Malaysia is one of the top countries for palm oil production (MPOC Annual Report, 2020). According to the Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC), sales of palm oil products increased by RM9.3 billion (14.6 per cent) in 2020, surpassing RM73 billion.
Malaysian palm oil has gained recognition worldwide, and a variety of food products can use it because of its unique qualities (Tan et al., 2021).
The world’s reliance on fats and oils has been more significant than one could imagine. The world’s demand for oils and fats is primarily satisfied by palm oil. Producing up to four tonnes of oil/ha/year, the oil palm is the most productive vegetable oil crop compared to soybean, sunflower, canola, and others (Oil World Annual, 2018).
This means oil palm takes less area to produce the same amount of oil as other vegetable oil crops. Palm oil has a balanced fatty acid ratio consisting of 50 per cent saturated fats (palmitic acid and stearic acid) and 50 per cent unsaturated fats (oleic acid and linoleic acid, commonly known as Omega-9 and Omega-6 fatty acids, respectively).
Palm oil is rich in phytonutrients with antioxidant properties that can help with disease prevention, such as vitamin E tocotrienols, provitamin A (also known as carotenoids), phytosterols, coenzyme Q10 and many others (Kalyana et al., 2003).
Unbeknownst to many, crude palm oil (CPO) is the richest natural plant source for provitamin A carotenoids, including alpha- and beta-carotene (Loganathan et al., 2017). These carotenoids impart an orangey-red colour to crude palm oil.
Red palm oil benefits
CPO can be processed into various products such as palm stearin (solid fat), palm olein (liquid oil), and many more, including red palm oil (RPO). The process of molecular distillation, a specialised method of refinement, yields RPO while retaining nearly 80 per cent of the carotenoids and vitamin E found in CPO.
RPO contains 15 times more carotenoids than carrots, 44 times more than leafy vegetable, and 300 more than tomatoes (May, 1994). Provitamin A carotenoids are fat-soluble pigments that require fat for conversion into vitamin A, which is then absorbed in the small intestine.
A minimum of 5g of fat is required for optimal absorption of carotenoids. Vitamin A deficiency manifests as visual impairment, blindness, stunting, anaemia, respiratory disease, increased risk of infection, and mortality from common childhood infections like diarrhoea and measles (Abolurin et al.,2018; Radhika et al., 2013).
Hence, vitamin A requirements are higher in newborns and youngsters to enable rapid growth and better resistance to infection. In adults, studies have found that RPO reduces the incidence of maternal anaemia and increases vitamin A levels in lactating women (Loganathan et al., 2017).
The same study also reports that regular consumption of one-two teaspoon of RPO can help ensure children and mothers who are pregnant or nursing get enough vitamin A.
Are there a lot of food products with RPO? RPO is often marketed as supplementary oil and cooking or salad oil. The use of RPO can be expanded to other sections of the food industry.
Therefore, the market gaps can be assessed to identify opportunities for a novel RPO-fortified product. Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB) has done significant research on developing RPO-based products such as snack bar, ice cream milk and gummy.
Several process innovations of RPO into powder through microencapsulation methods also ease the process of incorporating RPO into the products.
Red palm oil as a functional ingredient
Nurhusna et al. (2020) developed a sorghum and beans-based snack bar with the addition of RPO, which aims to supplement food for pregnant women. The study found that two per cent of RPO with a ratio of 2:1 of sorghum flakes and beans was well accepted by pregnant women with an overall acceptability of 97 per cent.
Other than that, research by Abd-ElGahny et al. (2020) reported the usage of fresh RPO as a milk fat substitute in the formula of ice milk. They investigated the effect of this replacement on the quality characteristics at different concentrations.
In this study, it has been found that ice milk that contains RPO of 25 and 50% showed similar and better quality characteristics such as pH value, acidity, overrun, melting rate, fatty acids, colour values, sensory, carotenoid and vitamin E.
A study by researchers from Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) and Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB) on RPO has successfully pioneered the discovery of content process innovation, ultimately transforming it into powder via microencapsulation technique.
The findings have also been applied to Nutra Mee’s meal, making it the only quick noodle with an effective antioxidant agent.
MPOC and UiTM conducted a different study on the knowledge of RPO (n=300) among Malaysian. 78.3 per cent of respondents know about RPO, 96.6 per cent believe RPO enhances β- carotene, 94.3 per cent believe RPO has nutritional benefits, 97.3 per cent believe RPO is a halal ingredient. In comparison, 82.3 per cent are familiar with functional food (unpublished data).
Halal aspect of products developed
RPO will be well-received as a functional food by consumers who lead healthy lifestyles or are more health-conscious. This also showed that RPO, as functional food, has a lot of potentials to encourage people to consume healthy foods (Tai et al., 2022). When purchasing food products, consumers prioritise product quality. Customers think high-quality products emphasise a healthy lifestyle and good habits (Wyman et al., 2021).
Investigating how religion affects consumer behaviour is also an intriguing subject. Previous studies have demonstrated that religion impacts people’s behaviour due to the norms and taboos it imposes (Meixner et al., 2018).
Religious experience has been included in modern studies on consumer behaviour as one of the significant determinants of consumption (Han et al., 2019). Palm oil is preferred as a vital halal raw material.
The versatility of its application renders it an essential halal raw and intermediate ingredient to fulfil the demand of the Muslim market (Hanifarianty et al., 2019).
Consequently, being a nutritional, versatile and halal ingredient, the opportunity for RPO applications in innovative food products is tremendous!