Palm Oil is a touchy subject amongst foodies. The tale as old as time. A food gets fancy, demand increases, then profit-hungry soulless corporations tromp into the villages of third world countries and destroy the economy, social networks and ecosystem in one foul swoop. In the news over the last decade, you may have seen pictures of Malaysian orangutans who lost their favorite swinging spot, rainforests burning, Indonesian people in the sun looking like they weren’t getting paid enough. Palm Done Right is a Natural Habitats campaign that provides education on palm products, supports farmers who produce palm oil by sustainable, organic and community-sensitive methods, and also promotes products using palm oil from good sources. There is a good way to harvest palm oil—just make sure you aren’t supporting villains.
The Palm Done Right campaign prompted me to review the available nutrition science on fats. Recently I attended a lecture on fats at the Tulane Goldring School of Culinary Medicine (at the Whole Foods in my neighborhood!) I remember when the popular message to the public said All Fat is Bad. Then I went to medical school and realized our bodies really need fat to function. In general, saturated fats still need to be in the no no category and try to limit intake to <10% of your dietary fat. Yes, that’s butter. It’s also about 50% of palm fruit oil (if its solid at room temp, high sat fat). But that’s not the end of the story, because there is this whole other world of fats that are really good for you—Monounsaturated fats (MUFAS) and Polyunsaturated fats (PUFAS), these are the liquid ones at room temp. In this group, there are fats we cannot synthesize ourselves, essential fatty acids: the Omega 3 (alpha- linolenic) and Omega 6 (linoleic acid). Palm fruit oil also has Omegas, but much more Omega 6, which I’ll argue is to be used cautiously). Palm fruit oil has the added bonus of a bunch of carotenoids (like more than carrots) and tocotrienols (Vitamin Es). Just make sure you are getting Palm Fruit oil and not palm kernel oil. Big difference.
Omega 3 is important in making DHA (important for neurodevelopment and health). They also probably prevent heart disease. Foods with a lot of Omega 3 include: salmon, tuna, soy, wheat germ, walnut oil, flax seeds and oil, pumpkin seeds, scallops, crawfish. Omega 6 are okay (again, still better than straight saturated fats), but the higher the ratio of Omega 6, relative to 3, the more inflammation, autoimmune disease, cancer, CV disease it seems. The average US diet has a 1:10-1:30 ratio of Omega 3 to Omega 6. Ideally, you want to have 1:1 or 1:4 ratio of Omega-3:Omega-6.
In general, you want to eat about 1.6 times the unsaturated fats than saturated fats in your diet. This is a lot of math to do in the kitchen, right? Well, all the more control you have over food you create than the food you encounter eating out. When you are cooking more for yourself, you know exactly the ratio of fats going down the hatch. Plus, you can dance in the kitchen while you are waiting for the onions to caramelize.
I got to work in the kitchen testing out Palm Done Right products sent to me for sampling (above), and I’m a fan. I like Aunt Patty’s and Nutiva, companies that should be celebrated for their conscious curating of ingredients. I decided to adapt some recipes from a new cookbook I’ve been dying to try—the Modern Jewish Table by the “Jewish Princesses” Tracy Fine and Georgie Tarn. I’m a shiksa balabusta (Yiddish for: total imposter Jewish wanna-be who loves to tear it up in the kitchen). This cookbook has a wide range of kosher recipes that reflect the cultural diaspora of Jewish people—so far everything I’ve tried has been delicious. And I believe a touch of red palm oil in this stew provided just the perfect dash of chutzpah.
Lebanese Eggplant and Chickpea Stew
Adapted from the Modern Jewish Table
2 eggplants, sliced and diced
1 TB kosher salt
7 TB olive oil
3 TB Aunt Patty’s red palm oil
2 onions, chopped
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp brown sugar
15 oz garbanzo beans
1 TB honey
17 oz stewed tomatoes
Black pepper to taste
2 oz water
Preheat oven to 350. Rub eggplant slices with salt and let sit on a rank for 30 minutes to dehydrate. Then rinse with water and pat dry with a towel. In a large skillet, add 3 oz olive oil and 2 oz red palm oil, heat and fry the onions until soft/translucent. Add cinnamon and brown sugar. Add eggplants and 4 oz olive oil, 1 oz red palm oil and let fry some more (about five min). Add the rest of the ingredients, not the water, cover and place in oven for 20 minutes. Then add the last 2 oz of water and continue cooking for another 40 minutes.
This is delicious when served on whole grain toast—buckwheat toast is what I used—delicious!
How about some gluten free nibbles for dessert/snacks?
Nutiva Cookie Bites
Adapted from The Modern Jewish Table
1 ½ almond meal
½ cup fine sugar
3 TB Nutiva chocolate hazelnut paste (it’s Nutella in the original recipe)
Preheat oven to 325. Mix all ingredients until a smooth paste is formed. Line a baking tray with parchment. Roll one tsp of dough into a ball, and place on baking tray. Bake for 10-15 minutes.