Recently, while reading the ingredients of an energy bar, I came across the term "fractionated" and it was modifying an oil – palm kernel oil to be exact. Well, I know that palm kernel is 86 percent saturated fat, that is the bad kind of fat, and I wondered if this "fractionating" process was akin to hydrogenating. Since deciphering a nutrition label can be so tricky these days, I wanted to make sure no one was pulling the wool over my eyes or that there were no new code words to watch out for.
It turns out I was being overly paranoid, but just a bit. Fractionating oil is not the same as hydrogenating it, but it does make the oil less healthy rather than more. The process, most commonly used on palm and palm kernel oil, involves heating then cooling the oil so it separates into fractions, hence the name. The thicker fractions have a higher melting point and are more stable, making them perfect for keeping chocolate coatings from melting. Fractionated palm kernel oil contains a higher concentration of saturated fat than regular palm kernel oil, which would be the reason you want to avoid fractionated oil. It is commonly found in energy bars, especially those coated with chocolate or flavored icing.
The ranking of palm oils healthiest to least, goes like this:
- Palm oil
- Palm kernel oil
- Fractionated palm oil of either variety