Identifying Palm Oil Made Easy

Written by Kajsa IngelssonJune 30, 2020

Why do companies love palm oil so much and why is identifying it on a label so hard?

Well, for the first part: it’s extremely versatile. It can be transformed into over 200 different ingredients, and in a non-sustainable company this makes it “suitable” for a wide range of products. It’s also “cheap“.

As for the latter question, I honestly think they are purposely trying to confuse us into consuming it so they won’t have to embrace sustainable change.

However, the real price of palm oil is deforestation on a massive scale. With this follows climate change, the collapse of entire ecosystems and extinction for a lot of endemic animals. Animals like the orangutan, pygmy elephants and sumatran tiger that only live in the region where this type of palm grows.

So for us eco-warriors (yes, that includes you, welcome to the club) it’s been an ingredient to avoid for years. 

But, with it being made into so many derivatives, it can be quite the struggle to find it on the ingredient list. It’s very rarely listed as its original form, palm oil. It’s estimated that 60% of palm oil is hiding under another name. 

I believe that consuming palm oil should be a personal choice, and been looking for a way to make identifying it easier. 

Sadly, there is no ‘one rule’ to deciphering derivatives every time. There’s common things worthy of an extra look, such as make up, personal hygiene and frozen/processed foods, but you can find it in almost anything!

Don’t let this discourage you though — the ultimate trick to being able to spot palm-oil derivatives in most things lies in recognizing the building blocks that palm can become. This is how we learn to easily spot it at the store 99% of the time.

Let’s make some magic!

Here’s a little trick that will cover well over half of the derivatives that you need to be mindful of when you are living without palm oil. All you have to do to start is memorize these four root words:

These four bases represent some of the fatty acid building blocks that palm-oil can be turned into. For example, palm-oil can be made into glycerin or glycol, which can then be bound to an ethylhexyl group and become ethylhexylglycerin, an alkal glyceryl ether.

There are certainly dozens of derivatives that don’t fall into these four categories. There is polysorbate-40 and triacetin, myristic acid and stearalkonium hectorite – all possible names for palm-oil. The good news is that this trick will cover the more common ingredients in the market and 60% of the master list.

Also, even just one possible palm-oil derivative should be enough to raise an eyebrow and incite some inquiry into a company’s sustainability practices.

There’s other ways to go about it too, why not use this scorecard! It investigates companies and their policy and grade them thereafter. It’s well worth looking up the companies you are supporting with your hard-earned money to see if they are funding massmuder and climate change, don’t you think? 🙂

Where your attention and money goes, energy and impact flows.