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Food uses of palm oil in Japan

Hiroyuki Mori and Takashi Kaneda


Palm oil has many advantageous properties that make it well suited for manufacturing and processing food products in Japan. Its principal uses are in making margarine and shortening, and for deep frying instant noodles, tempura, and snack foods. Palm oil now enjoys a 22% share of all oils and fats used in preparing these foods. In addition, palm oil fractions such as palm olein, palm stearin, and palm midfraction are used increasingly in a variety of other food products, ranging from vegetable ghee and hard butter to chocolate and ice cream. According to official statistics, palm oil consumption in Japan has now increased to around 320,000 tons per year, and the indications are that its use in the food industry will continue to increase despite the fact that liquid oils remain the major oils in domestic cooking.


Palm oil in the food industry

Palm oil was first introduced into Japan for food uses in the 1950s. Since then, the amount imported has increased significantly in line with the increasing demand for edible oils and fats. More than 319,000 tons were imported in 1991.

The main uses of palm oil in Japan are in the production of margarine and shortening and as a deep frying fat for the food manufacturing industry [1]. For frying, both palm oil and palm olein are frequently blended with rice-bran oil or lard because the blend has strong stability against heat and oxidation and does not disturb the flavour of foods. As a result, manufacturers can cater to customers' demand for any taste or flavour without compromising product stability.

Figure 1 shows the quantities of the major edible oils and fats produced in or imported into Japan in recent years. Before 1979, palm oil occupied only a small proportion of the total market, less than that of cotton-seed oil or coconut oil. However, both the demand for and supply of fats and oils have increased with Japan's economic growth. In 1975 the share of palm oil rose to 7% of the total production and import of fats and oils. The increase has continued; in 1991 palm oil occupied a 10.9% share of the total edible oils and fats market, or 319,575 tons.

Fats and oils are used in Japan in frying, as salad oil, and as margarine and shortening, as well as in non-food applications (table 1). Oil used for frying tempura, a traditional favourite Japanese food, makes up the largest share of all fats and oils. The share for margarine, shortening, and other processed fats is around 33%. Palm oil is used mainly for food purposes, with only 5% being used in nonfood applications [et].

It can be seen in figure 2 that palm oil has constituted an increasing proportion of the oils and fats used in the production of margarine and shortening since 1970, reaching 21.5% in 1991. It also made up 22.6% of other processed fats that year.


Uses of palm oil

Palm oil and its fractionated products are used in a variety of food products as shown in figure 3.


Margarine and shortening

For a long time hydrogenated fish oils, tallow, and lard were used to manufacture margarine and shortening, but they have been gradually replaced by palm oil because of its physical characteristics, bland taste, and freedom from cholesterol.

According to annual statistics of raw materials for margarine and shortening in the Japanese food industries [3], only a small amount of palm oil was used prior to 1970. However, its share rose to 9.9% for margarine and 22.2% for shortening in 1985, with further increases to 16.5% and 33.8% respectively in 1991. In contrast, the share of animal fats, including hydrogenated fish oils, in margarine fell from 71.8% to 36.7% in 1991. During the same period, the use of animal fats for shortening decreased from 76.2% to 23.0%, mainly because of reduction in the use of hydrogenated fish oils and domestic tallow. Several factors are responsible for the increased use of palm oil and its fractions in margarine, among which are its melting characteristics, price competitiveness, and vegetable origin.

TABLE 1. Use of fats and oils in Japan by product type (percentages), 1970-1991








Frying and salad oil







Margarine and shortening







Other processed fats







Non-food uses














FIG. 1. Production and imports of major oils and fats in Japan, 1970-1991

FIG. 2. Fats and oils used in making margarine and shortening in Japan. 1970-1991

FIG. 3. Processes and examples of palm oil use


Frying fat and oils

Frying oils and fats are used mainly for instant noodles, snack foods, and tempura. In the early days, instant noodles were fried mainly in lard. However, the development of udon, the Japanese-type noodle, changed consumers' taste and also health consciousness, leading to the change to palm oil. Almost all the instant noodles now being sold are fried in either 100% vegetable oil or a mixture of lard and vegetable oils, and few or no products are fried in 100% lard [4]. Furthermore, when a product's label indicates the presence of vegetable oil, palm oil is invariably the principal one-commonly around 40%-60% when a mixture of lard and vegetable oils has been used in frying.

