Coconut Oil

Coconut Oil vs Palm Oil: Which One is Better?

Coconut oil vs Palm Oil: Which one is better?

Coconut oil and palm oil are two different types of vegetable oils extracted from different types of threes. Global palm oil market is valued at USD 63.54 Billion in 2021. It is the most widely used vegetable oil in the world. Global coconut oil market at USD 4.2 Billion is only about 6.6% of palm oil market. Data from Statista below shows that coconut oil is the 8th most used vegetable oil globally.

Statistic: Consumption of vegetable oils worldwide from 2013/14 to 2021/2022, by oil type (in million metric tons) | Statista
Find more statistics at Statista

So, is palm oil more widely used because it is better than other oils? Not necessarily.

Why is Palm Oil more Widely Used than other Vegetable Oils?

Apart from being a versatile oil, palm oil is incredibly efficient. According to WWF, palm oil supplies 40% of world’s vegetable oil demand on just under 6% of the land used to produce all vegetable oil. Subsequently, the efficiency lowers palm oil’s production cost.

Graph illustrating coconut and palm oil yield per hectare of crops

Palm oil trees produce more without taking up much land. It is also a hardy crop with low pest and disease incidence. On the other hand, coconut trees use more land than what they gave back in oil production. Coconut oil provided only 1.4% of global oil but required 3.6% of the land.

coconut oil vs palm oil, coconut oil vs palm kernel oil

Thus, despite all the negative rep of palm plantation such as deforestation, replacing it with other vegetable oil would be difficult. To get the same amount of oil from other alternatives, we would need between 4 and 10 times more land. Hence, it would cause even worse deforestation and other consequences.

A sustainable alternative to oil farming is to create oil from other sources. In 2022, a biotech company C16 Biosciences announced the launch of Palmless. The Bill Gates-backed company uses microbes to produce palmitic acid (C16) with fermentation process. Whether the company will manage to produce scalable substitute to palm oil is yet to be seen.

What are the Applications of Palm Oil?

About 68% of palm oil is used in food products, from margarine to chocolate, pizzas, breads, and cooking oils. Industrial applications amount to 27% of palm oil use. Palm oil can be processed into soaps, detergents, cosmetics, and cleaning agents. Lastly, roughly 5% palm oil is used in bioenergy sector as biofuels.

coconut oil vs palm oil as biofuels, coconut oil vs palm kernel oil,

Germany, however, uses 41% of its palm oil import for bioenergy purpose. The country uses more palm oil for biofuel rather than for food. Nevertheless, more recent data suggest that biofuel use is rapidly increasing, especially in Asia.

Indonesia too is gradually increasing its palm oil biofuel use. In 2016, Indonesia started their biodiesel program with Biosolar B20, a fuel alternative containing 20% palm oil-based fuel. Starting February 1st, 2023, the government will implement Biodiesel B35, which contains 35% palm-based methyl ester.

What are the Applications of Coconut Oil? Does it Overlap with Palm Oil’s?

Coconut oil is also used in food industry, cooking oils, cosmetics, detergents, and biofuel. There is a significant overlap between the use of coconut oil and palm oil across industries. Hence, we will need to delve deeper into the fundamental difference of each oil.

Coconut oil and palm oil has differing chemical compounds. However, coconut oil has more structural similarity with palm kernel oil. So, what is palm kernel oil and how does it differ from palm oil? Which one is better, coconut oil vs palm kernel oil?

Palm Oil vs Palm Kernel Oil: What’s the difference?

While both oils come from the same tree, they didn’t exactly come from the same source. Palm oil is extracted from the fruit of palm tree. On the other hand, palm kernel oil is extracted from the seed inside the palm fruit.

palm oil vs palm kernel oil

Palm oil is mostly used for edible purposes such as cooking, frying, and food formulations. Palm kernel oil is generally used for non-edible purposes such as raw material for soaps, cosmetics, and detergents. Now, let us dissect the three oils chemical compositions.

Chemical Composition of Coconut Oil vs Palm Kernel Oil vs Palm Oil

To understand more about vegetable oil application, we must understand their differing chemical composition. Each oil has its own characteristics. Coconut oil contains about 92% of saturated fat, while palm kernel oil contains about 82% and palm oil contains about 50% saturated fat. See the following table for the three oils fatty acid compositions approximation.

Table of chemical composition of coconut oil vs palm kernel oil vs palm oil

When comparing coconut oil vs palm kernel oil (PKO), we can see both oils contains high lauric acid. Which is why these oils often called lauric oils. Both coconut oil and PKO are high in medium chain fatty acid. Palm oil, however, is higher in long chain fatty acid. It is also highest in unsaturated fat (oleic acid and linoleic acid).

One might ask, what is the difference between medium chain and long chain fatty acid? Structurally, medium chain fatty acid has 6 to 12 carbons. Long chain fatty acid has 13 to 21 carbons.

MCT oil is great as instant energy for endurance athlete

In human body, medium chain fatty acid is easier to absorb than long chain fatty acid. MCT does not require digestive enzymes to be broken apart. Hence, it is commonly used by endurance athletes and people with type 2 diabetes.

Coconut Oil vs Palm Oil: Which One is Better for Cosmetics?

