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Vegetable oils are oils derived from plant sources. Examples are palm oil, corn oil, soybean oil, cottonseed oil, coconut oil and palm kernel oil.

Although “tropical oils” are often assumed to be palm oil, palm kernel oil and coconut oil, there is no legal or technical definition of the term “tropical oils”.

Palm oil is used in such products as bread and rolls, pancakes, waffles, crackers, ready to eat cereals, chips, popcorn, biscuits, tarts, cakes, pies, canned puddings, chocolates, coffee whitener, nondairy toppings, infant formulas, cocoa mixes, fried potatoes and onions, soups, gravies and frozen and dry mix entrees. Palm oil is also especially useful in the manufacture of margarines, since it imparts natural colouring and a high glyceride content without hydrogenation. As a frying fat, palm oil has a high resistance to oxidation and does not leave an unpleasant room odour, due to the absence of linolenic acid in its composition.

All fats and oils contain long chain fatty acids. When saturated, the fatty acid chains appear straight and have no kinks. In mono and polyunsaturated fatty acids these chains have double bonds (missing hydrogen atoms), and show bends or kinks at those points where the hydrogen atoms are missing. Hydrogenation adds hydrogen atoms to the double bonds to create a harder, more solid fat.

In order to utilise fats and oils with high percentages of mono and polyunsaturated fatty acids in food processing, manufacturers must first hydrogenate these fats and oils to convert them into a more solid form. Without hydrogenation, many vegetable oils lack the necessary stability to be used in food processing. Foods using unsaturated vegetable oils in their natural state would have a shorter shelf life, could oxidise and become rancid more quickly. They also would not have the same consistency. Unlike many other vegetable oils, palm oil is semi-solid in its natural state and is normally used in food processing without hydrogenation.

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