Old Technology Creates a Sustainable Alternative to Palm Oil

The cultivation of palm oil—a common ingredient in food and beauty products—causes mass deforestation. Around 47% of Malaysia’s forests have been lost, for instance, in order to make way for palm plantations. While finding a replacement for the oil has proven difficult (as it is uniquely composed of almost equal parts saturated and unsaturated fats, a ratio that makes it shelf-stable), scientists have finally devised an alternative—surprisingly, using old technology. During World War I, when food was scarce, German researchers produced high-fat pastes from yeast, growing microbes and microorganisms like algae and feeding them oxygen and sugar to create fermentation. This allowed the microbes to multiply until they reached critical mass, when their oils were extracted. Startups have begun optimizing this technology, including the Netherlands-based company NoPalm (which uses the yeast produced by potato peels and rejected vegetables) and NYC-based company C16 Biosciences (which is slated to launch a hydrating bio oil made by microbial oil in early 2023). Learn more about the vital alternative at National Geographic.

Image courtesy of Juan Carlos Huayllapuma/CIFOR