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Food & Drink

Food & Drink

Palm oil – it’s time to tackle this problem ingredient

problem with palm oil

In the western world, we’re addicted to palm oil.  It’s everywhere – in cleaning products, cosmetics and in many snack foods: from biscuits and bread; to chocolate and spreads.  It’s missed off ingredient lists in cosmetics and hidden under pseudonyms in food, but its use is ubiquitous.

Why do we use it?  Because it’s useful, cheap, high-yielding, and versatile.  The problem: palm oil is the biggest contributor to rainforest destruction.  Its production destroys unique habitats and contributes to climate change.

Tim Hunt, from Ethical Consumer magazine, explores the complex issues with palm oil and how consumers can bring about change where governments and campaigners have failed.

The problem with palm oil

Our addiction to palm oil lies within the plant itself.  With its oily flesh and nut, the palm oil fruit produces a vegetable fat that is solid at room temperature.  This saturated fat is the perfect alternative to more expensive and labour-intensive animal fats and per hectare: it generates higher yields than many other vegetable oils.  Simply put, it is cheap, plentiful and it does a job perfectly.

But like all apparent panaceas, it has a dark side.

At Ethical Consumer we’ve been tracking the palm oil issue for over 20 years and we’ve just released our latest report.

Despite huge campaigns from Greenpeace and WWF, the start of certification schemes like Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and the involvement of multiple governments and the World Bank, our report highlights that deforestation due to palm oil production is actually getting worse, not better.

In fact, a football pitch sized patch of virgin rainforest is cleared every 25 seconds to make way for palm oil plantations and production is increasing to meet the demands of a growing world population.

Over recent years ‘sustainable palm oil’ and RSPO-certified labels have popped up all over food packaging so you might think that the problem has been solved.  Not so.  Most major snack brands – even with these labels – still have palm oil from deforestation areas in their supply chain.  Just last month Nestle was suspended from the RSPO for failing to file progress reports towards sustainable targets.  In March this year, Greenpeace conducted a report into palm oil production and came up against enormous resistance from brands to disclose their palm oil sources, indicating deeper issues.

problem with palm oil

So, what can we do?

In the west, we are major stakeholders in snack food companies.  We drive their profits through our purchasing decisions so we can apply pressure.

At Ethical Consumer, we advise avoiding palm oil altogether, wherever possible, or buying only from those companies who have a firm commitment to ending deforestation in their supply chain.  We’ve released four new product guides looking at palm oil use in more detail and we recommend the following brands.  Click on the titles to see the full guides.

Butters and spreads
We recommend Biona, M&S and Yeo Valley who offer palm oil free spreads.  Suma and Waitrose brands are actively reducing their use and working to use only deforestation-free supplies.

Chocolate
Although chocolate itself is palm oil free, the sweet fillings often aren’t.  We recommend Pacari, Chocolat Madagascar and Divine who are not only palm oil free but Fair Trade too.

Biscuits
Sustainable palm oil use is being taken seriously by biscuit brands.  There are many brands that are taking an active stance to reduce their usage and shake up the supply chain.  We love Island Bakery whose biscuits are organic and palm oil free.  We also recommend Against the Grain, Doves Farm and Traidcraft brands.

Bread
Although only used in small amounts many bread brands do use palm oil.  For supermarket own brands, Waitrose and M&S are showing real commitment to sustainable policies.  For a branded loaf, choose Biona, Warburtons, Weight Watchers or Jackson’s.

Want to do more?

Take a look at the red category companies in our reports, avoid their products and get in touch to tell them what you think.

Join campaign and boycotts led by Greenpeace and Sum of Us to force big brands to think differently.

Food & Drink, Kitchen Staples

Quorn Lime and Coconut Vegan Curry Recipe

lime and coconut vegan curry

Sponsored post

quorn vegan curry recipe

You may remember a few weeks ago I got to chat with Ben Fogle about all things flexitarianism.  Ben had been filming a short video for Quorn with Duncan Williamson, WWF UK’s Food Policy Manager, when I got the exciting chance to catch up with him, and I’m really pleased to say the final video is now ready.

In the video, Ben and Duncan discuss the impact of our modern, meat-eating diets on the planet and how meat reduction could be healthier for us and for the environment. I always find it’s food for thought to find that switching to one or two meat-free meals a week could significantly reduce your carbon footprint. Duncan points out that food production is responsible for 69% of water usage, and Quorn’s research has found that one quarter pounder burger requires 2,800 litres of water – that’s 11,200 cups of tea or 45 personal showers! So even more reason to try and go meat-free once or twice a week.

I’m sure you’ll agree it’s a really interesting and thought-provoking watch:

As I eluded to in the first post, I’m a huge fan of Quorn, and found it invaluable in my transition from firstly meat eater to flexitarian, and then from flexitarian to vegetarian.

Whilst I’ve been vegetarian for 12 years now, right now I am trying to incorporate a more vegan diet into my life.  Whilst I don’t know if I will ever be 100% vegan, reducing my consumption of dairy where I can is something I am definitely on board with.

Whilst a lot of Quorn products do contain small amounts of egg white or milk ingredients, thankfully Quorn has developed a great vegan range, including my beloved Fishless Fingers, that is expanding all the time (and you don’t have to be vegan to enjoy!).

I find Quorn particularly invaluable when I want something quick, easy and tasty during the week, after a long day at work.  The ability to take something protein-packed from the freezer to create a healthy dinner when I’m time-pressed is something that makes my life so much easier!

lime and coconut vegan curry

One of my favourite midweek meals to cook is this tasty lime and coconut vegan curry, that’s made with Quorn Vegan Pieces.  As well as being downright delicious, the dish comes together in about 20 minutes and uses just one pot.  My kind of midweek meal!

Here’s the recipe!

Quorn Lime and Coconut Vegan Curry

Make this delicious vegan lime and coconut curry, made with Quorn Vegan Pieces. The dish is made in one pan in just 20 minutes, making it perfect for a no-fuss, tasty weeknight dinner.
Prep Time 3 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Servings 3

Ingredients

  • 1 bag Quorn Vegan Pieces 280g
  • 2 small limes - juiced
  • 250 ml vegetable stock
  • 1 red onion - finely diced
  • 1 fresh red chilli - finely diced
  • 1/2 can coconut milk
  • Handful of fresh coriander - finely chopped and a little more to garnish
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon powdered turmeric
  • 1/4 teaspoon chilli flakes
  • 1 teaspoon cornflour mixed into one tablespoon water
  • Salt and pepper to season

Instructions

  1. Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan, and add the onion, cooking on a medium heat until the onions are translucent.
  2. Add the frozen Quorn vegan pieces (there's no need to defrost them) and diced red chilli to the onions, and cook for 2 to 3 minutes.
  3. Next add the vegetable stock, lime juice, fresh coriander and chilli flakes and bring to a boil, before allowing the ingredients to simmer for 5 minutes.
  4. Add the coconut milk and turmeric to the pan, bring back to the boil, and then allow to simmer for a further 5 minutes.
  5. Next, add the cornflour mixed with water to the pan, stir well, and cook for a further 2-3 minutes on high heat.
  6. Season with salt and pepper as required.
  7. Serve with rice and garnish with a sprinkling of freshly chopped coriander.

quorn vegan pieces

Enjoy!