Red palm oil
Red palm oil is the fruit of the African oil palm (Elaesis guineensis), which grows throughout tropical Africa and the American oil palm (Elaeis oleifera), is used in many tropical dishes. Palm nuts, the fruit of the oil palm, are not much bigger than grapes and grow in large bunches. They are orange-red in colour, and their pulp and oil give a distinctive colour and taste to many African soups and stews. Palm oil is to tropical cooking what olive oil is to Mediterranean cooking and butter is to northern European cooking.
Traditionally red palm oil is refined at home; today it is also produced commercially, bottled, and is available the world over. Other oil can be substituted, but palm oil (or at least a mix of palm oil and some other cooking oil) gives the most authentic results. In Brazil, it is known as dende oil.
Please note that red palm oil is mono-unsaturated and is easily extracted from the pulp of the fruit of the African oil palm. It should should not be confused with the highly saturated palm oil (beloved of manufacturers of processed food) which is obtained by crushing the hard inner kernel. The oil is red due to its very high content of beta-carotene – the same agent that gives the carrot its colour, and known to protect humans from many cancers and heart diseases.
In the UK, a blend of red palm oil and rapeseed oil (canola) called Carotino Red Palm & Canola Oil is available from banches of Sainsburys.