Corn oil, rice-bran oil, and rapeseed oil have traditionally been used for frying snack foods and rice crackers. Palm oil is now increasingly used with blends of these oils to improve the heat and oxidation stability and the price competitiveness of the products.


Hard butter

Palm oil contains 2-oleoyl 1,3-dipalmitin (POP), a symmetric triglyceride that can be separated by solvent fractionation, which is used to make hard butters for chocolate production. Frequent changes of temperature and humidity in Japan can cause blooming of chocolate products and changes in shape during transportation or in the shops. To prevent these problems, manufacturers normally use hard butter, which is permitted in chocolate products by the Japanese Association of Chocolate and Cocoa Manufacturers [5]. In general, hard butters are made from 2-oleoyl 1,3-distearine (SOS), derived mainly from shea butter, and POP from palm oil. The ratio of SOS to POP determines the characteristics of the chocolate, such as stability against melting and organoleptic properties. Both SOS and POP are major component triglycerides of cocoa butter and have a tendency to polymorphism; they can therefore be used in any ratio with cocoa butter [6].


Ice cream and mayonnaise

Palm olein or a mixture of POP and other palm oil fractions has melting properties similar to those of butter fat and can be used in ice cream and milk-product analogues. Super olein has been used in mayonnaise.



As palm oil has superior properties such as natural solid fat content, stability against heat and oxidation, a bland flavour, and the component triglyceride POP, as well as being competitively priced, food manufacturers are using it increasingly in their products so as to make the best use of its technical and economic advantages. Its presence in margarine and shortening and frying fat for instant noodles and other food products shows that it is now highly acceptable to food processors and consumers alike. Despite the fact that liquid oils are major frying oils, especially in domestic cooking in Japan, palm oil consumption has reached nearly 320,000 tons per year. It accounts for some 22% of the total fats and oils used in the production of margarine, shortening, and other processed fats. It seems to have secured a firm share of the edible oils and fats market in Japan.



1. Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fishery, Department of Food Distribution. Fats and oils statistics in Japan. Tokyo: Japan Association of Vegetable Oils Manufacturers, 1991.

2. Committee on Supply-Demand and the Competition of Palm Oil. Report on supply-demand and the competition of palm oil. Tokyo: Institute for Policy Sciences, 1989.

3. The statistics of processed fats and oils. Tokyo: Japan Margarine, Shortening, and Lard Industries Association, 1990.

4. Hosai K. New era of snack noodle. Yushi 1989;42:4347.

5. Fujiwara M, Tanaka Y. Chocolate confection. Osaka, Japan: Fuli Sunny Plaza, 1992.

6. Uragami A, Tateishi T. Murase K et al. The development of hard butter by solvent fractionation system. Yukagaku 1986;35:995-1000.


Food uses of palm oil in China

Fan Weuxun and Chen Xiaoshu



In recent years China has emerged as a major importer of Malaysian palm oil in the form of its "liquid" fraction, palm olein. It is now widely used in the Chinese food industry, particularly in the manufacture of instant noodles, snack foods, milk powder, margarine, and shortening. Although palm olein is widely used throughout the tropics as a cooking oil in household kitchens, its high melting point makes it unsuitable for this purpose in the temperate and northern regions of China. However, this problem can be overcome by blending appropriate proportions of palm olein with other locally available vegetable oils.

Recent research has shown palm oil to be a safe and versatile edible oil with beneficial effects, and its use can be expected to increase if greater publicity can be given to its nutritional and technical advantages.

Palm oil is not a common edible oil in China, because the oil palm grows only in the extreme southern part of the country. The production of the oil is therefore negligible, and its consumption was formerly limited to local areas. It was not until the 1970s that the Chinese government began to import palm oil in small amounts, but since the mid-1980s the quantity imported has increased several-fold, reaching more than 1 million tons in 1990, over half the total imports of edible vegetable oils [1]. This rapid increase reflects the dramatic expansion of palm oil use in China.

Three types of palm oils are being imported into China, palm olein (the liquid fraction of palm oil), palm stearin (the solid fraction), and palm kernel oil. The last two are used mostly in the manufacture of soaps, candles, and cosmetics because of their high content of saturated fatty acids. This discussion does not cover these commodities.

