25 Sneaky Names for Palm Oil

Buckets of palm oil at an outdoor market

Minette Lontsie / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Palm oil and its derivatives can appear under many names. For consumers concerned about the catastrophic ill effects of the palm industry, here’s what to look for.

Palm oil is the most popularly used vegetable oil in the world. It is remarkably versatile and is used in everything from snack food and shampoo to biofuel. It is so prevalent that it can be found in around half of packaged items in most supermarkets.

It comes from the fruit of the oil palm tree (Elaeis guineensis) which is native to West Africa. It was once used for basic things like food and fiber, but with a yield greater than other vegetable oil crops, and with low labor costs, it has become the go-to oil. While trees were once planted in small-scale, sustainable systems, the high demand has created a need for large-scale plantations.

The Ecological Impact of Palm Oil

To make room for palm crops, huge areas of tropical forests and other ecosystems where conservation is important are being stripped bare. Critical habitat for orangutans and many endangered species – including rhinos, elephants and tigers – has been destroyed. Forest-dwelling people lose their land, local communities are negatively affected. Catastrophic fires have taken place in Indonesia due to plantation slash-and-burn clearing that has run amok.

Global production of palm oil has more than quadrupled 15 million tons in 1995 to 66 million tons in 2017. The industry's worth an estimated $60 billion and its production value is expected to reach $88 billion by 2022. While the demand for palm oil may be hard to stem, by supporting sustainably produced palm oil, consumers can play a role in decreasing the destruction brought on by corporate interests.

Other Names

Palm oil and its derivatives can appear under more names than just “palm oil.” While some of these ingredients listed by WWF – like vegetable oil – aren’t always made from palm oil, they can be:

1. Elaeis guineensis
2. Etyl palmitate
3. Glyceryl
4. Hydrogenated palm glycerides
5. Octyl palmitate
6. Palm fruit oil
7. Palm kernel
8. Palm kernel oil
9. Palm stearine
10. Palmate
11. Palmitate
12. Palmitic acid
13. Palmitoyl oxostearamide
14. Palmitoyl tetrapeptide-3
15. Palmityl alcohol
16. Palmolein
17. Sodium kernelate
18. Sodium laureth sulfate
19. Sodium lauryl lactylate/sulphate
20. Sodium lauryl sulfate
21. Sodium palm kernelate
22. Stearate
23. Stearic acid
24. Vegetable fat
25. Vegetable oil

If you see these ingredients on a label you can call the company and enquire as to whether or not they include palm oil and/or if they source palm oil from sustainable enterprises.

Also, WWF advises consumers to look for the RSPO label to ensure that certified sustainable palm oil, produced in socially and environmentally responsible ways, was used. The Rainforest Alliance has a certification label as well.

View Article Sources
  1. Gesteiro, Eva, et al. “Palm Oil on the Edge.” Nutrients. 2019, vol. 11,  doi:10.3390/nu11092008

  2. Kadandale, Sowmya, et al. The palm oil industry and noncommunicable diseases. Bull World Health Organ. 2019;97(2):118-128.  doi:10.2471/BLT.18.220434

  3. Barcelos, Edson, et al. Oil palm natural diversity and the potential for yield improvement. Front Plant Sci. 2015, vol. 6,  doi:10.3389/fpls.2015.00190

  4. Kadandale, Sowmya, et al.  “The Palm Oil Industry and Communicable Diseases.” World Health Organization