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Scottish University develops palm oil replacement

Queen Margaret University’s food experts have developed a new plant-based, clean-label 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.   

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, flavor and color.  

The new palm fat replacer is healthier than palm oil, with increased fiber and protein. It is also allergen-free, coconut-free, and has no added sugar, sweeteners, flavorings, or colorings.  

The innovative new palm substitute known as PALM-ALT was developed by Dr Julien Lonchamp, Reader in Food Science, and Catriona Liddle, Head of the Scottish Center 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. 

The new ingredient addresses both sustainability and nutrition goals. All the materials in the new ingredient can be sourced from within the EU and UK. This ingredient, which includes a by-product from the linseed industry, fiber and rapeseed oil, can be produced locally at a 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. 

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.

Catriona Liddle explained why palm-based fat is such an important ingredient in 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 that 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 that 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.

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 flavorings, sugar, sweeteners, preservatives or colorings.

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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