Almost all imported palm olein is used in the food industry, mostly in the production of deep-fried instant foods, such as noodles, rice crusts, and potato chips. Such foods are now being produced on a large scale in factories with modern assembly lines. It is estimated that in 1991 there were about 350 assembly lines in operation for producing instant noodles alone [2]. The annual production is estimated at 120,000 tons, requiring about 40,000 tons of palm oil. Rice crusts are manufactured by one Xi'an food company, with an annual production of about 30,000 tons, requiring around 10,000 tons of palm oil [3]. Production of these instant foods is expanding, and it is believed that in Beijing there are more than thirty assembly lines for this purpose, with another forty or so planned (M. Yang, personal communication, 1992).

Besides the large-scale production of convenience foods, almost all other snack foods (both Western and Chinese style) require vegetable oils in their preparation. Palm oil can be used in these items; the actual amount is not known, but annual consumption should be large. In addition, palm oil has been used for manufacturing imitation breast-milk powder, with an estimated 1,000 tons per year needed for this purpose.

Trials have begun on the use of palm oil in manufacturing margarine and shortenings. Preliminary trials conducted jointly by the Palm Oil Research Institute of Malaysia and the Xi'an Research Institute for Fats and Oils of the Ministry of Commerce found that products containing about 40%-50% palm oil could be produced satisfactorily [3]. This work is continuing, and the use of the oil in such applications should expand.

Palm oil is not used to any significant extent in domestic cooking in China, mainly because of its high melting point. Since the annual average temperature is between 10C and 24C, the oil is frequently in a semi-solid or solid state at room temperatures, while Chinese housewives prefer liquid oils. In addition, people are used to vegetable oils with specific flavours, such as peanut and sesame oils, whereas palm oil has no characteristic taste.

A way to introduce palm oil into household kitchens is to blend palm olein with other vegetable oils. In fact, blends containing palm oil are being sold in the market, but most of them are manufactured by small local factories, so their production is limited and their quality unknown. A collaborative project between the governments of Malaysia and China is being planned to investigate blending palm oil with various liquid vegetable oils, with the hope of identifying a product that will appeal to Chinese housewives in its liquidity, colour, and flavour, while at the same time ensuring a nutritionally balanced fatty acid composition [3].

Despite reports in recent years by many authors in different countries on the biochemical and nutritional role of palm oil and its effects on human health, they are little known to the Chinese public. The stability of palm oil and its capacity to extend the shelf life of foods, its high content of vitamin E, especially the tocotrienols, its lack of hypercholesterolaemic effect, and its possible beneficial effect on the normal function of blood platelets [4, 5], are not familiar to the Chinese. In view of the increasing demand for and consumption of palm oil, there is urgent need to inform consumers through the mass media of the oil's technical and nutritional properties.

Consumption of edible oils in China is low compared with the industrialized countries. With rapid improvements being brought about through economic reforms, the living standards of Chinese people are rising, resulting in many changes in daily life, including increased consumption of oil. The annual consumption of vegetable oil in 1990 was 9 kg per capita according to a diet study conducted in 12 southern and northern provinces by the Institute of Nutrition and Food Hygiene, Beijing [6], which is over two times more than that reported in 1982 [7]. The 1990 study also found that dietary fat calories constituted 21% of total calories, which is considered ideal. However, this applies to the eastern part of the country, where the population density is high, with about 47% of the total population, and where the economic conditions are better. Conditions are different for the other half of the population, living in the vast western area. Therefore, the figure may not be representative of the actual average intake of the whole population; annual edible oil consumption of 6-7 kg per capita may be a more reasonable estimate.



1. Statistical yearbook of China. Beijing China Statistical Publishing House, 1991.

2. Liu Q. New trends of food industrial development during 1990s. Sci Tech Cereals Oils 1991;1:2-5.

3. Ding FQ. The utilization of palm oil in China. Beijing: MPOPC, 1991.

4. Kritchevsky D, ed. PORIM international palm oil development conference. Am J Clin Nutr 1991;53(suppl.4): 989S-1082S.

5. Kritchevsky D, Loke KH, Chandra RK, eds. Health and nutritional aspects of palm oil. Nutr Res 1992;12(suppl): S1-S232.

6. Chen JS Gao JQ, Wang XQ. Total dietary study in China, 1990. J Hyg Res 1993;2(suppl.1):1-66.

7. Institute of Nutrition and Food Hygiene. National nutrition survey in 1982. Beijing: Institute of Nutrition and Food Hygiene, 1985. (In Chinese)

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