Palm oil and coconut oil are both tropical oils that are solid at room temperature, setting them apart from most other oils such as olive oil, canola oil, and other vegetable oils.
If you’re looking to choose the better oil, it all comes down to your intended use. Palm oil is a versatile oil commonly used in processed foods and non-food products, while coconut oil is a readily-available oil used in home cooking, baking, and for skin care.
So which oil is the best for your use? We’ll give you different aspects to consider so you can decide for yourself!
Palm oil vs coconut oil production
Made by squeezing the oil from the fruit of oil palm trees, palm oil is the most widely consumed plant-based oil in the world. Not only is palm oil used in food, but it’s a popular ingredient in cosmetic products and other non-consumables.
There are two main types of palm oil – crude palm oil and palm kernel oil. Crude palm oil is made by squeezing oil from the palm fruit (the fruit that hangs on the palm oil tree), while palm kernel oil is made by crushing the kernel, the stone in the middle of the palm fruit.
For regular shoppers like us, palm oil is more difficult to find compared to other types of oils – you likely won’t be able to find it at the grocery store like you would more common oils such as coconut oil and olive oil.
Coconut oil is produced by squeezing (pressing) the liquid oil out of fresh coconut meat or dried coconut meat called copra. Made from fresh coconut meat, virgin coconut oil is a popular choice among many coconut oil enthusiasts. Refined coconut oil tends to be made from copra, the dried coconut meat.
Two common methods of producing coconut oil are either cold-pressing or expeller-pressing. Expeller pressing uses friction and pressure to extract the coconut oil, which can introduce heat to the oil even though outside heat isn’t applied. Cold-pressed oils are believed to be higher in nutritional value because they aren’t exposed to heat, which can degrade certain nutrients.
Heat-pressed coconut oil is less expensive because the process yields more oil than cold-pressing and expeller-pressing. Some of the nutrients are degraded using heat-pressing, though.
Common uses – palm oil vs coconut oil
- Added to processed foods and fast food to enhance the taste. It also has a high melting point of 95 degrees Fahrenheit (less likely to be greasy), making palm oil more prevalent in fast food.
- Used as an ingredient in cosmetics such as makeup, shampoo, skincare products, and more.
- Commonly used as a cooking oil in developing countries.
- Used to make sodium laureth sulfate, a common ingredient in household cleaning products, personal care products, and more.
- Commonly used in cooking and baking, especially if you follow a vegan diet or have special dietary restrictions or allergies.
- Popular to use as a natural moisturizer, coconut oil is found in skin lotions, creams, and other personal care products.
Pros and cons of palm oil vs coconut oil
Pros of palm oil
- Less expensive than some other types of oils for food manufacturers.
- Excellent source of vitamin E (more than coconut oil), an antioxidant.
- High melting point makes for a less greasy oil.
- Its high smoke point (450 degrees Fahrenheit) allows it to stand up to high-heat cooking and frying.
- Lower in saturated fat compared to coconut oil.
- Oil palm trees are considered an efficient crop with the ability to be harvested in large amounts throughout the year.
Cons of palm oil
- Opponents of palm oil claim that palm oil contributes to deforestation (estimated to cause 2.3% of global deforestation annually.)
- Most types are highly refined (processed), which can degrade nutritional value.
- Is more difficult to find as a consumer – you might have to order it online versus being able to find coconut oil at most grocery stores.
Pros of coconut oil
- Coconut oil is readily available to average consumers.
- For many, a more desirable taste compared to palm oil.
- Its lower melting point means it can be absorbed into your skin more easily than palm oil.
- Coconuts can also be used to make other products (coconut milk, coconut water, etc.) which might make it more sustainable compared to palm oil.
Cons of coconut oil
- Lower smoke point (350 degrees Fahrenheit) and melting point (78 degrees Fahrenheit) compared to palm oil, which means it’s not ideal for high-heat cooking and has a greasier texture.
- Higher in saturated fat than palm oil – saturated fat might increase cholesterol levels in certain instances.
- Similar concerns about the environment and deforestation from coconut oil production.
Summary of main differences – palm oil vs coconut oil
|Palm Oil||Coconut Oil|
|Melting point||95 degrees Fahrenheit||78 degrees Fahrenheit|
|Smoke point||450 degrees Fahrenheit||350 degrees Fahrenheit|
|Ease in finding||Harder to find||Easier to find|
|Flavor||Less desirable||More desirable|
Palm oil vs coconut oil – which is better?
For the average consumer, coconut oil is likely a better choice because it’s more readily available compared to palm oil. However, palm oil has many advantages when it comes to its use as an ingredient in processed foods and other non-food items.
Both oils are higher in saturated fat than liquid vegetable oils, though palm oil is lower in saturated fat compared to coconut oil. Which one is best comes down to your intended use for these oils.
Whenever possible, choose fair-trade (workers are paid a fair wage to help harvest the oil) and sustainably-sourced coconut and palm oils to help reduce their potential negative impact on the environment.
Nutritional comparison – palm oil vs coconut oil
|1 tbsp. unrefined coconut oil||1 tbsp. unrefined palm oil|
|Total fat||14 g||14 g|
|Saturated fat||13 g||6 g|
|Trans fat||0 g||0 g|
|Total carbohydrate||0 g||0 g|
|Protein||0 g||0 g|
Source: USDA FoodData Central
While both palm oil and coconut oil are good moisturizers, coconut oil may be a better choice because it has a lower melting point, so it will melt and absorb into your skin more easily than palm oil.
If you want to cook with high heat (such as frying), palm oil is a better choice. If you want a better-tasting oil for lower-heat cooking and baking, then coconut oil is the better option between the two.