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Palm oil : Supporting the development of Indian bakery & snack food industries
Saturday, 23 January, 2021, 13 : 00 PM [IST]
Dr Nagendran Bala Sundram
Oils and fats are used in the preparation of various food items, at both household and industry levels. From the perspective of food technology, oils and fats enhance palatability of foods and improve satiety; improve the consistency, texture and mouthfeel of foods; and act as heat transfer medium in food preparation. The choice of oils and fats used in the preparation of foods  is often dictated by consumer preference, availability and economic considerations.

However, in the food industry, the choice of oils and fats used would be an important determinant of the taste, flavour, and texture that influence the palatability and acceptability of the food. In addition, the oils and fats used would also be an important determinant of the quality and shelf-life of foods.

Palm oil is one of the major oils produced, traded and consumed on a global basis. In 2020, palm oil accounted for approximately 31 per cent of global oils and fats production and about 53 per cent of world oils and fats trade, ahead of the other three major oils, i.e. soyabean, rapeseed-mustard or sunflower oils. Of the 74.7 million tonnes of palm oil  consumed in year 2020, an estimated 80 per cent was used for food applications.  Palm oil is obtained from the mesocarp of the oil palm (Elaeis guineensis) fruit. The oil palm is also a source of another oil, i.e., the palm kernel oil, which is obtained from the kernel. Both these oils are highly versatile, and may be processed into various fractions that offer opportunities in a wide range of food applications, based on their specific functionality.

The fractionation of palm oil yields palm olein (liquid fraction) and palm stearin (solid fraction). Palm olein is suitable for household cooking and industrial frying. It provides better mouthfeel and product gloss for the fried products. Palm stearin is most suitable for utilisation as hardstock for formulations of solid fats, and is ideally suitable for formulations of trans-free margarines, shortenings and vanaspati. Palm super olein is usually obtained upon refractionation of palm olein, and offers a higher level of liquidity and better cold stability compared to standard palm olein. Palm mid fraction (PMF) may be obtained by refractionating palm olein or palm stearin and has a sharp melting profile, with slip melting point (SMP) of 35-36°C, making it suitable for confectionery fats. Similarly, palm and palm kernel oils too may be fractionated to produce palm kernel olein and palm kernel stearin. Palm kernel olein is the liquid fraction, and can be used for margarine fat when interesterified with palm stearin. The palm kernel stearin, is the solid fraction of palm kernel oil that is considered as a premium product which can be used for confectionery fats.

Palm oil is the most suitable oil for industrial frying as its balanced fatty acid composition makes it highy resistant to oxidation, prevents polymerization and provides excellent mouthfeel to the fried product. As palm olein has a lower melting point (~22°C), it also offers an advantage for industrial applications, as it allows for easy recirculation of frying oils following overnight closures of operations, while being an excellent frying oil with performance comparable to palm oil. Both palm oil and palm olein are the preferred oils for the production of instant noodles as these oils confer storage stabilty required of the fried product.  

India has a fast growing food processing industry, with the bakery and snack foods sectors playing leading roles. The Indian bakery sector was valued at US$ 7.22 billion in 2018, and produces three main categories of products, i.e. breads, biscuits, and cakes and pastries. The sector has excellent growth prospects, with an estimated compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 9.3 per cent over the period 2019-2024, and a projected value of US$ 12 billion in 2024. It is estimated that India’s cakes sector will record a rapid 12.5 per cent CAGR over the 2019-2024 period, reaching total product value of US$ 882 million in 2024. In order to achieve this huge potential, the Indian bakery sector requires the correct type of semi-solid fats which have the right consistency and stability, that are competetively priced and easily available. This is where palm-based bakery fats could play a vital role as they can be tailor-made to provide the ideal fats for breads, biscuits, cakes and pastries.    

Palm based bakery fats are the healthier alternative to partially hydrogenated oils as they provide the same functionality as the latter, but offer the advantage of being trans-free.  This is a huge advantage as the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) targets to eliminate industrially produced trans fats from the food supply by the year 2022. Trans-free bakery fats may be produced by blending or interesterifying the different palm palm fractions, i.e. palm oil, palm olein and palm stearin.

Snack foods play a very important role in the Indian lifestyle, and many of these delicious delicacies are deep-fried in oil. While some fried snacks (e.g. wada, bhajis) are meant for immediate consumption, others e.g. chakli (muruku), bhujia, sev, farsan, chivda etc., may be stored over a long period of time. The shelf-life of these group of snacks is very much influenced by the oil used for frying. One of the major challenges faced by Indian snack food manufacturers is the maintenance of freshness over the period of time that is necessary for distribution and storage of the product. Here, palm oil and palm olein provide the ideal frying medium, as the oxidative stability and high smoke point are matched by few other oils.

Moreover, as refined palm oil  and palm olein are odourless, the natural flavour of the ingredients used in preparing the batter for the snack food is also well retained. India’s snack foods industry was estimated to be worth US$ 4.4 billion in 2018, and is estimated to grow to US$7.8 billion by 2022. Traditional Indian snacks are also being exported world-wide, and long-term storage stability is one of the required quality characteristics of these products. The use of palm oil or palm olein would be able to help improve the shelf-life of these traditional Indian snacks as they make their way across the globe.

The versatility and stability of palm oil and its fractions such as palm olein, combined with price competetiveness and all year-around availability makes it an ideal ingredient for the preparation of bakery products as well all traditional Indian fried snacks.

(The author belongs to the Malaysian Palm Oil Board. He can be reached at
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