soaps made from rapeseed and sunflower oil are often marketed as being environmentally friendly by virtue of being palm free. However, both oils require almost 5 times as much land to produce the same bar of soap. Soy, another alternative requires over 8 times as much.
Switching to a different oil would not only be shifting the problem elsewhere but it would also be severely amplifying it by threatening other habitats and specials. Additionally, many small farm holders in developing countries depend on producing palm oil for their livelihood.

The Way Forward

Unfortunately, there is a great deal of misinformation about palm oil available on the internet. Many people are unwittingly using palm alternatives under the belief that they are the more sustainable option when this is not the case.
At The English Soap Company we use palm oil because it is the most sustainable option available to produce a bar of soap. The underlying issue is not palm oil itself but that there are over 7 billion people on the planet and that we are a resource-hungry people. The best way to combat this is to provide these resources in the most efficient and sustainable way.