What is red palm oil?

Just when I thought that the whole coconut oil frenzy had finally died down, turns out there is a new “miracle oil” on the block – red palm oil. This was bought to my attention the other day when a dietitian I work with received a question from one of her clients saying that she had seen the product on the Dr. Oz show.

Red palm oil looks a lot like coconut oil in texture except it’s red in color. It comes from the pulp of the fruit of the palm plant (not the kernel as is the case with palm kernel oil) and is commonly used in African and South Asian cuisines. It’s semi-solid at room temperature and contains vitamin E and carotenoids which give it its red color. It was on the Dr Oz show claiming to prevent and help manage conditions such as Alzeimer’s, heart disease and belly fat.

I have to admit that the clip on the Dr. Oz show, sensationalized as it may be, did sound quite convincing (which is why dietitians always end up getting questions soon after).


One of things that I’m trying to do is to find these products and send them out to my dietitian network so when they receive questions, they are at least somewhat familiar with the product and can have an informed response. So I obtained a jar of red palm oil to see what all the hype was about and sent it out for my colleagues to try.

Isolating a specific ingredient and saying it’s a miracle food is nothing new. We’ve heard this story before with olive oil and the Mediterranean diet, coconut oil and the Caribbean and tropical Asian regions and red wine with the French. Basically you can’t isolate one particular food or ingredient and boast that it is the cure all for everything because diet and eating doesn’t work that way. It’s a whole bunch of things in combination (eating habits, lifestyle, culture, environment, genetics, etc).

And at the end of the day, whether I choose to use any ingredient ultimately comes down to taste. Does it taste any good? What is it like to cook with? Like coconut oil, I see red palm oil having a niche market with people who prefer to cook with vegetable oil but prefer one that is very heat stable (coconut oil fits the bill in this case because it’s more saturated). It’s also catering to a demographic who don’t want to use butter because they think it’s “unhealthy” or  margarine because it’s “not natural”. In this case, coconut oil fits as a possible option because people view it as being more natural and healthier than butter because it’s a vegetable oil and doesn’t raise bad cholesterol as much as butter (however, oils such as olive oil, sunflower oil and canola oil are still better choices in this regard).

Both coconut oil and red palm oil are considerably more expensive when compared to other fats and oils ($12-$15 for a 475 mL jar). However, at the end of the day, oil is still practically 100% fat and no matter what shape, form, plant or animal it came from, it should still be used sparingly.

But having said all that, could red palm oil be an even better oil for coconut oil enthusiasts? It’s heat stable, claims to be ‘better’ on the lipid profile compared to other types of saturated fat and has the ‘added benefit’ of containing carotenoids.


I sent this product out through my network of dietitians so they could provide their expert review and professional opinion. Check out their comments below this post to see what they had to say.

My thoughts:
Red palm oil isn’t as saturated as coconut oil so it will be interesting to see if it’s as heat stable. And I’m very curious to find out how it tastes. I can see the flavour of coconut oil lending itself quite well to Thai,Caribbean and Malaysian cuisines but I’m not quite sure where red palm oil fits in. I’ll just have to try it. But at a price that’s two to three times the amount of what I am used to paying for fat/oil (my personal choices are olive oil, vegetable oil and butter – depending on what I’m making), it’s going to take quite a bit of convincing.

Check out what the expert reviewer panel has to say about red palm oil in the comments section below.

Still want more information about red palm oil? Go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palm_oil

Interested in reading Dr. Oz’s take on red palm oil? Go to:

If you are interested in reading a science-based response from other medically trained colleagues (who are not Dr. Oz), check out: http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/index.php/the-dr-oz-red-palm-oil-non-miracle/

10 thoughts on “What is red palm oil?

  1. I used the red palm oil to make roasted potatoes and baked eggplant. I brushed the red palm oil on the sliced eggplant which left an orange hue on the eggplant and the roasted potatoes ended up with a yellow tinge. The red palm oil has a neutral taste (it doesn’t taste like anything) but it’s very orange. It looks kinda like chili oil or piri piri.

    It performed equally well compared to olive oil (which is the oil I usually use to prepare these dishes). However, the higher smoke point and carotenoids aren’t enough to convince me to switch given the higher cost. My choices for fat are still butter and vegetable oil. I’ll get my carotenoids from carrots and sweet potatoes which I’m okay with being bright orange.

  2. I used the red palm oil to make tomato chicken parmesan. I fried the breaded chicken breasts in the red palm oil to cook them before putting it in the oven with the tomato sauce.

