After the food industry phased out its use of partially hydrogenated oils/trans fats, why weren’t the public’s favorite frozen pizzas and donuts on the chopping block? How did so many foods survive the transition without the public noticing a change in taste or texture? Many food industry giants as well as smaller innovators replaced chemically altered oils with natural palm oil and palm shortening. 

Why were partially hydrogenated oils targeted? 

Partially hydrogenated oils are created by adding hydrogen to vegetable oil to increase a food’s shelf life. A primary dietary source of trans fats, they were used for years until the Food and Drug Administration announced they were not safe. Removing it from foods could prevent thousands of heart attacks each year. The ban originally went into effect in 2018, but due to distribution timelines, foods containing trans fats were still available through January 2021. 

Palm oil is a natural fit as an alternative 

Because palm oil is rich in natural antioxidants, including vitamin E tocotrienols and tocopherols, it is naturally resistant to oxidation and provides a long shelf life, particularly for baked goods. It is solid when cool, making it an easy substitute for partially hydrogenated oils such as all-purpose shortenings used for cakes and cookies. 

Crude palm oil is refined using steam or other non-chemical processes. To make it an even easier replacement for partially hydrogenated oils, it must match different physical properties. This is done by melting and slowly cooling palm oil, a process called fractionation, then blending the resulting fractions. This enables processors to convert palm oil into an almost unlimited variety of shortening products, with varying temperature tolerances.    

An affordable alternative, palm oil is also well suited for today’s food trends. It is plant-based, non-GMO, its health benefits have been documented by multiple studies, and it can easily be sustainably sourced.