University develops a replacement for palm oil that is healthy and environmentally friendly

University food experts have developed a new ingredient to replace palm fat in a wide variety of products across the bakery sector, such as cakes and biscuits.

Industry news Innovation insights
Published: 18/09/2023
  • University food experts have developed a new ingredient to replace palm fat in a wide variety of products across the bakery sector, such as cakes and biscuits.
  • This development could reduce dependency on palm-based ingredients.  
  • New palm fat replacer is healthier than palm oil – with less total fat and less saturated fat and increased fibre and protein. It is also allergen-free, coconut-free, and has no added sugar, sweeteners, flavourings or colourings. 
  • New ingredient is 100% plant based, clean-label.
  • All the materials in the new ingredient can be sourced from within the EU and UK. 
  • New ingredient addresses both sustainability and nutrition goals. 

Food experts at Queen Margaret University (QMU), Edinburgh have developed a new ingredient which has the potential to replace palm oil in bakery products. The new palm fat substitute is healthier and more environmentally friendly than palm oil, which is currently used in a vast amount of baked goods. The University’s novel replacement ingredient could offer significant solutions for the food industry allowing manufacturers to satisfy increasing consumer demand for tasty, lower fat, healthier food products, whilst reducing deforestation of the world’s rainforests. 

Working successfully as a replacement for palm-based fat in baked goods, the newly developed ingredient, which has 25% less fat and 88% less saturated fat, allows goods, such as cakes and biscuits, to maintain their texture, flavour and colour. 

Palm oil is a major functional fat ingredient used widely across the food industry in products such as cakes, biscuits, pastries, confectionery, ready meals and sauces. Due to its composition, high yield and low production costs, the food industry has become increasingly dependent on palm, resulting in its over-cultivation. Its high saturated fat content, which allows it to remain solid at room temperature, has proven crucial to the industrial bakery sector.

The new ingredient, which includes a by-product from the linseed industry, fibre and rapeseed oil, can be produced locally at the global scale and is cost-competitive. If used by the food industry to replace palm oil, it has the potential to significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions by reducing the impact of food miles and deforestation of global rainforests associated with palm production. The implementation of this innovative new strategy would assist the food industry in reducing its reliance on the over-cultivation of palm.

The innovative new palm substitute known as PALM-ALT has been developed by Dr Julien Lonchamp, Reader in Food Science, and Catriona Liddle, Head of the Scottish Centre for Food Development and Innovation (SCFDI) at Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh. The team has been motivated to address the current challenges facing the industry and provide a positive solution to the environmental damage associated with current palm cultivation.

Catriona Liddle explained why palm-based fat is such an important ingredient to the global food industry. She said: “Palm based fat works particularly well in bakery products due to its composition, taste and mouthfeel. For example, it helps produce cakes which are light, with a good taste profile which has a pleasant mouthfeel. 

“However, despite efforts to develop more sustainable cultivation practices, the industry has found it difficult to identify another fat which delivers the cost benefits and physical characteristics (bland taste, food shelf-life and ambient storage) that palm offers, and which is not linked with health concerns. Currently there is no palm oil replacement that is sustainable, healthy and cost-effective.”

Catriona continued: “Palm can only be harvested in rainforest areas of the globe, thousands of miles away from many of the countries that use the product. Current production methods leading to deforestation of tropical rainforests in Malaysia and Indonesia have led to the destruction of animals’ natural habitat, and high greenhouse gas emissions linked to its global transport. It is therefore essential to develop an alternative product, which works well for the food industry and helps reduce the world’s overreliance on palm.”

The University’s research confirms that the new replacement product, which has a mayonnaise style consistency, is palm and coconut free, 100% plant-based, healthier due to having less total and saturated fat, and more sustainable. It’s not only better for the environment, it’s also a wholesome, clean label, allergen-free product with no added flavourings, sugar, sweeteners, preservatives or colourings.

Dr Julien Lonchamp discussed the motivation behind the research: “We set out to develop a new ingredient that would not only be better for the environment but also healthier than palm fat and current alternatives.

“Following a preliminary study to show the potential of a novel ingredient composed of a linseed industry by-product, fibre and rapeseed oil, the QMU team secured funding from *Innovate UK to demonstrate the feasibility of PALM-ALT, develop its production to factory level, and collaborate with a range of food companies to develop palm-free versions of their commercial products.”

Discussing the success of the PALM-ALT research project, Catriona stated: “It is very satisfying to have developed a product which delivers on so many different levels for the food industry, satisfies growing consumer market for tasty healthy foods, can support local economies and won’t damage the environment.”

Dr Lonchamp confirmed: “Our team has patented the PALM-ALT composition and process and we are currently in discussions with a number of partners to implement the novel palm replacer at the industry level. We are therefore keen to connect with food companies who are interested in replacing palm-based fat in their products using our novel ingredient.”

*Funding for this research project was provided by Innovate UK via their Sustainable Innovation Fund in 2020-22.

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