    First impression:
    Isn’t palm oil unhealthy?? I’m not used to using any fats aside from canola, olive oil or non-hydrogenated margarine so the voice in the back of my head was saying “ahhh”! The colour was interesting, orangy-red which I’m not used to seeing when thinking of a fat. There was also a very nice smell when it heated up, I’m not sure if this was just the chicken parm…doubt it because it smelled more than just something fried. A nutty smell perhaps??

    Performance in cooking:
    Most breadcrumbs ended up sticking to the pan but this may have happened with another type of fat as well. Otherwise, good for this purpose.

    The recipe itself was delicious, whether it was better because of the red palm oil I cannot compare.

    I wouldn’t choose it over healthier types of fat for the simple reason of the type of fat that it is. I prefer to use unsaturated fats (as I understand the red palm oil has saturated fat similar to coconut oil??) even if it may sacrifice a bit of flavour. I’d like to see good studies vs claims that it’s ‘better’ on the lipid profile than coconut oil. The research would help make/change my decision. The carotenoids are not a seller for me as you can get them through other, healthier and I’m sure, better sources, in your diet.

    I don’t know if I would call this “healthier” as it’s still not the best choice of fat health-wise. No, I wouldn’t recommend it.

    This is an interesting product and I would be interested in hearing about any studies that may surface on this product.

  3. When I first saw this red palm oil I was shocked at how awfully orange it looked. I was nervous to use it in my food. I would have like to try cooking it in different dishes, but to be honest, I only cooked it once at breakfast. I fried up two eggs using a bit of the palm oil and ate it with a piece of toast, very simple. It melted like butter and when my eggs were ready, I slide them into a plate and cringed at the sight of the bright tinge of colour staining my eggs. It looked too frightening to put into my mouth.

    Hesitantly, I took a bite and though the eggs were good, the oil gave a strange flavour that made me think of face cream. It tasted like creamy oil, something I definitely don’t like.

    Despite the many health claims of red palm oil, I would recommend it to people who want to eat healthier although I will also add that there are many other alternatives to fat choices (eg. canola oil, sunflower oil, olive oil, coconut oil) that are also “healthy”. And like Lisa said, at the end of the day, fat is fat. Just because it is deemed “healthy” doesn’t make it superior to other fats.

    Personally I wouldn’t go out to buy red palm oil to use in my cooking. I’m turned off by the ridiculous colour of this fat and I’m just used to using butter and olive oil. Besides, I wouldn’t want my meals to taste like face cream. Thanks for letting me sample and contribute to your product review!

  4. I used the red palm oil to make chicken Parmesan. I couldn’t believe how orange the red palm oil is and my first thought was that it was going to stain something or make my chicken orange. I thought that palm oil was an unhealthy type of fat. I didn’t realize there was palm kernel oil and red palm oil.

    There was a good smell when I was frying up the chicken in the oil but I had to put more oil in than I would of if I were using olive oil because my breadcrumbs on the chicken were sticking to the pan. The chicken did have an orange tinge to it. I didn’t notice any difference in taste.

    I am not convinced that i would start usuing red palm oil because I didn’t notice a difference in flavor and because of the higher cost. The higher amounts of carotenoids are also not enough to make me start using it. Think I will stick to olive oil.

  5. I used the palm oil last night to make a cheese omelet. I was expecting it to either a) colour my eggs orange and/or b) change the usual flavour. Surprisingly, it did neither. I see above that Jane’s eggs changed colour, but mine were the usual yellow. The taste was neutral, similar to on the rare occasion that I use canola for eggs.
    The oil melted nicely in the pan and didn’t brown the way my butter usually does (obviously given the higher smoke point). However, I was surprised to see that my eggs stuck to the pan more than usual.
    I appreciated the opportunity to try this oil (and I still have a little bit in the fridge so perhaps I will try it in a roasted dish for something different) but I wouldn’t run out and buy it as I’m content with the variety of fats that I currently use. The expense and having to make a trip to a health food store don’t make it worth it.
    As for recommending the product – I certainly wouldn’t deter people from trying it but wouldn’t be making any special claims. Let’s be realistic, if you have heart disease or are at risk for heart disease, red palm oil is not going to be the miracle food that makes things all better.

  6. I used the red palm oil in two dishes last week – homemade sweet potato fries in the oven and a pork/vegetable stir fry.

    So first off, I was extremely surprised at the colour and texture – and I had to smear it on my freshly cut fries (just sweet potatoes cut into strips). So I put a bit on – tried to mix the fries in a bowl with the oil but of course that didn’t work, added a few herbs and placed them on my baking pan and into the oven. I used maybe 1-2 Tbsp of the red palm oil.
    The fries seems to cook up well. I was surprised that there really wasn’t a flavour at all, but I actually seemed to use too much – the oil was still left on the pan, but the fries did brown up nicely and tasted great – I think the end result was actually better than I expected. I did realize though – that the red oil gets everywhere! I thought it would permanently stain my pan but it did not.

