Ingredient Spotlight: Palm Oil

Let's talk about what may be one of the most controversial ingredients in soap making.  Don't see what the problem is?  Let me zoom in a bit:

Palm Oil!  *insert scary music here*

Palm Oil is an edible vegetable oil derived from the palm fruit of the oil palm tree.  Oil palm trees originated in Africa, but today are grown in Africa, Asia, and North and South America.  The palm oil industry is linked to major deforestation, climate change, and several other hot button issues.  People often specify the orangutan as one of the major species that is impacted by this product, although there are many others.

Palm Oil is found in many household products.  These include cosmetics, cleaning supplies, beauty products, and more.  

So with the huge impact that palm oil creates on the environment, this is understandably a topic that people feel strongly about.  However, before you get upset, do realize that there are companies that work hard towards ensuring that palm oil is produced in an environmentally responsible manner.  These companies are typically part of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).  

In soap making, palm oil is a very popular oil.  It adds hardness to the finished bar, and also helps to add stable, creamy lather.  It is similar to lard and tallow in function, but is vegetarian.  I procure my palm oil from Bramble Berry (as pictured above), and their palm oil is from a supplier who is a member of the RSPO.  I have explored palm free recipes, but have not had satisfactory results to date.  While I do use palm oil now, I am looking into eventually replacing it as I find a suitable alternative.  

For more information on Palm Oil, and sustainable production, please visit some of these websites:

When using palm oil in soap, it is important to completely melt it and stir well.  Palm oil contains stearic acid, and this tends to settle to the bottom when the palm oil solidifies.  By completely melting and remixing the palm oil each time, we can be sure that all constituents of the oil are evenly distributed into every bar of soap.

Leave a comment