Crumbly pastry that melts in the mouth, juicy berries with a hint of spice, the tang of brandy. Served hot and drizzled with cream, nothing quite says Christmas like a mince pie. This seemingly simple festive snack is available in every supermarket, but it has a complex journey involving many people, businesses and resources. But it’s a one ingredient – palm oil – which links this humble pie to deforestation, human rights abuses and climate change.
Georgina Rawes from Ethical Consumer looks into the issues behind palm oil production and shares her top five palm oil free mince pies.
The problem with palm oil
Palm oil is found in around half of all packaged foods and in many other household items, from cleaners to cosmetics. It is cheap, widely available and solid at room temperature, making it an appealing fat for manufacturers to use.
In mince pies, palm oil is found in the vegetable suet used to make the mincemeat. It gives the juicy filling the firm and creamy texture that we all love. But, there is a bitter and unpleasant story behind this popular ingredient.
Over 90% of the world’s palm oil is grown in Indonesia and Malaysia, across 16 million acres of land. As plantations grow to meet demand, they claim rainforest, razing them to gain valuable farmland. In fact, palm oil plantations are one of the leading causes of deforestation, forcing indigenous people from their homes and threatening endangered species living in these diverse ecosystems.
As rainforests are cleared, carbon dioxide is released. In fact, deforestation accounts for 10% of all greenhouse gas emissions and is a major contributor to global warming.
This in particularly pronounced in Indonesia, as the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) indicates that 98% of Indonesia’s rainforests may be gone in the next four years.
As well as the clear issues involved in deforestation, palm oil production is riddled with supply chain management issues. There are an estimated 3.5 million workers employed on Indonesian and Malaysian plantations where child labour and modern-day slavery still occur.
What about sustainable palm oil?
Many products now state that they contain sustainable palm oil. Whilst this seems to be a good thing, the reality is more complicated.
Certification groups, such as the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) have been criticised for not going far enough to ensure that members are acting responsibly and there are RSPO members who have been exposed as having environmental abuses and human rights issues in their palm oil supply chains. So, where products seem to contain sustainable palm oil that is not linked to deforestation, this might not actually be the case. Action groups such as Sum of Us, are campaigning for RSPO to vote to adopt a no deforestation, no peatland, no exploitation certification system.
Picking the perfect palm oil free mince pie
Whilst campaigners continue to put pressure on the palm oil industry to clean up its act, we recommend avoiding this problem ingredient for now. Happily, when it comes to mince pies, we have found a great palm oil free selection. Check out of our top five palm oil free mince pies:
Waitrose Duchy Organic Mince Pies
Organic and made with sunflower oil instead of palm oil, these pies come in 100% recyclable packaging and are priced at £2.50 for four. Available from Waitrose online and in store.
Marks & Spencer Mini Mince Pie Selection
Perfect for parties, these mini versions of a classic come in three varieties. They contain rapeseed oil and are suitable for vegetarians, and cost £16.00 for 36. Available from Marks & Spencer online and in store.
Authentic Bread Company Luxury Mince Pies with All Butter Pastry
These handmade mince pies are equally at home on the dinner table as they are beside a cup of tea. Beautifully finished, they are made with sunflower oil and are available through organic retailer Abel & Cole at £5.39 for a pack of six.
The Organic Collection Organic Mince Pies
These pies contain no additional fats in the mincemeat, only fruity fillings. They are available through ethical online retailers Real Foodspriced at £5.95 for six pies.
Artisan Bread Organic Mince Pies
Organic, vegan and gluten-free, these mince pies tick all the boxes. They contain no added sugar and are made with cold-pressed olive oil in place of palm oil. Available online at Artisan Bread Organicat £5.25 for a pack of six.