Cosmetic oil market size is valued at USD 9.7 Billion in 2022. Initially, mineral oils from petroleum were used as cosmetic oil. However, nowadays there is a globally growing demand for vegetable oil to substitute petroleum-based mineral oil in cosmetics.

coconut oil vs palm oil, coconut oil vs palm kernel oil application in cosmetics industry

Cosmetic oil or carrier oils are major ingredient in cosmetic products. They are used as moisturizers, serums, lipsticks, lip balm, hair care, and skin care products. Coconut, almond, palm, olive, and avocado oil usage in cosmetic industry are increasing.

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According to Global Market Insights, coconut oil holds the largest market share due to its increasing use in hair care and skin care products. Lauric acid in coconut oil is known for nourishing and repairing damaged hair. The combination of its chemical properties are superb for sebum reconstitution. Coconut oil can treat skin illness, infection, and protect against blemishes. Studies show that coconut oil is superior compared to other oils in this regard.

Coconut Oil vs Palm Oil: Which One is Better for Pharmaceutical Industry?

Palm oil is rich in important phytonutrients such as vitamin E and carotenes. Recent study shows that the oil is highly suitable for drug production with lipid-based formulation (LBF). LBF is an approach to improve oral absorption to drug and to maintain its supersaturated concentration. Fractions from both palm oil and palm kernel oil can be selected in developing LBF. Basically, palm oil managed to enhance drug performance and stability during drug ingestion.

A close-up of pills Description automatically generated with medium confidence

Fractions of coconut oil can be utilized as drugs. Lauric acid is effective in treating viral infection. Lauric acid can be further process into monolaurin. As antibiotic resistance gradually become a worldwide problem, researchers hope monolaurin could be used to create new type of antibiotic. When we ingest lauric acid, our body metabolises it into monolaurin. However, the conversion rate cannot be determined. Coconut oil may also be used as a vehicle for lipophilic drugs.

This section about pharmaceutical uses is just a glimpse of the myriad application of both oil’s fractions and derivatives. Therefore, it is undecided which oil is better, because it would heavily depend on the medical objective and chemical interactions.

Coconut Oil vs Palm Oil: Which One is Better for Lubricant?

One of the industrial uses of vegetable oil is as bio-based lubricant. A study by University of Riau Indonesia shows that both coconut oil and palm oil are superior in high load and high speed condition during the application of cylindrical roller bearing.

Coconut Oil vs Palm Oil: Which One is Better for Cooking?

To understand which type of oil perform better in cooking, let us first comprehend the process of making coconut-based and palm-based cooking oil. Coconut cooking oil is technically named RBD coconut oil. RBD (refined, bleached, deodorized) coconut oil is processed from crude coconut oil.

On the other hand, palm-based cooking oil is not RBD palm oil, but RBD palm olein. Why is this the case? Because RBD palm oil has a rather high melting point, which is 35⁰Celcius. Compare that to RBD coconut oil’s melting point which is about 25⁰Celcius. This means, at room temperature, RBD palm oil is at least partially solid. However, its derivative RBD palm olein, has a more similar melting point to RBD coconut oil (22⁰Celcius).

So, we will not compare coconut oil vs palm oil for cooking, but coconut oil and palm olein. But before that, let’s delve into how palm oil become palm olein.

RBD Palm Oil Derivatives: RBD Palm Olein & RBD Palm Stearin

To obtain RBD palm olein and RBD palm stearin, RBD palm oil must undergone the fractionation process. The process exploits palm olein and palm stearin’s different melting point to separate the two. Basically, the oil is subjected under a certain temperature to isolate stearin (solid part) from olein (liquid part). RBD palm stearin has a melting point of 53⁰Celcius. Therefore, it is solid in room temperature.

After fractionation, RBD palm olein is bottled and sold as cooking oils. Meanwhile, RBD palm stearin is then processed into margarine, shortening, and vegetable ghee. Vanaspati ghee is mostly used in Pakistan as cooking oil.

RBD Coconut Oil vs RBD Palm Olein: Which One is Better for Cooking?

See the following approximation of coconut oil and palm olein chemical composition.

Cooking involves high heat temperature. Therefore, it will affect the oil’s stability. An experiment by Che Man and Wan Hussin of frying potato chips at 180⁰Celcius for prolonged time shows that each oil has its own merit. RBD palm olein is superior in its free fatty acid percentage stability after frying. On the other hand, RBD coconut oil is better in oxidation resistance. Therefore, some believes that RBD coconut oil can be used to fry multiple times, more than RBD palm olein.

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Moreover, it is also best to avoid Omega-6 rich oil. Scientists considered them to be pro-inflammatory. Both coconut oil and palm olein are low in Omega-6 fatty acid (see linoleic acid content in the table above).

Conclusion: Is Coconut Oil Better Than Palm Oil?

There are many more application of both oils that are not discussed in this article. From solely economic perspective, palm oil farming is far more efficient than coconut oil. Therefore, palm oil would be better priced than coconut oil. Overall, it is impossible to decide one oil is better than the other, as each oil has its own specific fatty acid structures. Whether to use coconut oil or palm oil is dependent on the product’s specific purpose.

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