    I used 2 Tbsp in a pork stir fry – here it was easier to use, since I put the oil in the pan, and when it melted it performed well for cooking the meat and vegies. Again – no real flavour difference in the stir fry.

    I certainly enjoyed trying out this oil, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to find it and purchase it for my own use – especially due to the price. Red palm oil does perform well in cooking and baking though. I ultimately prefer using a liquid oil.

    I’m glad I had this opportunity to try the red palm oil, and actually see how it performs. Since our needs for adding oils and fats are quite small on a daily basis, this oil won’t be replacing my other oils: extra virgin olive oil, canola oil, grapeseed oil in my everyday cooking.

  7. First of all a big kudos to Lisa to giving RDs a forum to discuss these types of products!!
    I will keep my comments brief as they echo some of the comments made above already. I too used the red palm oil to simply fry an egg and as well I tried it in a basic chicken str fry..
    I too was shocked to see the red colour of the product.
    When I cooked above…found it heated quickly (note the low smoke point which is desirable). But I too also found that I needed to add more..especially to get the onions cooked in the stir fry..
    It tasted quite neutral to me..perhaps slightly on the savory side (?)
    Ultimately..due to the factors mentioned..including the colour (and boy does it coat the product..you should have seen my egg!), cost and indigenous nature of the product I would rather use other more commonly available nonhydrogenated oils. such as canola, flaxseed and EVOO.
    I believe that we are somewhat biased to believe that oils such as coconut and palm oils are more saturated and therefore less desirable. It is hard to switch and use (semi) hard fats.
    While it appeared to be an “interesting” product, I cannot see promoting it for daily use.
    Also noted that there may be an environmental issue with deforestation with this product which I would not want to be contributing to in the quest for some “new miracle foodt”

  8. First off, it’s super orange! I was worried about staining my pan and if it would turn my dish a funny colour. Thankfully it didn’t stain my pan but it did turn my chicken orange. After putting the chicken into the rest of the dish it turned out to be fine.

    Secondly, it seemed more like a butter consistency then it did an oil, but it worked for cooking my chicken. It even kept my chicken from drying out when I left it in the pan a little too long. I tried a bite of chicken (before putting it into the rest of the dish), to see if there was any difference in taste and I didn’t notice one.

    Overall, I have used the palm oil for some other dishes but I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t go out and buy a jar of it specifically.

  9. I was already aware that the red palm oil would turn my food orange (from the comments above), but decided to still use it in the same foods I usually make because after all, why test out a product on food you don’t make often? I decided to make a simple fried rice (leftover rice, egg). My experience with it wasn’t particularly different from the canola oil or olive oil that I usually use. It turned my rice a yellow orange colour, like I had added tumeric or saffron. I think it made the rice look quite appetizing actually. Taste however, was disappointingly bland. I didn’t notice any fragrance when the oil was heated either.

    My comments mirror those of the above. I don’t see myself switching to this oil. It’s expensive, bland, and well… it turns food orange. It may be suitable for some dishes but not as an overall oil replacement. At this time, I would not particularly promote this product over the other healthy oils people are already (likely) using. If people want to try, I would make sure they are aware it may not be suitable for all dishes because it turns food orange (and thanks Lisa for allowing us to experience this for ourselves!). Dr Oz’s proposed health benefits are questionable. I’d need to see some long-term well-controlled studies before I lump this in with the healthiest oils.

  10. First impressions: it is ORANGE! but a good looking colour, also that it was solid. I am not used to using solid fats except for butter on occasion and I usually mix it with olive oil for cooking. ( I haven’t tried using coconut oil yet). I made an omelet with it and purposefully used a very high temperature at first, just to confirm the high smoke point – I read the smoke point is 475 degrees F from a random site. It didn’t smoke when I used the highest temperature for a short time – about 30 secs. It worked well in cooking. I also tasted it before cooking and to me it doesn’t have much flavour, olive oil seems to have more, which is ideal especially if you want a neutral taste just to transfer heat.

    Not sure if I would use it? I also read that during the growing of it (it may not be done ethically and is displacing the natural habitats of orangutans. If I could find a source that is done responsibly, I might use it. I am also concerned about the saturated fat content, but using it the odd time would not be an issue. For me, it really competes with olive oil as I know when this is used regularly, it reduces the risk of dying from heart disease, I don’t believe a study on palm oil has shown this, but the properties in it look good. I would only recommend it the odd time for the high smoke point properties in people who don’t have high cholesterol.

    🙂 K

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