RESEARCHERS at a Scottish university have developed a healthy and environmentally friendly alternative to palm oil.

Palm oil is used widely across the food industry in a variety of products from cakes and pastries to ready meals and sauces.

However, the low production costs and high-yield nature of the plant have led its over-cultivation.

Rainforest habitat and orangutan populations have suffered as farmers sought to meet demand.

But food experts at Queen Margaret University say their palm fat substitute – known as PALM-ALT – has the potential to replace palm oil in bakery products.

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Catriona Liddle, head of the Scottish Centre for Food Development and Innovation, highlighted the desire for a replacement.

She said: “Despite efforts to develop more sustainable cultivation practices, the industry has found it difficult to identify another fat which delivers the cost benefits and physical characteristics (bland taste, food shelf-life and ambient storage) that palm offers, and which is not linked with health concerns.

“Palm can only be harvested in rainforest areas of the globe, thousands of miles away from many of the countries that use the product.

“Current production methods leading to deforestation of tropical rainforests in Malaysia and Indonesia have led to the destruction of animals’ natural habitat, and high greenhouse gas emissions linked to its global transport.

“It is therefore essential to develop an alternative product, which works well for the food industry and helps reduce the world’s overreliance on palm”.

The National: Palm oil production has had a negative impact on orangutan populationsPalm oil production has had a negative impact on orangutan populations

There is currently no widely sold alternative to palm oil which is sustainable, healthy and cost effective.

However, researchers at QMU claim that their product has the potential to fulfil all three requirements.

The alternative includes a by-product from the linseed industry, fibre and rapeseed oil and can be produced locally across the globe.

Additionally, it contains no palm or coconut products, has less saturated fat and is allergen free.

Dr Julien Lonchamp, a reader in food science who helped develop the product alongside Liddle, said:

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"We set out to develop a new ingredient that would not only be better for the environment but also healthier than palm fat and current alternatives.

“Following a preliminary study to show the potential of a novel ingredient composed of a linseed industry by-product, fibre and rapeseed oil, the QMU team secured funding from Innovate UK to demonstrate the feasibility of PALM-ALT, develop its production to factory level, and collaborate with a range of food companies to develop palm-free versions of their commercial products.”

Longchamp said they are already in discussion with a number of stakeholders about rolling out the product at an industry-level and are keen to connect with food companies looking to replace the use of palm oil in their products.