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Food experts at Queen Margaret University (QMU) in Edinburgh, Scotland, have developed an innovative palm oil substitute, PALM-ALT, poised to transform the bakery industry. This ground-breaking, healthier alternative to palm oil could drastically reduce the ecological damage caused by palm oil production, a leading culprit behind Southeast Asia’s deforestation.

  • Scottish researchers developed a sustainable palm oil substitute, PALM-ALT.
  • PALM-ALT can be produced out of UK and EU-sourced feedstocks.
  • The alternative is also healthier than conventional palm oil.

PALM-ALT, packed with less fat and more fibre, emerges as a game-changer with its plant-based, clean-label composition. Using EU and UK-sourced materials like linseed industry by-products and rapeseed oil, this alternative promises a more sustainable supply chain. This revelation promises a future of delicious, lower-fat bakery goods that don’t compromise our rainforests.

The Power of PALM-ALT: a healthier, greener palm oil substitute

PALM-ALT has a remarkable 25 percent less total fat and 88 percent less saturated fat than its traditional counterpart. Despite these nutritional improvements, it doesn’t compromise the taste, texture, or colour of baked goods, making it a promising contender in the food industry.

Unlike palm oil, PALM-ALT is allergen-free and void of added flavorings, sugar, sweeteners, preservatives or colorings, earning it a clean-label status. Its base ingredients include a by-product from the linseed industry, fibre and rapeseed oil, which can be sourced from within the EU and UK, thereby significantly reducing the carbon footprint commonly associated with palm oil’s lengthy supply chains.

A victory for the environment

Palm oil production is a primary driver of deforestation in Southeast Asia, leading to habitat loss for endangered species and contributing to climate change. The creation of PALM-ALT represents a significant stride towards a more sustainable food industry, offering a viable alternative that could drastically reduce the environmental impact of palm oil production.

But the benefits of PALM-ALT extend beyond environmental implications. The palm substitute was developed to satisfy consumer demand for healthier food products. With its reduced fat content and increased fiber, it aligns with current nutritional guidelines and caters to health-conscious consumers.

The journey to commercialisation

QMU has patented the PALM-ALT composition and process and is currently in talks with potential partners to bring this innovative ingredient to the industrial level. The goal is to collaborate with food companies interested in replacing palm-based fat in their products with this environmentally friendly and healthier alternative.

However, there’s a long journey ahead to bring PALM-ALT into mainstream use, and one of the most significant challenges lies in the cost. Despite the substantial environmental and health benefits, the production cost of this alternative remains higher than that of traditional palm oil.

Facing the challenges

While PALM-ALT offers a promising solution, it is important to note that it is not the only alternative in the pipeline. Synthetic palm oil, created by companies like C16 Biosciences, is another contender. This alternative uses a fermentation process similar to brewing beer, employing genetically-engineered microbes to convert food waste and industrial by-products into a product resembling natural palm oil.

However, synthetic alternatives face their own set of challenges, including consumer aversion to genetically modified organisms and a higher production cost compared to natural palm oil. Debates are ongoing about whether synthetic alternatives could become mainstream or remain niche products.

Looking at the bigger picture

Interestingly, in 2021, deforestation linked to palm oil production in Southeast Asia has shown a decline for the second consecutive year, reaching its lowest level since 2017. This trend is attributed to an increasing number of companies adopting no-deforestation policies and smaller companies running out of forest to clear.

However, a crucial factor is the ‘leakage market’, where companies without no-deforestation commitments continue to clear rainforests and sell palm oil. The future of palm oil deforestation depends significantly on the size of this leakage market and the demand from programs like Indonesia’s biodiesel scheme, which sources palm oil from companies known for deforestation.

A step forward

While challenges remain, the development of PALM-ALT is undeniably a step towards a more sustainable and healthier food industry. Offering a viable alternative to palm fat opens up possibilities for a future where the foods we love don’t come at the cost of our environment. If adopted widely, PALM-ALT could be a transformative solution, helping the food industry make significant strides toward sustainability and health goals while satisfying consumer demand for delicious, lower-fat bakery products.