I don’t know about you, but I can hardly keep up with which fats are good for you and which to avoid. Most of us have learned about the health benefits of olive oil and that the saturated fat in coconut oil, once a nutritional no-no, is now recognized as extremely healthful because of its antioxidants and ability to be easily turned into fuel by the body. The information on oils and their health properties is changing rapidly. Recently, health experts have been talking about unrefined red palm oil. I have to admit, I didn’t know anything about it, so I decided to do some research.
According to Bruce Fife, N.D., considered one of the world’s leading experts on dietary fats and oils, virgin, unrefined red palm oil– cold pressed from the fruit of the oil palm as opposed to palm kernel oil, which comes from the seed– offers additional benefits associated with ‘super foods.’ Though healthful, compared to the surrounding fruit, oil from the kernel is a more highly saturated fat at 90% (vs. 45% for red palm oil), which can contribute to heart disease and related problems. The red color in the oil from the unprocessed fruit is due to the presence of a high amount of carotenes, which include beta-carotene and lycopene. These antioxidant nutrients are the same ones that give tomatoes, carrots and other fruits and vegetables their vibrant red and orange colors. Carotenes are valuable nutrients and powerful antioxidants. Unrefined red palm oil actually contains 30 times higher amounts of these antioxidants than tomatoes and 15 times more than carrots. Carotenes are also important because our body can convert them into vitamin A, an essential nutrient. Red palm fruit oil is also densely packed with numerous tocotrienols – a powerful form of vitamin E that can help reduce inflammation in the arteries that contributes to plaque build-up.
Another benefit to unprocessed coconut and palm oils is that these fats are easily metabolized by the liver, creating energy the body can use. Other vegetable oils take a longer time to break down and aren’t readily available as energy which means they are eventually stored as fat. Who needs that?
What I’m beginning to find out is that virgin unrefined red palm oil is highly versatile. It’s stable at medium cooking temperatures and you can use it for baking, sautéing, to make vinaigrettes and unlike coconut oil, it has a more neutral taste. From what I’m learning, it would be great tossed with popcorn or in stews and sauces.
Because it’s such an important crop all over the world, there is a variety of interesting cuisines that use red palm oil as a staple including Indonesian, Malaysian, Nigerian, Thai, Columbian and throughout other tropical regions. My mother made this chicken dish for our family dinners whenever we wanted comfort food. I always think of her when I make it. I usually serve it over some form of potato: mashed, boiled baked, or even fried (baked potatoes are the healthiest option). The chicken provides selenium, and the tomatoes offer lycopene. The garlic contributes healthy allicin compounds and the virgin red palm oil adds antioxidants.
You can find virgin red palm oil at Whole Foods, Sprouts Farmers Market and many specialty markets since it plays such an important role in many different cultural cuisines. You can also order it online from Amazon, Nutiva, and Swanson Health Products among other sites.
2 Tbs. virgin red palm oil
2 Tbs. minced garlic
1/2 cup diced onion
2 cups diced tomatoes
12 oz. skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into 2-inch strips
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 bay leaves
Pinch of ground pepper
2 hard-boiled eggs
1. Heat the olive oil in an enamel-coated cast-iron casserole or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the garlic, onion, and tomatoes and saute for about 5 minutes.
2. Add the chicken, soy sauce, bay leaves, and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 10-15 minutes.
3. Add the eggs and simmer until chicken is cooked through and sauce has thickened, about 10 minutes.