Palm oil (also known as dendê oil, from Portuguese) is an edible vegetable oil derived from the mesocarp of the fruit of the oil palms.The African oil palm, the American oil palm,and the maripa palm is naturally reddish in color because of a high beta-carotene content. It is not to be confused with palm kernel oil derived from the kernel of the same fruit, or coconut oil derived from the kernel of the coconut palm. The differences are in color (raw palm kernel oil lacks carotenoids and is not red), and in saturated fat content: Palm mesocarp oil is 41% saturated, while Palm Kernel oil and Coconut oil are 81% and 86% saturated respectively.
Palm oil, along with coconut oil, is one of the few highly saturated vegetable fats. It is semi-solid at room temperatures and contains several saturated and unsaturated fats in the forms of glyceryl laurate (0.1%, saturated), myristate (1%, saturated), palmitate (44%, saturated), stearate (5%, saturated), oleate (39%, monounsaturated), linoleate (10%, polyunsaturated), and alpha-linolenate (0.3%, polyunsaturated). Like all vegetable oils, palm oil does not contain cholesterol, although saturated fat intake increases both LDL and HDL cholesterol. Palm oil is GMO-free, i.e., it is not derived from genetically modified organisms.
Palm oil is a common cooking ingredient in the tropical belt of Africa, Southeast Asia and parts of Brazil. Its use in the commercial food industry in other parts of the world is buoyed by its lower cost and by the high oxidative stability (saturation) of the refined product when used for frying. A recent rise in the use of palm oil in the food industry has come from changed labelling requirements that have caused a switch away from using trans fats. Palm oil has been found to be a reasonable replacement for trans fats, however a small study conducted in 2009 found that palm oil may not be a good substitute for trans fats for individuals with already elevated LDL levels.
The use of palm oil in food products attracts the concern of environmental activist groups; the high oil yield of the trees, attractive to profit-driven investors, has led, in parts of Indonesia, to removal of forests in order to make space for oil-palm monoculture.