Palm oil is the bright red oil extracted from the fruit of the palm tree. It is distinct from the more neutrally colored and flavored palm kernel oil, which comes from the stone in the palm fruit. Palm oil’s color and intense, earthy and nutty flavor profile make it difficult but not impossible to replace. Here are some of the best palm oil substitutes:
Your best bet: Annatto oil
The most distinctive visual element of palm oil is its red color. You can get a similar color with annatto oil. Other names for this product include achiote oil. You make it by combining achiote seeds with a cooking oil. Heat the oil over a medium flame then add the achiote seeds and continue heating until the oil starts to bubble. Turn the flame off and let the seeds sit in the oil until it cools. You can bottle the oil and use it in many of the same preparations that require palm oil.
You can use any kind of cooking oil to make annatto oil, which means that it makes a good substitute if you are concerned about palm oil’s saturated fat content. It works with extra virgin olive oil as well as with canola and corn oils.
Annatto oil has one big downside, which is that it won’t provide the distinctive flavor of palm oil.
A decent second choice: Coconut oil
Palm oil and coconut oil are semi-solid at room temperature, which is a characteristic that separates them from most other cooking oils. They come from types of palm trees and each oil comes with some important health benefits.
Like palm oil, coconut oil has a high saturated fat content and this may have negative health effects.
Aside from the fact that they have similar consistencies at room temperature, coconut oil and palm oil do perform differently under certain circumstances. For example, coconut oil melts quickly at temperatures above 76 degrees Fahrenheit while palm oil will need higher temperatures to liquefy completely. Coconut oil also does not taste like palm oil and does not have the red color.
In a pinch: Ghee
Butter with its milk solids removed is called ghee. Ghee is one of the staples in Indian cooking and can be used in many of the recipes that require palm oil. You may even be able to find it in the same part of the grocery store where you would find palm oil.
Like palm oil, ghee has a semi-solid consistency at room temperature. The process for making ghee involves cooking the butter for a while, which results in caramelization and a nutty flavor. The cooking process also gives the ghee a deep golden brown color. Because it has had its milk solids removed, ghee won’t burn as quickly as butter would so it is well suited to high-temperature cooking.
Ghee and palm oil share enough properties that palm oil is used to make a product called vegetable ghee that has many of ghee’s characteristics.
The downside of ghee is that it won’t have many of the distinctive properties that you associate with palm oil including the red color.
Butter has about the same amount of saturated fat as palm oil so it is no worse for you in that sense. Butter is solid at room temperature, so it does embody some of palm oil’s properties. But it won’t provide you with its distinctive flavor and color.