Also known as vegetable lard, palm oil and its derivatives are used in toiletries, processed foods and margarine. It is a solid at room temperature, and can be used as a high-heat cooking oil. However, palm oil is high in saturated fats, and its cultivation can be harmful to the environment--jungles and rainforests are often burned and destroyed, and orangutan and other wildlife habitats harmed. Fortunately, there are several substitutes for palm oil that are easily accessible.
Animal fat, also known as lard or tallow, is an old-fashioned ingredient used in cooking and soap making. If you hunt, use the fat of the animal instead of discarding it, or if you have extra bacon grease in your pan, use it to fry the breakfast eggs instead of reaching for the palm oil margarine or shortening.
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Butter is another animal product that can be used instead of palm oil in recipes calling for a fat that is solid at room temperature. Butter gives an excellent flakiness and flavor to biscuits and other baked goods, and while it contains a significant amount of saturated fat, so does palm oil.
Olive oil can be used instead of palm oil in soap making. According to SoapBoxCorner.info, "Olive oil soaps only require sufficient curing times to turn as hard as palm-based soaps, and…have far superior durability and lathering qualities than palm-based soaps." Olive oil can also be used as a substitute in low-heat cooking, although for high-heat cooking, which palm oil is often used for, you'll have to find a different substitute, as olive oil degrades at high heats.
Canola oil is an effective high-heat cooking oil, and can be used for frying. It is high in unsaturated fat and low in saturated fat, with a lot of healthy omega-3 fatty acids. While is may be hard to find canola oil not contaminated with bio-engineered canola genes, it is still a good substitute for palm oil for use in high-heat cooking.
A solid at 75 degrees F and lower, coconut oil can be turned into soap, used in high-heat cooking and used as a solid fat when cool. While it is high in saturated fats, it imparts a coconut flavor to your dishes.
Cocoa butter can be used to make soap and deserts. A solid at temperatures under about 95 degrees F, cocoa butter can be used as a solid fat. It contains a high number of antioxidants, giving it a long shelf life and making it an ideal choice for cosmetics, lotions and soaps.